In the Footsteps of the Ancestors by Beate Goetz: We Make the Newspaper in Bingen

In July, I received an email from my friend Beate Goetz; Beate is the woman who not only was our guide when we visited Bingen in May—she was one of the first people from Germany who helped me with my research, starting back almost three years ago. We’d had a lovely time with Beate while in Bingen, and she wrote an article about our visit for the local newspaper, Allegemeine Zeitung.  It was wonderful to relive the experience through Beate’s eyes and remember our time together.

With some help from Google Translate and Wolfgang, I’ve translated her article; my apologies to Beate for any errors, for which I take full responsibility:[1]

In the Footsteps of the Ancestors

Jewish Bingen

US-American Amy B. Cohen and Wolfgang Seligmann have Common Bingen roots.

In November 2014, Amy Cohen from Massachusetts turned to the Arbeitskreis Judische and asked for help.  She was in search of meaningful documents about her ancestor Moses, later Moritz, Seligmann, who was born in either Gau-Algesheim or Gaulsheim in the 19th century.

It soon became apparent that Moritz Seligmann was born on January 10, 1800, in Gaulsheim, the son of the merchant Jacob Seligmann and his wife Martha nee Mayer, who came from Oberingelheim. Also, his grandfather Hirsch Seligmann was born in Gaulsheim.

Moritz Seligmann was married twice: first with Eva Schoenfeld from Erbes-Buedesheim. The wedding was on February 27, 1829, in Gaulsheim.

The year before, Moritz Seligmann had wanted to transfer his place of residence to Gau-Algesheim, as Ludwig Hellriegel wrote in his little book, The History of the Jews of Gau-Algesheim. However, the town council rejected this and stated that “there are already a large number of Jews in the local community.” And “that it is not advisable to overpower the church with Jews.” But when Moritz Seligmann submitted a testimony to the mayor’s office of Gaulsheim of his unblemished reputation, he was allowed to become a citizen of the city.

After the death of his first wife Eva on the birth of their son Benjamin, Moritz Seligmann married her sister Babetta Schönfeld, as was customary at that time.  Bernard Seligmann, Amy Cohen’s ancestor, came from this marriage. He and his brothers Adolph and Sigismund (from the marriage with Eva) went to America around 1850. The brothers settled in Santa Fe and established the prosperous business, Seligman Brothers. They transported goods from the East Coast on the Santa Fe Trail and sold them in Santa Fe.

Since 2013 Amy Cohen has been collecting her family history research in a blog. The coincidence was that radiojournalist Wolfgang Seligmann found Amy’s blog and soon they found out that they have the same ancestor in Moritz Seligmann. While Amy’s ancestor Bernard Seligman was finding happiness in America, Wolfgang’s great-grandfather August had stayed in Gau-Algesheim. His grandfather Julius Seligmann had started the Christian line in the family as he converted when he married Magdalena Kleisinger, who was Catholic. From 1939, the family lived in Bingen.

Wolfgang Seligmann had strong support in his family research from his recently deceased mother, Annlis, who tirelessly gathered the documents and mastered the old German script.

So a few weeks ago the two Seligmann descendants met when Amy Cohen came with her husband Harvey. In addition to Mainz and Gau-Algesheim, Bingen was on the travel schedule of the guests. Together we went on a tour of the town that led along the houses and stolpersteine to remember the extensive family associations of the Seligmann, Gross, and Mayer families.

Also, we visited the synagogues and the Memorial and Meeting Center of Judische Bingen in Rochusstraße and also took countless photos before the visit to the Jewish cemetery ended the tour.

Shortly after her journey, which led the couple to Koblenz, Koln, and Heidelberg, Amy Cohen wrote how impressed she was by visiting the cemetery. “The people behind the names and stories I had researched seemed to me so close and very real, and I realized how close my Seligmann relatives were to the Bingen local community.”

 

 

 

 

[1] Only one correction to the caption under the photo: Harvey’s surname is not Cohen. I kept my birth name, just to make things easier for future genealogists. 😊

Our Last Two Days in Germany—Worms and Heidelberg—and Some Final Thoughts on the Trip

Why did we go to Worms? Not for any genealogy reason, but for its significance to Jewish history generally and to German Jewish history more particularly. It is one of the so-called ShUM cities, the three cities (Speyer (Sh), Worms (U), and Mainz (M) where Jewish scholars and rabbis in the Middle Ages had a widespread impact on Jewish religious and cultural practices.  Some of the greatest medieval Jewish scholars studied and taught in the ShUM cities, including Rashi, who is considered one of the greatest Talmudic scholars of all time. Many of the melodies used even today in Jewish religious services were developed in the ShUM cities. It seemed that it would be wrong to go all the way to Germany and not see Worms.  (Speyer, unfortunately, we could not fit into our itinerary, and we had seen Mainz.)

Worms is a short train ride from Heidelberg, so it made sense to go there during one of our three days in Heidelberg.  On May 13, we took a morning train to Worms to meet our tour guide. [For various reasons we were not very pleased with this guide, so I’ve decided not to use her name in this post. If anyone wants to know why, I will be glad to share privately but not on the blog.]

The guide met us at the train station and showed us the reliefs sculpted over the doorways to the train station, one showing different modes of transportation and the other, the doorway used by the wealthy, showing kings and nobles.  The station was built in the early 1900s and, as the guide said, was considered a sign of modernity and of the status of Worms as an important city.

From the station we walked a few blocks to the Jewish cemetery, which has existed since the eleventh century and is considered the oldest Jewish cemetery in Europe.  We could not enter as it was Shabbat (Saturday), and the cemetery was closed.  But we could see the old stones and the very well-maintained grounds. The guide told us about some of the important scholars buried at the cemetery and how the cemetery is a pilgrimage site for Jews from all over the world.

From the cemetery we walked through a park where there was a statue of Martin Luther, for whom Worms was also an important city because, according to the guide, it was in Worms that his movement for Reformation became a movement adopted by the people, not just a theoretical idea. The guide also pointed out to us that the park we were walking through was where the moat had been located when Worms was a walled city in medieval times.  Once the wall was taken down and the moat filled, it became a ring of green space surrounding the city.

Martin Luther statute

We continued to follow the former moat towards the old Jewish quarter in Worms. Along the way we passed several stolpersteine, including one for Herta Mansbacher, who is considered an important heroine in the story of the Jews of Worms.  She was a teacher in a non-Jewish school until 1933 when she lost her job and took a teaching job in a Jewish school.  She then stayed in Worms to help the children and to encourage families to emigrate from Germany.  After the Worms synagogue was burned during Kristallnacht, Herta Mansbacher ran to rescue what she could and to try and put out the fire.  In 1942, she was deported and murdered by the Nazis.

Stolpersteine for Herta Mansbacher and others

Former home of Herta Mansbacher

A short distance past the home of Herta Mansbacher we reached the former Jewish quarter of Worms. Turning left on Judengasse it felt like we had entered not only a difference place but a different time. You could visualize what the quarter was like a hundred years earlier.

Judengasse in Worms

The Jewish quarter in Worms

There are two synagogue buildings in the Jewish quarter.  They are located at opposite ends of a small plaza in the center of the quarter. The Levy’sche synagogue is now a residential building.

 

Across from it was the other synagogue, the Old Synagogue—where there is a sculpture commemorating Rashi; Rashi studied at the yeshiva attached to this synagogue.  The building dates from the 12th century and is claimed to be the oldest synagogue in existence north of the Alps.   The building is today used for religious purposes and also for cultural events. There is a separate building where the yeshiva was located and also a mikveh on the grounds.   Behind the synagogue is a Jewish museum displaying Judaica and historical documents from the region; the most moving display was of the Torah scrolls and wimpels that were burned during Kristallnacht.  Perhaps these were the ones rescued by Herta Mansbacher, for whom there is a memorial plaque in the synagogue.

Old synagogue in Worms

Statue honoring Rashi

Interior of Old Synagogue

The synagogue was rebuilt after the war, but some of the original structure still was standing and is part of the building today.  Seeing the Jewish quarter allowed me to imagine in a concrete way how the Jews once lived in this section of the city.

After leaving the Jewish quarter, we stopped for lunch, and then the guide showed us Trinity Church, a very large Lutheran church built in the 18th century.  It was destroyed by Allied bombing in World War II and rebuilt in the 1950s.

Trinity Church

Interior of Trinity Church

Our last stop in Worms was at St. Peter’s Cathedral, which was built in the 12th century.  It is an impressive structure, and the altar is quite elaborate and beautiful.

St Peter’s Cathedral, Worms

Altar in St Peter’s Cathedral

We then walked back to the train station and returned to Heidelberg.

The next day, our last day in Germany, we were back on our own.  We took the funicular up to the castle that hovers over the city and can be seen quite dramatically from across the river.

We strolled around the grounds where the views of the river and the city of Heidelberg are stunning. Because you cannot get into the castle without a guided tour, we waited for the guided tour at 10 am.  Fortunately there were only three of us on the tour, plus the guide.  (There were hundreds of people wandering around the grounds being led by Viking Cruise guides, all with earplugs in their ears to listen to their guides, but they did not enter the buildings.)

The guide was delightful with a very dry and sarcastic sense of humor, and we all got a big kick out of him.  He entertained us with stories of political intrigue, romance, and wars to give us the colorful history of the complex of buildings that make up the castle.  The castle predated the city; it was originally built for strategic purposes with its towers and walls overlooking the valley below. Then, as medieval times moved into the Renaissance era, it became more a home for the local noble to impress his wife and entertain their guests.  Even Hitler used the castle at some point as a place to house soldiers.  I wish I could remember all the details of the guide’s stories, but suffice it to say he kept us interested, and he not only was amusing but very well-informed about the history of the region.

After returning to the city below, we spent our last afternoon in Germany wandering through the beautiful city of Heidelberg.  Unlike every other city we’d visited—Mainz, Bingen, Cologne, Wurzburg, and Worms—Heidelberg did not sustain any significant damage from Allied bombing during World War II, so it retains its architectural heritage as originally built.

The city has so much to offer—a world-renowned university, a scenic location on the Neckar River, a fascinating castle with gorgeous views, and churches and buildings that are rich in architectural detail.  The winding narrow streets and wide plazas, the youthful population, and the multitude of restaurants, bars, and stores make it an interesting and exciting place to visit. It made it all that much harder to pack our bags and head to the airport where we would stay our last night in order to catch our flight the following morning.

And so we said Auf Wiedersehen to Germany, land of my paternal ancestors, a country I had truly learned to appreciate during our stay, a place where the beer, the bread, the cities, the villages, the landscapes, and especially the people are just wonderful.  I was sad to leave, but ready to come home and have a chance to digest and remember it all.

Looking back on the trip now that we have been home for well over a month, it almost seems like a dream.  Was I really there? Did I really walk in the footsteps of my ancestors, see their gravestones, and meet my cousins, their descendants? Writing these blog posts has helped me remember and process everything we saw and experienced.  Looking at the photographs reminds me of all the people we met and all the beauty we saw as well as all the reminders of what happened during Hitler’s reign.

Much of what we experienced was bittersweet—bitter because of all the awful killings and destruction, sweet because of the kindness of the people we met and the hope they gave us for a future where people are tolerant and understanding and loving of each other despite their differences.  As I now return to the task of learning about and writing about my family’s history, I can better visualize where they lived and what their lives were like.  It will make what has already been a fascinating and rewarding journey that much more meaningful and satisfying.

Thank you for following me on this journey.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Adventures in Germany: A Car Accident and A Rainstorm

So, as I was saying in my last post, we left Schopfloch on May 11 looking forward to our last three days in Germany.  We were heading to Heidelberg with a very limited agenda.  We had only two commitments over the three days: lunch the following day with Ulrike Michel, the wife of my 4th cousin, once removed, Torsten Michel, and a walking tour of Worms on May 13. The rest of our time was open.  We were just going to explore the city of Heidelberg on our own, drink beer, eat good German bread, enjoy the river and the sights, and relax.  We had about a two hour drive to Heidelberg where we planned to return our rental car to Hertz by 6 pm and take a cab to our hotel in the old part of the city.

As we drove out of Schopfloch, we were quite relaxed, and our British GPS lady was in charge of directions.  We reached the end of the slow road that brought us out of Schopfloch and stopped to make a left onto a busier road, Bundestrasse 25.  Harvey looked both ways, saw no cars coming, and pulled onto the road, turning left.  We had already made the turn and were proceeding straight on the road when we were hit from behind.

We were, of course, stunned.  How could we get hit from behind after completing the turn onto the road? Fortunately we were not hurt, and once we got out of the car, we knew that no one in the car that hit us was hurt either.  The other driver, a German man perhaps our age or a little older, spoke a little English and was very nice and calm and said we had to call the police.  We waited at least twenty minutes for the police to arrive.

 

Site of the accident

Two policemen arrived—young men who spoke English fluently and who were extremely friendly and pleasant.  They spent several minutes first talking to the other driver—in German, so we had no idea what was said.  Then they approached Harvey and told him, without asking him what happened, that he had failed to yield and had violated the traffic law, and there was a penalty of 150 Euros.

We were flabbergasted.  How could we be at fault when we were hit from behind? And we had definitely not only yielded at the intersection—-we had made a full stop because we wanted to be sure we knew where we were going.  But it was clear that there was no point in arguing with the policemen and the other driver.

The police told us to follow them back to the station in Dinkelsbuhl (about eight miles out of our way), where Harvey signed papers in German that were not explained to him and paid the fine.  Meanwhile, I was trying to get Hertz on the phone to find out what we needed to do to be sure our insurance contract covered the damage. We had taken out full insurance as part of the rental agreement, so we weren’t worried about the damage to the car, but we did want to be sure that we followed the right protocol.

But no one answered the phone at the Heidelberg office; no one answered the phone on the Hertz emergency line.  We called Hertz in the US, and they had no answers.  So we were both now exasperated, annoyed, and frustrated.  So much for being relaxed!

Fortunately, the rest of our trip to Heidelberg went smoothly.  We arrived in Heidelberg probably around 6:30, 6:45.  The Hertz office was closed, so we left the car, the police report, and the keys, hoping that we had done all we needed to do.  And we put it all behind us, determined to enjoy those last three days.[1]

And we did.  Our taxi dropped us off at the Hotel Villa Marstall, a small European-style hotel right on the Neckar River.  Our room was beautiful with a lovely view looking over the river.  The receptionist downstairs suggested a sushi place for dinner, and it was just perfect.  Casual, good Japanese beer, great sushi.  We were able to move beyond the stress of the accident.

Views from our room at the Hotel Villa Marstall

As we walked back to our hotel after dinner, I noticed a few people standing on an open plaza right in front of the door to our hotel.  There was a stone block that they were reading at the end of the plaza, and as I looked at it from a distance, I noticed that there was Hebrew lettering.  I walked over and read that the plaza marked the location of the former Heidelberg synagogue, which was, like so many hundreds of others in Germany, destroyed on Kristallnacht.  The next morning when we left the hotel, we saw that the perimeter of the former synagogue had been outlined in white marble stones placed into the plaza.

Marker for former Heidelberg cemetery

As you can see from the two images below (plaques at the site of the former synagogue), Jews had a long history in Heidelberg:

As in every place we visited in Germany, there are markers to remind everyone that there was once a Jewish community here and that it had been destroyed.  We had picked the hotel without knowing anything about the location of the former synagogue.  It felt rather eerie and yet comforting that we were staying right next to it.  It was also comforting to know that there is now a new synagogue in Heidelberg.

We spent our first morning in this gorgeous city doing a self-guided walking tour of the Altstadt, the old city.  First we walked through Universitatplatz, the part of the old city where there are many buildings of the University of Heidelberg.  The university was founded in 1386, making it the oldest university in Germany; today there are 30,000 students studying at the university.  As in Wurzburg, the student population gives the city a young and vibrant feel.

Reading the map

 

The university’s church is Peterskirche (St. Peter’s); it is even older than the university as it was built in the late 12th century and expanded in the 14th century.  It has been the university church since 1896.

Peterskirche in the distance

 

Peterskirche in Heidelberg

Perhaps the most impressive and eye-catching university building we saw was the library; it is truly magnificent.  It was built between 1901 and 1905.

University library

Across from the library was the Jesuit Church with its striking white interior.   It was built in the 18th century, with a tower added in the 19th.

Jesuit Church interior

Jesuit Church exterior

We then walked through the old city, passing other university buildings and along narrow winding streets to the main market square in Heidelberg. The Church of the Holy Spirit, which was started in the 14th century but took 150 years to complete, dominates the square. The market square itself is framed by the former homes of wealthy merchants, whose wealth is quite apparent from the large and elaborate homes.  Today these are mostly hotels, restaurants, and stores.

Church of the Holy Spirit

Former merchant’s home

Another former merchant’s home

Market square

And as in almost every place we visited, there were stolpersteine:

We strolled further through the old city and then headed back to our hotel to meet Ulrike for lunch. As I noted above, Ulrike’s husband Torsten is my fourth cousin, once removed.  His great-great-grandmother was Ziborah Schoenfeld, sister of Babetta Schoenfeld, my three-times great-grandmother.  Babetta married Moritz Seligmann of Gau-Algesheim, my three-times great-grandfather.  Babetta and Ziborah were daughters of Bernard Schoenfeld and Rosina Goldmann, my four-times great-grandparents.  They grew up in Erbes-Budesheim, a small town just 40 kilometers from Gau-Algesheim.  (One of my few regrets about the trip was not getting to Erbes-Budesheim, but time just ran out.)

Ulrike was the genealogist in the Michel family, and she and I had been in touch several years ago, but had then fallen out of touch.  I had emailed her right before the trip, and she was excited to meet me and drove to Heidelberg to have lunch with us.  We had a lovely lunch together, and Ulrike shared with us her recent discovery of her husband’s cousins on the Michel side (not my side) in Israel.  She was very excited about meeting these people, and it was a wonderful genealogy success story.

After lunch we invited Ulrike to join us for a walk up Philosopher’s Way on the other side of the river. Philosopher’s Way is a path (actually a paved road in large part) that winds up the hills where it is said faculty and students from the University of Heidelberg would stroll while contemplating scholarly matters.  There is a snake path that is usually open to climb to (or from) the path, but it was closed for safety reasons while we were there.

So instead Ulrike, Harvey and I walked along the river, crossed over at a bridge, and then found the entrance to Philosopher’s Way and started climbing.  And it was steep and long.  Longer and steeper than we had expected.  But we were determined to get to the top.  And when we did, we were rewarded with spectacular views of Heidelberg across the river.

Walking up Philosopher’s Way with Ulrike

At the top of Philosopher’s Way

View of Heidelberg from the top of Philosopher’s Way

Soon after we reached the top, it started raining.  It had been sunny and beautiful, and none of us was prepared for rain.  We stood under a tree for a bit, but then decided we had to keep moving despite the rain.  But we weren’t sure which way to go—retrace our steps or go forward and find another way down? We (well, Ulrike) asked several people who kept telling us that if we went further, there was a way down that would bring us closer to the location of our hotel across the river. So we went ahead.

But the “other way down” never appeared, and finally Harvey said we should just turn back.  Ulrike was determined to find the other route down, but we were growing increasingly skeptical of its existence.  So we divided up—Ulrike moving on, Harvey and I turning back from where we’d come.

A few minutes after dividing up, the rain intensified.  Harvey and I stopped at a little covered pavilion on the side of the path to wait for the rain to let up.  Within another few minutes, my cell phone rang. It was Ulrike—she had decided to turn around after learning that the “other way down” would bring her even further from the bridge across the river.

We waited for her, all having a good laugh at our misadventures on the so-called Philosophers Way.  I don’t think any of us had one serious intellectual thought throughout our entire walk! But it was worth the climb, and the extra time we got to spend with Ulrike was wonderful.

Going back down

 

Once back near our hotel, we said goodbye to our new friend and cousin.  It had been a full and interesting and fun day.  Heidelberg was exceeding our expectations as a good final stop on our journey through Germany.  We had two days left—one in Worms and then a final day in Heidelberg.

 

[1][1] As it turns out, we are still dealing with Hertz on this matter.  VERY annoying…

Schopfloch: A Lesson in Gravestone Symbols

The last ancestral town we visited on our trip was Schopfloch in Bavaria where my three-times great-grandfather John (born Josua) Nussbaum was born in 1814.  I wrote a long post about Schopfloch when I was doing my research of my Nussbaum relatives.  The town dates back to the 13th century, and there was a Jewish community there in the 14th century.  As early as the 17th century, there was a synagogue, a mikveh, and a school in Schopfloch. In 1867, there were almost 400 Jews in the town out of almost 2000 residents. Today Schopfloch is a small town of about 3000 people, about half the size of Gau-Algesheim and slightly larger than Jesberg, but four times the size of Sielen.  There is no Jewish community there now.

My 4x-great-grandparents, Amson Nussbaum and Voegele Welsch, died in 1836 and 1842, respectively, and I thought they were likely the last family members to have died in Schopfloch. Six of their eight children immigrated to the United States before 1860; there were two additional daughters for whom I had birth information, but no information as to whether they had married or had children or where or when they had died. I am still searching for the documents Angelika Brosig used to document this Nussbaum family.  But, as far as I knew, there was no one left in Schopfloch from my Nussbaum family after 1860.  Would I find anything relating to my ancestors in this town?

I had arranged for Jutta Breittinger, who works at the Schopfloch town hall, to be our guide; since Frau Breittinger said she did not speak English well, she had recommended that we also hire a translator. When we met Frau Breittinger, we were soon joined by the translator and his wife, whose names I never quite caught. They were all very helpful and very earnest in their desire to help us and inform us about the Jewish history of Schopfloch.

Our three guides told us the same thing we had heard in the other small towns we’d visited: before the Nazi era, Jews and Christians had worked and lived together without any problems. As described by our translator, Lachoudisch, the secret language developed in Schopfloch, is evidence of this co-operative relationship.  Most Jews in Schopfloch were involved in horse and cattle trading, and market day was on Saturdays, the Jewish Sabbath. The Jewish traders relied on their Christian neighbors to assist with business on Saturdays, using their “secret language” as a way of communicating with them in confidence.

Frau Breittinger told us that she and a number of other Schopfloch residents were now studying Lachoudisch to keep the language alive.  At the end of our visit, we purchased Lachoudisch Sprechen by Hans-Rainer Hofmann, a small book about the language which includes a list of Lachoudisch words and their German equivalents.  It was very interesting to see some of the Lachoudisch words—-some derived from Hebrew like yes (“kenn”) and no (“lou”) and night (“Laila”) and please (“bewackasha”), some from sources I can’t determine like “kiss” for the word “kiss,” which is neither German nor Hebrew for the word we use for kiss in English.  It’s all rather fascinating and also amazing that people in Schopfloch are trying to keep this language alive.

We walked around the corner from the Rathaus to what is now called Bahnhofstrasse but was once called Judengasse.  It was here that the synagogue once stood.  Here is an old photograph of Judengasse with the synagogue on the far right. Below is a photograph of a model of the way the synagogue once looked:

Judengasse before the Holocaust

Model of old synagogue

There is no building now where the synagogue once stood; it is essentially an empty lot between two other buildings.  A plaque marks where it once stood. As I wrote in my earlier post, this synagogue, like so many throughout Germany, was destroyed on Kristallnacht in November, 1938, and by then all the Jews had left the town.  The town, which once had almost 400 Jewish residents, had become “Judenfrei.”

Plaque marking the location of the former synagogue

Empty lot where synagogue once stood

Judengasse today (now called Bahnhofstrasse)

Across the street from the location of the former synagogue was the building which was once the Jewish school.

Former Jewish school

We then walked through the town and up the hill to get to the Jewish cemetery.  I was very surprised to see how large the cemetery was, given how small the town was (and still is).  There are almost 1200 stones there, making it larger than any of the synagogues we had seen in the Hessen region, but it served not just Schopfloch but also several other towns nearby.  The cemetery is actually quite beautiful.  There is a stone wall that surrounds the entire cemetery.

But sadly many of the stones, especially the older ones, are not at all legible.  Some are sinking into the soft ground or already have disappeared.  And the further back we went in the cemetery to reach the oldest stones, the harder it was to find stones that were legible.  The oldest legible stones I could find were from the 1880s, and thus I knew I was not going to find the stones for my 4x-great-grandparents who died before 1850.

Once I came to that realization, I decided instead to focus on the stones I could read, and there were some very interesting ones there. Several people had asked about the hand symbols in one of my earlier posts:

Scholem Katzenstein, my 3x great-grandfather, Haarhausen cemetery

As I explained, those are the symbols indicating that the person buried there descended from the tribe of the high priests, the Cohanim.  But there were other symbols in the Schopfloch cemetery that I’d not seen before.

For example this one shaped like a tree trunk, which symbolizes a premature death—someone whose life was cut short.

Or this one with a palm tree. I was unfamiliar with this as a Jewish gravestone symbol, so I asked the members of the Tracing the Tribe group on Facebook.  I got wonderfully helpful responses, including a translation of the text.  What we deduced from the text and from Psalm 92 (“the righteous shall flourish like a palm tree”)  is that the date palm is a symbol of righteousness; the man buried here was probably a rabbi, and the text refers to his philanthropy and his scholarliness.  He’s not my relative, but I am glad I looked into the meaning of his stone.  His name was David Ballenberger 1815-1881.

This one interested me because of the unusual way the Hebrew letters were carved. Notice also the two completely eroded stones behind it. Could those be the stones for my Nussbaum 4x-great-grandparents? I don’t know.

Finally, I found this one very interesting:

It has three symbols on it: a butcher’s knife, a shofar (the horn blown on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur), and a knife used for circumcision. I asked my friend Brett Levi to translate this for me, and he confirmed that the text indicated that the man buried there had been a shochet (kosher butcher), a shofar blower, and a mohel (person trained to do ritual circumcisions).

After visiting the cemetery, we walked back to town hall, where we saw the model of the former synagogue depicted above. After purchasing the Lachoudisch book, we said goodbye to our guides and headed out of Schopfloch.

We were excited to be going to our last stop, Heidelberg.  I have no genealogical connection to the city, and these last three days of our trip were going to be days to relax, enjoy a beautiful city, and look back on everything we’d seen. I had scheduled a walking tour of Worms for part of one of the days, but otherwise, we were going to be on our own.

So we took a deep breath, got back into our Nissan Juke, and set the GPS to take us to Heidelberg. We were ready for the last leg of our trip and had plenty of time to get to Heidelberg and return our rental car before 6 pm when the Hertz office closed.

But it was not to be.

Wurzburg: Our Brief but Wonderful Visit to this Beautiful City

On May 10, after visiting Jesberg and saying goodbye to the Kassel region, we drove south towards Wurzburg.  Wurzburg was actually not originally on our itinerary.  In planning our trip, I had initially confused the Schopfloch in Baden with the Schopfloch in Bavaria and made plans to stay in Stuttgart to be closer to the Baden Schopfloch (that is, the wrong one).  Fortunately I discovered this mistake in time, cancelled the Stuttgart reservation (but still had to pay….grrr), and made a new reservation in Wurzburg.  I knew nothing about Wurzburg except that in studying the map, it was the closest bigger city I could find to the Schopfloch in Bavaria where my Nussbaum ancestors had lived.  It was meant to be simply a one night stopover before we headed to Schopfloch.

As we drove south and entered Bavaria, the landscape changed from the open fields and hills we’d been seeing throughout the Rhine-Palatinate region and the Hessen region.  Now we saw forests of tall trees on either side of the Autobahn.  It was a dramatic change in scenery.  We arrived in Wurzburg around 4 pm and checked into our hotel, the Hotel Wurzburger Hof, having no idea what to expect of the hotel or the city.

Well, this quickly became our favorite hotel of the entire trip.  The young woman at reception checked us in and then offered us a free glass of wine.  On top of that she told us that they had given us a room with a private roof deck overlooking the city. We have no idea how we managed to get that room, but we didn’t ask questions.  We took our bags and our wine up to our room, dropped our bags, and took the wine out to the roof deck. It was big enough to host a party for twenty people, and there was plenty of patio furniture out there.  The room itself was also very comfortable, clean, and beautifully furnished.  We sat and relaxed, perhaps the first time in our trip that we had no appointments or sites to see or cemeteries to visit.

Our roof deck at the Hotel Wurzburger Hof

When it was time to eat, we asked the receptionist for dinner suggestions, and she recommended two restaurants on the river. “There’s a river?” I asked.  She smiled and told us how to get to the restaurants on the Main River.  We picked the Italian one (of course) and had a table overlooking the river; the food was as good as the view.

Locanda restaurant

The Main River

One of the many good Hefeweizen beers I had in Germany

After dinner we strolled around a bit and noticed that, as in the restaurant, the streets were filled with young people. When we returned to the hotel, we asked the evening clerk why there were so many young people.  “For the university,” he responded.  “There’s a university?” I said.

Our hotel

Obviously I needed to do some research about this city.

We were glad that we did not have to rush out the next morning for Schopfloch, as our appointment with Jutta Breittinger, our Schopfloch guide, was not until 2 pm.  We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast in the hotel, and then, with a walking tour map in hand, we set off to see this city that we’d so quickly fallen in love with the night before.

The first place on our tour was right across from our hotel: the Juliusspital, a hospital and retirement home founded in 1576 by Julius Echter, the bishop of Wurzburg.  The expansive Baroque building was designed by Italian architect, Antonio Petrini. It was built to take care of the poor and sick people of the area and still functions as a hospital today.  From the outside and from the grounds inside its courtyards, however, you would think this was a palace.

Juliusspital

Garden in the Juliusspital courtyard

We then followed our map, strolling past a shopping district (notice that T J Maxx is called T Z Maxx) towards the market place where the Marien Chapel is located.

Dunkin Donuts! A Massachusetts business in Germany

Click to enlarge to see T Z Maxx

As we turned the corner to enter the market square, we immediately noticed this stunning church and the beautiful architecture that surrounds the square.  The Marien Chapel was built in the 14th century on grounds that were once a synagogue, according to Wikipedia.  Although Wurzburg, like Mainz, Bingen, and Cologne, suffered a lot of damage from Allied bombing during World War II, the chapel and many other places were reconstructed after the war and restored to their original appearance.  It is quite remarkable, inside and out.

Marien Chapel

Interior of Marien Chapel

From there we walked to the Wurzburg Dom, the fourth largest Romanesque church in Germany. It is also a gorgeous building.  At this point we were both quite dazzled by all the beauty in this small city (the population is under 200,000, as compared to two million in Cologne).  The Dom was built in the 11th century and remodeled and extended numerous times over the centuries.  It also suffered severe damage during World War II, and renovations were not completed until 1967.  According to this site, when they remodeled the building, they chose to restore the interior to its Romanesque origins and did not include some of the Baroque elements that had been added in the 17th century.  The interior is white and surprisingly bright unlike most cathedrals I’ve seen.

Wurzburg Dom

Interior of Wurzburg Dom

Perhaps the best known attraction in Wurzburg is the Residenz, where we went next. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Residenz was built in the eighteenth century as a palace for the “bishop-princes” of Wurzburg; it was designed by Balthasar Neumann.  It reminded me of the Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna—-long halls of room after room after room, huge common spaces, elaborate adornments on the walls and ceilings, and a wide and gracious red-carpeted staircase. Frescoes by Tielpolo cover the ceiling over the wide open space above the staircase.  Behind the palace are beautiful gardens filled with flowers and green spaces with benches. (We weren’t allowed to take photos inside.)

Das Residenz

Gardens at the Residenz

The Residenz was also severely damaged during the war and was, like the Dom and the Marien Chapel and much of Wurzburg, rebuilt after the war.

After touring the Residenz, we decided to stroll back across the city through the streets where the university is located to the Main River. We walked along the river to the Alte Mainbrucke (Old Main Bridge), which spans the river.  We walked across the river, looking back to see the towers of the Dom lined up with the bridge.

View across the Main River from Wurzburg

Crossing the Old Bridge

The Old Bridge

The towers of the Dom from the Old Bridge

After a lunch from a bakery on the market square we reluctantly left this beautiful city behind.  We had been there less than 24 hours, and we both wished we had another day to spend in Wurzburg.

Marktplatz in Wurzburg (notice the style of the buildings some historic restoration, others in modern utilitarian style

 

Before You Visit A Cemetery, Read This Post

There’s a lesson in here for anyone planning to visit a cemetery to find where their ancestors are buried.  I wish I’d had this lesson before traveling to Germany.

May 10 was our last day in the Kassel region, and we were going to see the village of Jesberg, home of the Katz and Katzenstein families.  As the Katzenstein/Katz family has been the one I have been researching most recently, these names and stories were freshest in my mind, and I was very interested in seeing what we could find and learn. Hans-Peter Klein was again going to be our guide along with Mrs. Ochs, who lives in Jesberg. We followed Hans-Peter from Kassel to Borken, where he picked up the key to the cemetery in Haarhausen where the Katzenstein and Katz family members from Jesberg were buried before the Jesberg cemetery itself was established.

As with the Obervonschutzen cemetery near Gudensberg the night before, I had no idea what to expect in Haarhausen.  I did like the horses who were grazing nearby.

This was another very big cemetery with close to 400 stones dating back to 1705. Once again, Hans-Peter came equipped with a map and pages from the LAGIS website showing the headstones and information about many members of the Katz and Katzenstein families who were buried at this cemetery.  So we were off on another treasure hunt—but with better lighting and more rested eyes than the evening before.

Haarhausen cemetery

And what treasure we found.  I have to admit that I should have been better prepared for this visit.  I should have searched the LAGIS website myself before leaving home and written down all the Katzensteins who were buried there, where they were buried, and how they were related to me.  But I failed to do that.  I am not sure I even knew about that part of the LAGIS website, or I’d forgotten about it.  It would have made my search both easier and more meaningful if I’d been better prepared.

For example, these two headstones:

I thought that these were the headstones of my three-times great-grandparents Scholum Katzenstein and Breine Blumenfeld because, looking quickly, they matched the pages for a Schalum and a Brendelchen.  I placed stones and even took a picture with both stones, believing these were the parents of my great-great-grandfather Gerson Katzenstein.

But I was wrong.

In fact, having now had the chance to sit and check my tree and the LAGIS pages and the photos, I know that these were the stones of my FIVE-times great-grandparents, Schalum, son of Pinchas ha-Cohen, and his wife Brendelchen (father’s name unknown) who died in 1774 and 1776, respectively.  They were the grandparents of Scholum Katzenstein, great-grandparents of Gerson. Wow. Do I wish I had known? Yes. Does it really matter? Probably not.  I paid tribute, I visited. I just thought they were different people.

I am, however, really sorry I could not find the stone for Meir, the son of Schalum ha Cohen and Brendelchen, who is buried at Haarhausen.  He was my four-times great-grandfather, the father of Scholum Katzenstein.  There were many stones that were similar to this one depicted on the LAGIS website.  But I could not find Meir’s stone.

I did, however, find the stone for his wife, Henchen, who was my four-times great-grandmother.  But I did not realize this was who she was at the time, only when I got home and checked my resources.

Henchen, wife of Meier Katz. My 4th great-grandmother

I assume that Meir’s stone was nearby.  Henchen died in 1793, Meir in 1803.

And this stone, which I photographed but could not read clearly at the site, is in fact the stone for my three-times great-grandfather, Scholum Katzenstein.  It is labeled on the LAGIS website as the stone for Abraham Schalum, son of Meir ha-Kohen, so I didn’t realize it at the time, but again, after checking with my resources at home, I now know that that was the Hebrew name used by Scholum Katzenstein and that that was in fact his stone. Perhaps the stone for his wife was nearby, but  Hans-Peter had no sheet for a Breine Blumenfeld Katzenstein, and I couldn’t find one either at the LAGIS site.

Scholem Katzenstein, my 3x great-grandfather

I did find the stone for Schalum Abraham Katzenstein, son of Jacob Katzenstein, grandson of Scholum Katzenstein.  He was my first-cousin, three times removed.  His brother Meier is also buried at Haarhausen, but we did not find his stone. (You can see why I was overwhelmed with all the similar names!)

Jacob Katzenstein’s son, Schalum Katzenstein

So I learned an important lesson: be really well prepared for cemetery visits.  I feel extremely fortunate that I found the stones of my 5x great-grandparents, my 4x-great-grandmother, and my three-times great-grandfather. But I sure wish I’d known more about who was buried at Haarhausen and where they were buried before I even got to the cemetery.  Am I kicking myself? Yes. I missed some important stones because I had not done a careful enough job of preparation. It’s too late now, and I am annoyed with myself, but I also learned a very important lesson.  Do the hard work of preparation ahead of time because cemeteries are overwhelming, stones are hard to read, and time is limited.

We left the cemetery and proceeded on to Jesberg, where the Katz and Katzenstein families lived from at least the early 19th century. Today there are about 2500 people living in Jesberg, making it about four times the size of Sielen but smaller than Breuna. A castle was built in Jesberg in the 13th century, and there was a Jewish community dating from the 17th century. In 1905, the Jewish community of about 90 people made up over ten percent of the overall population of Jesberg; during the 19th century when my great-great-grandfather was born and raised, the Jewish population ranged from 55 people to 73 people, according to Alemannia-Judaica.  A synagogue was built in 1832, and there was a mikveh, a Jewish school, and eventually a cemetery.

Jesberg synagogue before World War I

In 1933 when many members of my Katz family were still living there, there were still more than fifty Jews in Jesberg.  Today there are no Jews in Jesberg.

Helping us in touring Jesberg along with Hans-Peter was Mrs. Ochs, who is another volunteer in the research of the Jewish history of the area and who works with Barbara Greve, who was out of town. Mrs. Ochs lives in Jesberg and was, like all the others, very warm, friendly, and helpful. We first drove out to the Jesberg cemetery, which did not open until about 1900 and which only has about twenty stones.

View of Jesberg from the cemetery

Jesberg cemetery

These are all the stones at the Jesberg cemetery

I knew that Meir Katz and his wife Sprinzchen Jungenheim were buried there, the parents of Jake, Aron, Ike, Regina, and Karl Katz, all of whom came to the US and settled in Oklahoma, some in the 19th century, others in the 1930s to escape the Nazis. I had spoken to Karl Katz’s son Fred before we left for Germany, and he had asked me to look for his grandparents’ graves and told me how to find them in the cemetery.

Back of the stones for Sprinzchen and Meier Katz in German

Front of stones for Sprinzchen and Meier Katz in Hebrew

There were three children of Jacob Katzenstein, brother of my great-great-grandfather Gerson Katzenstein, buried in the cemetery.  These were my great-grandmother Hilda’s first cousins:

Levi Katzenstein, son of Jacob Katzenstein, and his wife Jeanette

Levi  Katzenstein, son of Jacob Katzenstein, and his wife Jeanette

Pauline Katzenstein, daughter of Jacob Katzenstein:

Pauline Katzenstein, daughter of Jacob Katzenstein

Baruch Katzenstein, son of Jacob Katzenstein:

Baruch Katzenstein, son of Jacob Katzenstein

There were also a few stones where half of the stone was left blank, obviously reserved for a spouse.  What had happened to their spouses? Had they left Germany and escaped safely or had they been killed in the Holocaust? I decided I would check.

Markus Katz: He was the son of Moses Katz, as I wrote about here.  His grandmother Rahel Katzenstein was the sister of my great-great-grandfather Gerson Katzenstein.

Markus Katz, son of Moses Katz, grandson of Rahel Katzenstein

Markus was married to Minna Wallach, also known as Nanny according to other records.  As I had feared, she was murdered in the Holocaust, explaining the blank side of this headstone.

Another stone with a blank half was for Josef Katz.  He was quite distantly related to me, a third cousin, three times removed.  According to David Baron’s research, Josef was married to Bertha Lowenstein, daughter of Simon Lowenstein and Esther Stern, and she was born in Fronhausen, Germany in 1870.  I have not yet found any information about Bertha’s death so cannot say why the other half of Josef’s gravestone is blank. Perhaps she escaped the Holocaust, though her son Siegfried did not survive, so I doubt she did either. I will keep looking.

Josef Katz, third cousin, three times removed

The third stone with a blank half was for someone named Moses Schloss.  As far as I know, he was not a relative of mine, but I still wanted to know what had happened to his wife.  According to Yad Vashem, his wife was Lisette Gans Schloss, and she died at Theriesenstadt on October 14, 1942. So it appears my hunch was right.  At least two of the three blank stones were for victims of the Holocaust.

After visiting the cemetery, we returned to Jesberg, where Mrs. Ochs showed us the former synagogue and pointed out the brook that ran behind it, feeding what was probably once a mikveh.

Former synagogue in Jesberg

Brook running behind the synagogue

Back of former synagogue

I could imagine the carefree life that my great-great-grandfather Gerson Katzenstein and his many cousins had in Jesberg, running through the quiet streets and playing in the brook.  The town is probably not that much different today in appearances, other than the cars and paved roads.

We also walked down Bahnhofstrasse, the street where Fred Katz had lived as a young boy before escaping with his parents to Oklahoma in December 1938.  Fred had told me the house number, so I was able to find the house where he had lived with his parents, Karl Katz and Jettchen Oppenheimer, his brothers Walter and Max, his uncle Aron and his wife Sarah, and their sons Jack and Julius.  More on Fred and his life in Jesberg in a later post.

Marktplatz and church in Jesberg

Bahnhofstrasse in Jesberg

House where the Katz family lived in Jesberg in the 1930s

The brook that runs through Jesberg

We then all went to lunch in a nearby town (there was no place to eat—not even a bakery—in Jesberg), and then Harvey and I said another difficult goodbye to Hans-Peter and Mrs. Ochs and to the Kassel region.

Our days in the Kassel region far exceeded my expectations.  The friends we made and the places we saw will stay with me forever.  Yes, I wish I had better prepared for the cemetery visits, but overall I have no regrets and am so thankful that I got to visit the homes of my Hamberg, Goldschmidt, Schoenthal, and Katzenstein ancestors.  I am particularly thankful to Ernst Klein, Julia Drinnenberg, Hans-Peter Klein, Barbara Greve, and Mrs. Ochs for all their hard work and dedication, and, of course, especially to Harvey for being a willing and helpful participant in the hunt for stones in so many cemeteries.

Now we were heading south to Wurzburg and then to Schopfloch, the home of the Nussbaums

 

 

 

 

Another Mikveh, A Castle, A Museum, and A Search for Stones: Trendelburg, Hofgeismar, and Gudensberg

After our eventful morning in Sielen with Julia and Hans-Peter, we all headed to Trendelburg.  At one time the cemetery there had been used by the Jewish residents of Sielen, so I hoped that perhaps I’d find a Schoenthal ancestor buried there.  But that one had even fewer stones as it had been desecrated by the Nazis.  There were no Schoenthals there.

Marker describing destruction of the cemetery by the Nazis.

All that’s left of the Trendelburg cemetery

But Trendelburg itself was an interesting place to visit.  It was here that my great-great-uncle Henry Schoenthal had taught in the Jewish school after attending the seminary in Kassel.

First, Julia showed us another old mikveh that had been discovered in a basement like the one Ernst Klein had found in Volksmarsen.  This one was discovered in 2001 when an abandoned house was undergoing renovation. The mikveh is believed to have been closed sometime in the 19th century and perhaps replaced with another.  There had been a fire in the building at some point, but the basement and the mikveh had survived.

Trendelburg mikveh

Julia explained that it was believed that the mikveh dated to the late 18th century because there are documents dated 1782-1783 in which a man named Joseph Levi asked for permission to build a pipe to his cellar from the town well.  Although a mikveh is supposed to be fed by natural water—spring, groundwater, or rain—in this case it appeared that a conduit was necessary to supply the water for the ritual bath.

The other interesting landmark in Trendelburg is the castle believed to be the inspiration for the story of Rapunzel by the Brothers Grimm. I wrote more about the castle’s history here.

Rapunzel’s tower

OK, so I am no Rapunzel

In the castle’s restaurant with Hans-Peter

Now the castle is used as a hotel and a restaurant, and Julia, Hans-Peter, Harvey, and I went into the restaurant for coffee, and then after Hans-Peter left to teach a seminar in Kassel, Julia, Harvey, and I had lunch there.  It was lovely, and it gave us a chance to talk to Julia about her life (she is an artist) and her reasons for volunteering her time to preserve the Jewish history of these towns. Like the others, she also felt compelled to learn what had happened and to educate others about German Jewish history and the Holocaust.

While at lunch, Julia also presented me with wedding documents for a Rosa Hamberg from Breuna who married a man named Benjamin Cohn.  I did not know who she was or how she fit into my family tree, but after further help and research, Julia, Hans-Peter, and I figured it out.  More on that in a later post.

After lunch, we went with Julia to the town where she lives, Hofgeismar, to see the museum she and her colleagues have created in that town to educate others about its Jewish history.  We were really impressed by the museum.  Not only are there wonderful materials to teach about Judaism and the Holocaust, Julia and her colleagues have developed an extremely creative curriculum for high school students that has them engage in interactive ways to learn about the Jewish history of their region. For example, the students created a replica of the ark that once existed in the synagogue by using data about its measurements from old documents.  They also created a mural that depicts in detail what the Hofgeismar synagogue had looked like—again, using old plans and documents to be as accurate as possible.

Former synagogue in Hofgesmar

Mural created by students to depict the former synagogue of Hofgeismar

It was a curriculum so creative and thoughtful that we both felt that it was something that educators in the US could use effectively to teach students about Jewish history.  This is another project that deserves the support of anyone who is interested in preventing the ignorance and hatred that led to the Holocaust.  You can learn more at their website here.

After saying a grateful and emotional goodbye to Julia, we headed back to Kassel.  But our day was not over.  After a short break back in Kassel, Hans-Peter picked us up  at 5;30 for a trip to Gudensberg. I am not sure how Hans-Peter had the energy.  We were already exhausted and had had a break; he’d been in Sielen and Trendelburg with us and then had taught a class in Kassel and was now ready to drive us back out to Gudensberg, which is 25 kilometers south and another half hour drive away.

And I wasn’t even sure why we were going to Gudensberg.  As far as I knew, the only family connection I had to that village was through my great-grandfather’s brothers, Henry and Jakob Schoenthal, who had married Charlotte and Helen Lilienfeld, two sisters from Gudensberg.

So we piled into Hans-Peter’s car off for another adventure.  First we went to the cemetery in Obervorschuetz, just a few miles from Gudensberg. This is a huge cemetery—with close to 400 stones dating as far back as 1727. Hans-Peter had collected information about possible relatives of mine who were buried in this cemetery; he had photocopied the photographs of the relevant stones from the LAGIS website of Jewish gravestones. They were all members of the Mansbach family from Maden: Liebmann (1813-1874), Schoene (d. 1879), Chaja Mansbach (geb. Speier)(1787-1861), and Hannchen Mansbach (geb. Katzenstein) (1799-1840).  As I looked at the names, only the last was familiar.

But when I got home, I researched a few of the others and realized that Liebmann Mansbach was the father of Rose Mansbach, who married Simon Schoenthal, my great-grandfather’s brother. Schoene Mansbach was Liebmann’s daughter and Rose’s sister.  Chaja Speier Mansbach was Liebmann’s mother, Rose’s grandmother.  So they were all related to me, albeit only through marriage, but nevertheless all were in my family tree. Hans-Peter had noted the connections, but I guess my addled brain did not absorb it all at the time.

But Hannchen Mansbach geb. Katzenstein was in fact my blood relative.  She was the half-sister of my great-great-grandfather Gerson Katzenstein and the daughter of Scholem Katzenstein, my three-times great-grandfather.  As I wrote about here, she had married Marum Mansbach of Maden, with whom she’d had six children, including three who came to the US: Henrietta, Abraham, and H.H (Harry), about whom I’ve written extensively.  Hannchen had died after giving birth to Harry in 1840.  It was her stone I was most interested in seeing.

So we started on a treasure hunt, trying to find these stones.  It was a real challenge—almost 400 stones, and all we had were small photographs of the stones to use to locate the actual stone and a map filled with hundreds of square that Hans-Peter had highlighted, but that was not that easy to follow.

I believe that this is the stone for Chaja Speier Mansbach:

Chaja Mansbach geb Speier (maybe)

But the others we could not find for sure.  The stones were eroded, making it very difficult to read the Hebrew inscriptions and compare them to the sheets that Hans-Peter had printed. The sun was getting lower in the sky, creating a glare on the stones and making them even harder to read. And there were so many stones (and we had all had a long day already) that I was ready to give up.

And then I spotted this stone where the name was written in German on the reverse:

Hanchen Katzenstein Mansbach headstone

And this was on the Hebrew side:

Hanchen Katzenstein Mansbach headstone Hebrew side

It took some doing, but I was able to discern that this was in fact the stone for Hannchen Katzenstein Mansbach, whose sons had served on opposite sides of the US Civil War and who had both gone on to considerable success in America as had their sister Henrietta, who married Gabriel Gump.  Hannchen was my three-times great-aunt.  The Hebrew inscription on her stones is translated as:

A virtuous woman, she was like Abigail.

She noted that her trade was good. She was modest

In her speech. Her actions were pleasant. Of the king’s daughter

Would be her interior. She was a wise woman.

Her soul rose up into the sky. She changed her whole life

On straight paths. She kept the Lord’s commandments. Henchen,

Daughter of Shelom ha-Kohen, wife of Me’ir, son of

Elieser from Maden. She went into her world

And died on Saturday, the 2nd Tammuz, and was buried on Sunday [5] 600

After the small count. Her soul is bound up in the covenant of life

With all the other just women in the Garden of Eden,

Amen. Her soul was bound in covenant.

As you can see from the photographs, we left stones on her headstone, marking our visit and honoring not only her, but all her descendants.  I was now very glad that we had gone to visit this cemetery.

But our day was not yet over. We next went to the town of Gudensberg, home of Charlotte and Helen Lilienfeld, sisters and the wives of Jakob and Henry Schoenthal, my great-great-uncles. Henry Schoenthal had married Helen in Gudensberg in 1872 after immigrating to the US.  Jakob had married Charlotte in Gudensberg in 1879; they later settled in Cologne, as I wrote about here.

The principal thing that Hans-Peter wanted us to see in Gudensberg was the former synagogue.  He and his wife had been very active in preserving and restoring the synagogue, and it was that project that inspired him to go on to do so much work in preserving the records of the former Jewish communities in the Nordhessen region.  It is quite a beautiful restoration.

Former synagogue in Gudensberg

Memorial plaque outside former synagogue

Interior of former synagogue in Gudensberg; women’s section above

Rearview of synagogue from street in Gudensberg

Today the building is used primarily as a cultural center and music school, although I understand that at times it has been used for Jewish religious celebrations.

We also saw the former Jewish school and the stolpersteine there for the man who was the last head of the school and his family.

And we saw the house of Michael Lilienfeld, brother of Charlotte and Helen, the sisters who married two of my Schoenthal great-great-uncles.

House of Michael Lilienfeld

Hans-Peter then returned us to our hotel in Kassel. It had been a long and fascinating day, and my spirits were lifted after seeing all the incredible work that both Julia Drinnenberg and Hans-Peter Klein have done and are doing to preserve the history of the Jewish communities of the four towns we’d visited that day. It was a lot to process as we ate for a second night in the Italian restaurant across from our hotel.

The next morning we were heading to Jesberg, home of the Katzensteins.

 

 

 

 

Sielen: The Tiny Ancestral Home of the Schoenthals

After spending the prior day in Volksmarsen and Breuna, home of the Hambergs, I was excited to go to Sielen, the home of the Schoenthals.  We were going to meet two people in Sielen, Julia Drinnenberg, with whom I’d only exchanged a few emails, and Hans-Peter Klein, with whom I’d been in touch for a couple of years.  Hans-Peter and Ernst (not related to each other) created the Juden in Nordhessen website that has provided me with extensive information about my Hessen ancestors.  When I was researching the Schoenthals, Hans-Peter was a tremendous help.  He also knew my friend from home, Amanda, so I was looking forward to meeting him and Julia.

Sielen is about forty minutes from Kassel, the city where we were staying, and the drive was quite scenic.  We went over the mountain (hill?) where the Kassel fortress is, then along a winding and narrow road, and then through beautiful countryside.  As we approached Sielen, there was a flock of sheep grazing in the field on the edge of the village.  I decided to get out and take some photographs of the surrounding area.

Countryside outside of Sielen

As I was doing that, another car pulled up alongside me, and a man got out and asked me if I was Amy.  It was Hans-Peter, and we both laughed at the fact that he knew it had to be me, given how small and isolated Sielen is.  We both drove into the village where Julia soon appeared as well. She was also outgoing and friendly, and we all hit it off right away.

As in the other towns and villages, there was a marketplace and a church. But Sielen is much smaller.  Whereas Gau-Algesheim has a population of about 7000, Volksmarsen about the same, and Breuna almost 4000, Sielen’s population is only about 500 people.  It was the smallest village we visited.

While we were all getting acquainted, a man appeared in the marketplace where we had parked, yelling in German.  Harvey and I were both a bit intimidated, but after some discussion with Hans-Peter and Julia, the man left.  Apparently we had driven up to the marketplace the wrong way.

Sielen church and marktplatz

Julia had some historical information about Sielen to share with us.  According to a 1789 report on Sielen by J. Chr. Martin entitled “Topographical and Statistical News of Nether Hessen, Goettingen (1789, p. 103, as translated), at that time there were 114 homes in Sielen and about 500 residents: “106 men, 112 women, 128 sons and 123 daughters, 14 servants, 14 maidens.” In terms of livelihoods, the report noted that there were forty farmers, 76 peasants, seventeen “cloth-weathers,” one blacksmith, one wainwright, one tailor, and two carpenters.  The report adds, “Also there are two Jewish families who make their living by trading.” I had to wonder whether my Schoenthal ancestors were one of those two families.  Levi Schoenthal, my great-great-grandfather, was born there in 1812, so perhaps his father Heinemann was already living there by 1789.

As I wrote previously, according to the Alemannia-Judaica website, there was a very small Jewish community in Sielen at least from the early 19th century.  There was a synagogue in Sielen as early as 1817, and the village had its own Jewish cemetery starting in 1846.  In 1835, there were 38 Jewish residents; in 1861, there were 48.  By 1905, there were only fourteen Jewish residents, and by 1924, there were just four Jewish residents remaining.  My Schoenthal ancestors had left Sielen by the 1880s.

Julia’s papers also included a later report about Sielen, written in 1932-1934, around the time that Hitler came to power.  This document, written by Superintendent I.R. Brandt and titled “Chronicle of Sielen,” provides some insight into the status of Jews at that time.   There were two Jewish families left, one being an elderly woman named Perle Herzstein, whose house was attached to the old synagogue.

The report goes on (p. 109)(as translated in the document Julia gave me):

Inside it is desolate, there aren’t any church services for a long time. But the old keeper of bygone splendor [Ms. Herzstein] shows us proudly the marvelous tora-rolls, man-high and from thick parchment, lovely as on its first day. And she shows us the colorful embroidered silk ribbons twined around them, and other books and things. She sighs in remembrance of former, for her, better times!

The next few lines are confusing—I am not sure whether it’s the translation or it was as confusing in the original:

Yes, it’s true, the Jew misbehaved in Hesse in former times. He often contributed to his own pauperization by profiteering and Gueterschlaechterei, etc. (?)

Nowhere else the antisemitism of National Socialism is carrying greater justification than in Hesse. But these ordinary harmless people scattered here and there in small villages for many a long year, who still belong to orthodox Judaism and whose integrity and strength of character…cannot be denied—they just belong to the colorful German nationhood.  It would leave a void if it were weeded out completely.

It seems that, on the one hand, the writer is condoning anti-Semitism, but on the other is praising the Jewish residents of the area and admitting that it would be a loss for the community if they were “weeded out completely.” I wish I knew more about this source; perhaps Julia can give me more information about it.

At any rate, today there are no Jews in Sielen. Julia told us that the house depicted below was where the last Jew in Sielen lived until the 1930s when at some point he was dragged from the house and beaten.

House where last Jewish resident of Sielen lived—right across from the church and on the marktplatz

When I asked Julia and Hans-Peter what people did for a living today in these little villages, they said many are employed in Kassel (there is a Volkswagen plant near Kassel) while some are tradespeople.  Not many are farmers any more.

We walked to where the synagogue once was and stood outside what is now a large home. We walked around the corner, looking for some indication of where the entrance had been, and as we stood outside, a man came out.

Section to left was the old synagogue in Sielen. Compare to photo above.

After our experience with the angry man in the marketplace, I was concerned that this man also was going to yell at us for loitering in front of his house. But instead he asked what we were doing, and when Hans-Peter and Julia explained, he became very interested, asking more questions.  He introduced himself to us (his name, Braun Rode, was on the beer sign outside the house—perhaps it is also a tavern).  He and his wife had lived in the house for 40 years.  And he was very happy that we had come to see it.

Then his wife came out and offered us all something to drink.  When we all declined, she returned with a book about the former synagogues in Germany and showed us the picture of their house when it had been the synagogue (see above).

These two people, who did not know us at all, could not have been nicer.  Herr Braun Rode insisted that we take photographs with him in front of the house and send him a copy (which Julia did).  When we said goodbye, he said to us in German to send regards to America. Once again, we were left with a very positive and warm feeling about the people in Germany.

Julia Drinnenberg, Hans-Peter Klein, Herr Braun Rode, and Harvey outside the former synagogue in Sielen

We then drove to the cemetery that lies outside the village up a rather steep hill.  It is hard to imagine how people from Sielen and the other nearby villages managed to get the bodies of the deceased to these cemeteries.

Looking down the hill from the cemetery to the road

There were not a lot of stones in the cemetery, and I looked at each one several times, hoping to find my great-great-grandfather Levi Schoenthal, or any other Schoenthal, but I had no luck. Some of the stones are completely eroded, and others are only in Hebrew and were extremely difficult to read. Julia had a transcription of the stones, and there was this one, which I had previously found in my research:

Transcription from Sielen cemetery, HHStAW Abt. 365 Nr. 774, p. 4

Thanks to the helpful people in the Tracing the Tribe Facebook group, I know that that translates as “Chaim Schoenthal from Sielen died 7 Nissan 5634,” or March 25, 1874, which is four days before the date I had for Levi’s funeral (the actual date of death was not legible in the death record).

Levi Schoenthal death record March 1874
HHStAW Abt. 365 Nr. 773, S. 9

The name as transcribed confused me since it was not Levi, but Chaim was probably his father Heinemann’s Hebrew name, so I think the transcriber could not read Levi’s own first name and transcribed only the patronym. It probably said “Levi ben Chaim Schoenthal.”

But even with that transcription, we could not find the actual stone.  The transcriptions were done over 30 years ago, so the stone must have badly eroded since then. I examined each stone, hoping to find an inscription that contained the name of my great-great-grandfather.  But it was not to be.

Sielen cemetery

Sielen cemetery

Sielen cemetery. I now think that the very eroded sign on the left could have been where Levi Schoenthal was buried.

Or maybe this one?

Although I was disappointed not to find the stone for my great-great-grandfather, it had been a great morning, meeting not only Hans-Peter and Julia, but also the friendly couple who live in the house which was once the synagogue.  Sielen is a tiny jewel with a long history, and it might have been a good and comfortable place to be a child growing up.  But  now I better understand why my great-grandfather Isidore Schoenthal and all his siblings left the village.  There was not much there to support a young adult who wanted to go out on his or her own.

Volkmarsen and Breuna: A Remarkable Day

On Monday morning, May 8, we picked up our rental car (a cute little Nissan Juke) and started our drive northeast from Cologne to the Kassel region where we would spend the next three days.  I must admit I had some trepidation about driving in Germany (well, about Harvey driving in Germany; I certainly wasn’t going to drive).  I’d heard about the absence of speed limits on the Autobahn, and being a nervous passenger under any circumstances, I had visions of a combination of bumper cars and roller coasters.  Add to that the fact that the signs would be in German and distances in kilometers, and I figured this would not be a relaxing experience.

But I was wrong.  Our GPS was excellent (with a delightful British accent), the signs were clear, the roads were smooth, and we somehow managed to keep up (to some extent) with the pace of the German drivers.  The only part I didn’t like was the fact that the vehicles in the right lane were going about 30 mph slower than those in the left lane, making changing lanes at times nerve-wracking (for me, not for Harvey).

We made one visit to a rest stop along the way where I ran from the car to try and get ahead of the three busloads of teenagers going on a school trip.  I was only partly successful and had to wait amid a bunch of chatty teens before paying 70 cents to use the facilities.  When I received a voucher back for 50 cents, I had to ask one of the girls what it was for.  I learned we could redeem it for items in the rest stop store, so we bought a pretzel for the road and re-entered the Autobahn.

Our destination was Volkmarsen where we were to meet Ernst Klein, who would be our guide for the towns we were visiting that day. We arrived on time, and Ernst promptly met us in front of the rathaus (town hall) in the pretty center of the village. I had only emailed a few times with Ernst beforehand, and he had told me that his English was not great, but he was wrong.  His English was excellent, and I immediately warmed to this friendly and modest man.

Ernst Klein and me

First, he showed us around Volkmarsen. I was at first not sure why I would be interested in Volkmarsen since, as far as I knew, I had no family from that town.  But Ernst pointed to a building right across from the rathaus and told us, showing us a photograph, that it had once been the store of Salomon Hamberg. I had to look him up to figure out the connection.  His father Juda Hamberg was a first cousin to my great-great-grandmother, Henrietta Hamberg, the mother of my great-grandfather Isidore Schoenthal. So Salomon was Isidore’s second cousin.

Salomon Hamberg’s store in Volkmarsen

 

Building where Salomon Hamberg once had a store

Ernst showed us the church in Volkmarsen and pointed out that several former Jewish homes were right nearby; he commented that before the Third Reich, Jews and Christians had lived and worked together peacefully as neighbors and friends. We then walked to one of the older homes in town where Ernst wanted to show us something special that he had discovered.

Rathaus in Volkmarsen

Church in Volkmarsen

Street in Volkmarsen where some Jewish families once lived

We went into the backyard of the home and entered a door into the basement at the back of the house.  It was dark inside, and I had no idea what we were going to see.  But Ernst turned on a spotlight that lit up a corner of the basement where we could see stone steps leading down into a rectangular opening—a mikveh!  A mikveh is a ritual bathing place where  traditional Jews go for a ritual purification at particular times in their lives—e.g., for women, before marriage and after each menstrual period. Ernst said he had had the stones dated by an expert and that it was believed that this mikveh was 500 years old, meaning Jews had been in this little town as early as 1500.  There is even visible water at the bottom, showing that natural waters could fill the mikveh.

Volkmarsen mikveh

He then told us how he had discovered the mikveh.  He had been looking for some evidence of an early Jewish community in Volkmarsen in the older buildings and homes in the village, and when he saw this decorative pillar in the basement of this home, he had a hunch that the basement had once been used for something special.

Pillar in basement where mikveh was found in Volkmarsen

He asked the owner for permission to remove the brick flooring to see what was underneath, and the owner agreed, as long as Ernst promised to restore the flooring if there was nothing below it.  But there was, and further investigation indicates the possibility that the front part of the basement was used for prayer services.  There are marks on the walls that look like hand prints and Hebrew letters as well as an opening in the wall that might have housed the Torah scrolls.

Handprints on wall in Volkmarsen

Hebrew lettering ?

Possible location of ark holding Torah scrolls

We were very excited to see this space and wondered what would happen to it since the home is privately owned. Ernst described his hope that his organization could raise the funds to buy the house and convert it into a Jewish museum. I am hoping to help them accomplish this goal, and if you are interested in learning more about this fascinating project, here is more information from their website. I believe that this museum will serve a very important purpose in education and preservation of the Jewish history of the region, and I hope some of you will consider making a donation.

After a quick lunch at yet another great German bakery, we went to see the Volkmarsen cemetery.  The cemetery had been damaged by the Nazis during the war, the headstones smashed to pieces.  A memorial has been established by assembling pieces of the stones together along with a large stone commemorating those who had been buried there.

Broken stones at the Volkmarsen cemetery

Memorial made of broken stones at the Volkmarsen cemetery

In addition, Ernst saw that a memorial wall was created to include the names of Volkmarsen residents who had been killed during the Holocaust.  The empty spaces in the wall are meant to represent the holes now missing from the community, a brilliant and very powerful visual statement.

Memorial to those killed in the Holocaust from Volkmarsen

Ernst then took us to the current Jewish museum in the town, and I could see why he needs more space. He and his colleagues have created an incredible little museum packed with information and Judaica and photographs and records of Jewish history in the area.  The museum is visited by children and adults from the region and also from all parts of the world. There are copies of photographs and letters of members of the Hamberg family, including some of Rob Meyers’ mother and her family. (Rob is my fifth cousin, the one with whom we have very good mutual friends as well as mutual cousins from my father’s Cohen side, the Goldweins.)

Irmgaard Hamberg

Then we left for Breuna, the village where my great-great-grandmother Henriette Hamberg was born. Henriette was the daughter of Moses Hamberg and Guetchen Rotenberg, both of whom had died in Breuna in the 1860s. Henriette was one of ten siblings and at least some of her siblings had stayed in Breuna and died there.   Although I have yet to delve too deeply into the Hamberg genealogy and story, I wanted to see where they’d lived and where they are buried.

On the way to Breuna, Ernst had us pull over to the side of the road so we could see the small mountain that was the inspiration for the family name.  In the early 1800s when the government ordered Jews to adopt surnames for tax-collecting purposes, many Jews picked names based on locations or places that they knew.  Moses Hamberg’s family chose the small mountain outside of Breuna that was and is known as Hamberg.

Hamberg mountain

Breuna is a small village not dissimilar from Volkmarsen or Gau-Algesheim.  There is a church, a small open square, a town hall, and then many individual houses surrounding those public buildings. Ernst showed us the former synagogue, noting its proximity to the church, and two houses that were once the homes of Hamberg family members.

Plaque on former synagogue in Breuna

Former synagogue in Breuna

Former synagogue, left, and church, right, in Breuna

Hamberg home

The weather that day was the coldest and wettest of our days in Germany, and unfortunately we were too uncomfortable to spend much time walking around.  So we headed to the cemetery.  Along the way we passed the street named for Susanne Hamberg, Rob Meyer’s aunt who was, along with her parents, killed in the Holocaust. Susanne was only thirteen years old; she was my fourth cousin, once removed.

Outside the cemetery was a sign telling the history of Breuna’s Jewish community. It includes the Hamberg family as one of the families that made up that community.

Inside the cemetery are many stones in about six or seven different rows.  It is quite a nice cemetery and very well maintained.  Many of the stones are only in Hebrew and somewhat eroded, so reading them was extremely difficult, but fortunately many stones also have German on the reverse side, revealing the secular name of the person buried in that spot. I looked at each stone, often seeing nothing that seemed relevant, and occasionally seeing a name that seemed a possible relative—a Goldschmidt or a Hamberg.

But my search was rewarded when I located these two stones:

Hebrew side of stone for Guetchen Rotenberg Hamberg

Hebrew side Moses Hamberg’s stone

On the reverse were their German names:

Guetchen Rotenberg, reverse side

Moses Hamberg stone reverse side

These were the stones for my three-times great-grandparents, Moses Hamberg and Guetchen Rotenberg, the parents of Henriette Hamberg, the grandparents of Isidore Schoenthal.  Seeing them took my breath away.  I had not expected to find stones for my own direct ancestors.  Because of my experience in Gau-Algesheim, I had kept my expectations low. Yet here were the stones for my ancestors, the grandparents of my father’s maternal grandfather.

I never knew these people and in fact knew almost nothing about them beyond their names, birth dates, and death dates.  The birth record of their daughter Hannchen revealed that Moses was a cattle merchant.  Despite this thin amount of personal information, somehow I felt a connection to these people who died almost a hundred years before I was born.

In the cemetery there were also a number of stones for other people on my Hamberg family tree:

Jettchen Gans Hamberg, wife of Seligmann Hamberg, brother of my great-great-grandmother Henriette Hamberg.  Jettchen and Seligmann were the parents of Malchen/Amalia Hamberg who married Jacob Baer and had the children who founded and worked for the Attleboro Manufacturing Company, the large jewelry business in Attleboro Massachusetts.

 

Levi Mollerich, husband of Miriam Hamberg, sister of my great-great-grandmother Henriette Hamberg.

Baruch Hamberg and his wife Sara Herzfeld.  Baruch was my second cousin, three times removed; more importantly, he and Sara were my cousin Rob Meyer’s great-grandparents.  Baruch was also related to Joel Goldwein as Baruch’s mother Breine Goldwein was the sister of Joel’s great-grandfather Markus Goldwein.

Rosa Hamberg Braunsberg.  She was Baruch Hamberg’s sister, so another second cousin, three times removed.

Fanny Herzfeld Goldwein and Markus Goldwein.  Great-grandparents of Joel Goldwein, who is my cousin through my Cohen line and Rob’s cousin through the Goldwein line.

In addition there were some stones with names that might be a part of my family and then others that I need to have translated.  But overall, visiting that cemetery on that very cold and very dreary day left me feeling uplifted and strangely happy.  My ancestors were there, and I had been there to pay tribute and to remember them.  It was a very moving experience.

We drove through Oberlistingen, the home of my Goldschmidt ancestors, and then we said goodbye to our new friend Ernst—he and I both with tears in our eyes—and drove to our hotel in Kassel.  It had been a remarkable day, beginning with a 500 year old mikveh and ending with the discovery of my 3x-great-grandparents’ gravestones.  The next day we would go to Sielen, the home of my Schoenthal ancestors.

 

Cologne: Its Jewish History and My Family Ties to the City


On our second day in Cologne we focused on its Jewish history. Back in December 2015, I had contacted Barbara Becker-Jakli to help me find where my great-great-uncle Jakob Schoenthal and his wife Charlotte Lilienfeld were buried in Cologne; Barbara had been extremely helpful, so a year later while planning our trip, I contacted her again, asking if she knew someone who would show us the cemetery and other Jewish sites in Cologne.

She recommended Aaron Knappstein, who worked with her at the National Socialism Documentation Center in Cologne. Aaron and I had been in touch numerous times for almost eight months before the trip, and as I wrote here, he had located documents about my Nussbaum ancestors that I had given up ever finding (and they did not even live in Cologne, but in Schopfloch) as well as birth records for four of the five children of Jakob and Charlotte Schoenthal.  So I was looking forward to meeting him and spending the day with him.

Aaron did not disappoint us.  He is a thoughtful and knowledgeable man whose own background as the son of a Holocaust survivor gives him an interesting perspective on the Jewish history of Cologne.  It was a moving and very informative day.  He first took us to the Dom, which may seem a strange choice, but he wanted us to see the gargoyle of a pig being suckled—an anti-Semitic image once used widely.

He also pointed out a Holocaust memorial that we had passed the day before without knowing what it was.  It is not marked at all.  It is simply a long train rail placed on the ground running to the east with a six-segmented sculpture at its end.  The sculpture is meant to evoke the six million killed by the Nazis and the gate to the camps, and the train rail evokes the trains used to deport the Jews to the concentration camps in the east. It was very powerful.  We just didn’t understand why there was no marker or plaque explaining or identifying what it was.

Dani Karavan Holocaust memorial

After coming home, I searched for more information about this sculpture and found this very detailed description and analysis on a blog called Tapfer im Nirgendwo, which means Brave in Nowhere.  I didn’t read the other posts in the blog as they are in German, but this one was written in English.  Apparently the rail and sculpture we saw are part of a larger installation by an Israeli artist Dani Karavan (I am sure Aaron mentioned the artist’s name, but it slipped my mind).  The description of the overall work is fascinating and very powerful.

We then walked to the location of the old Jewish Quarter where today there are plans to build a Jewish museum in the heart of the center of the city.  Right now it is little more than an excavation site, and many relics of medieval times have been discovered.

The Jews have a very long history in Cologne.  As early as the 4th century, there was a Jewish community in Cologne; as in other places, there were good periods and bad periods for the Jews in medieval times.  Some archbishops protected the Jews, others did not.  The Crusades and the Black Death resulted in the deaths of many of the Jews in Cologne, and synagogues were built, destroyed, and rebuilt. Finally, Jews were expelled in 1424 because of a fight between the civil government and the Church regarding money and the payment of the taxes that were levied on the Jews.  Jews were not allowed to return to the city until Napoleon’s time in 1798.  Even then, they had to live across the Rhine in Deutz, although they were allowed to work on the other side of the river.

We then crossed the river ourselves and went to the cemetery in Deutz where Jakob Schoenthal and his wife Charlotte Lilienfeld are buried. Jakob Schoenthal was my great-grandfather Isidore’s brother.  As I wrote about here, he was one of only two of the ten Schoenthal siblings who did not emigrate from Germany.

At the cemetery we met Herr Gunther, who once was responsible for overseeing the care and condition of this very large cemetery; there are over 6000 stones at the Deutz cemetery.  The original stones for Jakob and Charlotte no longer exist, but the cemetery knew where they were buried, and the Jewish community of Cologne paid to put new markers at the gravesites.  I was touched and very appreciative of what they had done to preserve the memory of my relatives.

Stone for Jakob and Charlotte Schoenthal

Deutz Jewish cemetery

 

We then visited the one remaining pre-World War II synagogue still standing in Cologne, the Roonstrasse Synagogue. In 1933, there were approximately 20,000 Jews living in Cologne. Before the war there had been seven synagogues (although this source says there were only four), but all were damaged or destroyed on Kristallnacht, and only the one on Roonstrasse remains.  And it is still used as a synagogue; Herr Gunther is a member there and provided us with a tour.

Although the exterior of the building survived more or less intact, the interior of the synagogue was, like the other synagogues, destroyed on Kristallnacht.  During the 1950s, the interior was restored—not to its original style, but with more of a mid-century modern feel.   Whatever the décor, it was very uplifting to know that there is once again a Jewish community in Cologne.  Today there are about 5000 Jews living in the city. One of the stained glass windows installed in the 1950s depicts a dove to represent that the flood was over and that life was to begin again.

Roonstrasse synagogue

I very much wanted to see the place where Jakob Schoenthal and his family had lived and worked—65 Breite Strasse.  Jakob and Charlotte had five children.  Four of those children survived the Holocaust—Johanna, Lee, Meyer, and Erna.  As I wrote here, here, and here, Lee and Meyer had come to Pennsylvania early in the 20th century.  Erna and her son came in the 1930s, and Johanna and her husband came after the war, having been deported to France where they were incarcerated at the Gurs camp.  But the fifth child, Henriette, and her husband Julius Levi, had stayed in Cologne and had been deported to Lodz and then to the death camp at Chelmno, where they were killed.  The location of the Schoenthal’s home and business at 65 Breite Strasse is marked by Stolpersteine for Henriette and Julius.

Sadly, the buildings on the street were all destroyed during the war, but I took a photograph of the building that stands at that address today.  I also took a picture of a block of older buildings nearby that had survived the bombing so I could imagine what the Schoenthal home might have looked like. That’s Aaron, our guide, in that second photo.

65 Breite Strasse today

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Our final stop with Aaron was the National Socialism Documentation Center, where Aaron and I first spent some time trying to find records for a woman who was somehow related to my family.  After some research we concluded that she was related to me through Jakob Schoenthal’s marriage to Charlotte Lilienfeld.  More on that at some later time.

Aaron then left us to explore the basement of the National Socialism Documentation Center on our own.  The building that houses this organization had been Gestapo headquarters in Cologne during the war.  The basement was used as a place to imprison and torture prisoners.  Jews were not sent here, but some dissidents or those accused of being dissidents were.  There are hundreds of written messages all over the walls of the cells; they are angry, frightened, passionate, and heart-breaking.  Hundreds of people were shot in the courtyard of the building.  Some people were imprisoned only briefly, others for quite extended times.  The cells have been left untouched—the inscriptions remain to be seen.  It was a dark and depressing place for us to visit, but an important one.

We made a short stop at the Cologne city museum and then walked toward the Dom to return to our hotel.  We decided to skip Italian food that night and had Lebanese food near the Rhine at a restaurant called Beirut.  It was a welcome change and quite good.

The next morning we would leave Cologne to travel east to the Hessen region where my father’s maternal relatives came from—the Schoenthal, Hamberg, Goldschmidt, and Katzenstein families.

Cologne was the only major city we visited during our trip to Germany.  It is a fascinating city with a long and interesting history and a diverse and rich culture.  It is a reminder not only of the destructive forces of war and the human capacity for evil but also of our capacity for good.  People rebuilt Cologne into a city that now provides hope that human beings can be creative, inspirational, reflective, tolerant, and kind.