By the turn of the 20th century, Julius Loewenthal was a young man in his late twenties who was making his mark as a business leader in his uncle’s knitwear business in Eschwege, Germany. The first three decades of the new century would provide him with many personal and professional challenges, as we will see.
In 1903 I married my second cousin Elsa Werner. I was 29 years old, and she was 20. We lived in the Reichensachser Strasse in an small apartment. In 1905 my daughter Ruth was born. Our happiness was great… Now that I had become a family man I was happy in a time before the 1st World War. The record player was invented and we were able to sit and listen to records. It was a monumental experience, to sit and listen to the latest opera and concerts. Guests came, and everybody was enchanted by the quiet life we were leading and the good food. In 1909 my son Herbert was born. He was a good son but had later on many problems, some of which were hard for me to understand.
In 1907 my dear uncle Levy died. The sorrow was great.
[Julius then described the growth of the family knitwear business in Eschwege after Levy Brinkmann’s death.]
The outbreak of the war changed everything. Jobs which had been done by men were now being done by women. There was great shortage of every imaginable item. Regulations came down which made life impossible and business worse. We worked full blast for the Army making sweaters and underwear. We were very strictly controlled and regulated, and one had one foot always in jail. German industries were not at all prepared for war, and chaos prevailed….
There were great shortages of raw materials, and we started to manufacture underwear from paper yarns which stood up well considering….Food was very short. My dear wife ran around the surrounding villages begging for a few eggs, milk, and butter. Our Matzoh on Passover was black like coal. Butter and meat could only be bought on the black market.
During the third year of the war I received prisoners from Belgium….They unfortunately all died of different diseases they contracted in the war zone. I lived between the living and the dead. I had to empty bed pans and play nurse, Doctor, Business Manager, etc. Doctors were not available because they were all at the front.
I was unable to have a free minute. I yearned for a vacation spot and a place of recreation. Thus, I got the idea to buy a house in Bad Sooden near Eschwege where we could vacation and spend the weekends. We called it Villa Elsa. It had a beautiful view of the forests and surroundings, and we owned the house from 1917 to 1933. …We spent as much time as we could in Bad Sooden. We kept 2 horses in Eschwege, which were used by the factory for hauling cases to and from the Station. On weekends we used them to take us to Sooden in a Landau, which was an experience in itself to travel the 10 miles by horse drawn carriage.
In 1920 a lot of refugees came to Eschwege and in particular to Sooden… One of the outstanding events of those days was the fact that already Antisemitism reared its ugly head. It became very widespread in Sooden. Our friendly relations with our neighbors became more and more strained because people lived from hand to mouth. Taxes were very high, and there existed sorrow and desperation among most people.
The stories were spread that the Jews were the cause of all that sorrow and were the cause of the War when the truth was that the Jews participated equally in the war and made their own bloody sacrifices as well as participated in the rebuilding of the country…. We were of the belief that this had all disappeared with the middles ages; however, we were wrong. … The hate remained and had nothing to do with reason. The seeds which were planted already then throughout the country were to blossom out in full during Hitler’s time. We did not recognize the depth of all this and were subsequently taught a terrible lesson.
With the occupation of the Ruhr district by the French Army came the Inflation. Nobody knew what it was, nobody understood what it was, and subsequently poor were made out of the wealthy overnight and turned the whole nation into beggars and brought sorrow and desperation to each and every household. The wealth of my own family and that of my relations were gone overnight. Only a few ever recovered in their lifetime. Only those who had a business were able to recover and pull themselves out of the poorhouse.
In spite of that, the house in Sooden became a beautiful escape spot even though we no longer spoke with the neighbors. We lived alone for us. We were still respected and tolerated, but the Sun had grown darker.
Ruth had married Dr. Leonard Fulda from Mainz. He was a wonderful kind man, and the two were very happy with each other….
Already before the 1st World war was it our intention to build ourselves a house in Eschwege. The houses which were available were old, old-fashioned, and many without gas or electric. ….[w]ith the outbreak of the war we postponed the building. I was not called to the colors as my work was considered more important.
In 1926 we started to build…It was a house that was the talk of many throughout Europe as it incorporated many features which at that time were new, modern, unheard of, and the house remains just as modern today as it was at that time. [What follows is a detailed description of the house.] My daughter Hilde was married in the house, and the ceremony as well as the set table for more than 30 guests did not interfere with each other. We lived in this house from 1926 until 1938. We lived there happily until we were chased out of Germany by the Nazis. At this moment  the Nazis have converted the house into a temporary hospital.
[In the next section of his memoir, Julius described how despite the economic conditions in Germany generally, he was able to make extensive expansions in the family business including the construction of a new factory.]
The years 1924 through 1933 passed with growing political and unemployment tensions. …and the Jews became a very convenient place to heap the blame …[i]n spite of the fact that the German Jews were through their activity still one of the stable areas in the floundering economy. There were many Jewish owned businesses of different sizes throughout Germany, and nearly all commanded the respect of the business world including my own fine reputation, which reached far beyond the borders of Germany. This, while other non-Jewish businesses went bankrupt, contributed to the hate and jealousy of those unfortunate and unemployed. It was a vicious circle.
Somehow despite the awful economic suffering experienced throughout Germany after World War I, Julius Loewenthal managed to continue to expand his business and live comfortably both in Eschwege and in their vacation home in Bad Sooden. But he and his family were already experiencing the growth of anti-Semitism. They likely, however, had no idea just how bad things were going to get.
More in the next segment of Julius Loewenthal’s memoir in my next post. I will be taking a short break this week, but will post Parts IV and V next week.