The Memoir of Julius Loewenthal, Part III: World War I and Its Aftermath of Darkening Clouds

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.

Julius and Elsa (Werner) Loewenthal.
Courtesy of Joanne Warner-Loewenthal

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.

Bad Sooden, Germany
Jörg Braukmann / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

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 [1940] the Nazis have converted the house into a temporary hospital.

Home of Julius and Elsa (Werner) Loewnethal in Eschwege Courtesy of Joanne Warner-Loewenthal

[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.

 

27 thoughts on “The Memoir of Julius Loewenthal, Part III: World War I and Its Aftermath of Darkening Clouds

  1. The detailed report of the times in Germany after World War I agrees 100% with what I have read and learned in my studies of European history, including the growing antisemitism in Germany and many other countries. It is a sad fact that in bad times people look for a scapegoat to vent their angry feelings about the misery of poverty they experience. Another interesting post, Amy!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. A riveting post Amy, nothing can beat a first-person account of the frustration and hopelessness felt
    leading up to war. Julius’s sentence beginning: “the seeds which were planted”….. they didn’t see it coming did they as they quietly got on with their lives?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What a wonderful detailed account of what he experienced. It just reminded me that I have an autobiography of one of my grandfather’s brothers – I need to dig it out and study it again. Have a nice break!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks for sharing this memoir. It really does shed light on life then and there for the Jewish people. I see some of that same scapegoating going on today and wonder if it could lead to a new atrocity as bad as that one.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Unfortunately I have to agree. Human beings still find scapegoats to blame for their unhappiness and turn those scapegoats into something less than human so they can oppress and abuse them.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. WoW, you could clearly see their lives in this post. I felt like I was there. I’m excited to hear the next part. This was really a first hand account of what was going on during that time period on how they had to live their lives and work be in those times. Great Piece. Loved the photos.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: The Memoir of Julius Loewenthal, Part IV: Tragedy Strikes | Brotmanblog: A Family Journey

  7. Absolutely fascinating reading … I have just now caught up on the first three posts. Julius was such a good writer, hooking the reader with key events and describing everything so well. A piece of history indeed – how fortunate you are to have this from your cousin.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Do we know if the house in Eschwege still stands?

    Perhaps it’s the times we find ourselves in now, but I can appreciate that Julius felt caught off guard by the resurgence of antisemitism and scapegoating that he had mistakenly believed “had all disappeared with the middles ages…”

    He had some really powerful observations: “The hate remained and had nothing to do with reason.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • I feel it these days—that we all assumed that we had made progress on issues like racism. But we really haven’t, have we?

      As for the house—that’s a good question. I wonder how I could find out.

      Like

  9. Pingback: Helene Katzenstein Brinkmann Werner: Losing A Son in World War I | Brotmanblog: A Family Journey

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