A Town with A Secret Language: Schopfloch and the Nusbaums

I thought I should outline my connection to the Nusbaums before I began writing about them.   The chain between Amson Nusbaum  and me is as follows, with the Nusbaum descendants all on the left side of each couple:

Amson Nusbaum—Voegele Welsch  (my 4x-great-grandparents)

John (Josua) Nusbaum—Jeannette (Shamet) Dreyfuss  (my 3x-great-grandparents)

Frances Nusbaum—-Bernard Seligman  (my great-great-grandparents)

Eva May Seligman—-Emanuel Cohen (my great-grandparents)

John Nusbaum Cohen, Sr. — Eva Schoenthal  (my grandparents)

John Nusbaum Cohen, Jr. —-  Florence Goldschlager  (my parents)

Amy Cohen (me)

(Although the Nusbaums spelled their name with two S’s in Germany as in NUSSBAUM, the family dropped the second S once they got to the US, just as the Seligmanns dropped the second N when they immigrated.)

So where do I start telling this Nusbaum story? I have already talked about my grandfather John Nusbaum Cohen’s life and his mother Eva Seligman Cohen’s life in telling the stories of the Cohens and the Seligmans.  So I could start with my great-great-grandmother, Frances Nusbaum, who married Bernard Seligman.  I’ve also written a little about her.  But I prefer to start at the earliest point and move forward in time.   Right now the earliest Nusbaum ancestors I have found date back to the 18th century with Amson Nusbaum and Voegele Welsch.

This is the first branch that I have been able to take back as far as my 4x-great-grandparents.  Although I know very little about Amson Nusbaum and Voegele Welsch, I am hoping that I can learn more if I can obtain more records from Schopfloch.  But for now, here is what I know.

Amson Meier Nusbaum was born around 1777 possibly in Schopfloch, a small town in the Ansbach region of Bavaria.  He married Voegele Welsch, who was born March 7, 1782, somewhere in Germany.  They were married around 1804, and they had eight children born between 1805 and 1819, all born in Schopfloch.  Amson was a peddler.



Although I do not have much specific information about Amson and Voegele, I was interested in learning more about the town where they lived and raised their children in order to glean something about what their lives might have been like.

First, I read a little bit about Bavaria.  I really know almost nothing about Germany’s history, but I do know that it was not a unified country until 1871.  Before that, there were a number of separate duchys and kingdoms controlled by various aristocrats and noblemen, fighting over their borders for many hundreds of years. From the tenth century until the beginning of the nineteenth century, the land that we know as Germany was part of the Holy Roman Empire.   The Thirty Years War from 1618 to 1648, which started as a conflict between Protestants and Catholics and grew to a much larger regional conflict, was perhaps the most destructive of the wars that occurred during this pre-unification era in the area we now call Germany.

Map of the Imperial Circles of the Holy Roman ...

Map of the Imperial Circles of the Holy Roman Empire (c. 1512) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Bavaria was one of those regions within what is now Germany.  It is located in the southeastern part of the country, bordering the Czech Republic and Austria to the east and south.  The official website for what is now the state of Bavaria within the Federated Republic of Germany said this about the history of Bavaria:

Bavaria is one of the oldest states in Europe. Its origins go back to the 6th century AD. In the Middle Ages, Bavaria (until the start of the 19th century Old Bavaria) was a powerful dukedom, first under the Guelphs and then under the Wittelsbachs. … Cities like Regensburg developed into cultural and economic centres of European rank. After the Thirty Years War, the Electorate of Bavaria played an important role in the political deliberations of the major powers. In the 19th century Bavaria became a constitutional monarchy and the scene of a great cultural blossoming and of political and social reforms.

Schopfloch is a small town of three thousand people located near the western boundary of Bavaria.  It is about sixty miles west of Nuremberg, about one hundred miles northwest of Munich, and about eighty miles northeast of Stuttgart.

Schopfloch in AN

Schopfloch in AN (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

According to the official town website, the earliest mention of the town dates from March 11, 1260, on a land deed witnessed by someone named Ulricis de Schopfloch.  (Schopf loch apparently means “ crested hole” or “tuft hole,” and perhaps this is a reference to the fact that the town is located in a small valley).  During the Thirty Years War, many Protestants moved from Salzburg to Schopfloch.  They were primarily tradesman in the building trades—masons and bricklayers– and the town was known for its many families in the construction business.

The history of the Jews in Bavaria is, like the history of Jews in most countries in Europe, one of oppression, discrimination, unfair taxation, and frequent pogroms with occasional periods of greater tolerance and civil rights.  There is evidence of Jews living in Bavaria as early as the 900s, and numerous towns and cities in Bavaria had Jewish communities by the 12th century.  Jews were limited in their livelihoods in many locations; in many places, they were prohibited from most trades other than moneylending.  Beginning in the 14th century and continuing through the 17th century, the Jews were subjected to widespread orders of expulsion and deportation from many Bavarian communities.  A good summary of the history of Jews in Bavaria can be found here at H. Peter Sinclair’s “Chronology of the History of the Jews in Bavaria 906-1945,” .

As for Schopfloch specifically, the first Jews settled there in the fourteenth century.  According to The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before and During the Holocaust: K-Sered (Shmuel Spector, Geoffrey Wigoder, eds., 2001, NYU Press), p.1151, Jews moved to Schopfloch after being expelled from the nearby town of Dinkelsbuehl.   Another source suggests that Jews were welcomed to Schopfloch by rival nobles who took in Jews to increase their strength.     Jews were able to do well, engaging in cattle trade in Schopfloch and in several communities near Schopfloch.

A Jewish cemetery was created around 1612 and served not only the Jewish residents of Schopfloch but also those of surrounding towns.

A synagogue was built in 1679, and there was also a ritual bath and a school.   According to the website “Destroyed German Synagogues and Communities” :

The Jews of Schopfloch established a synagogue in 1679 and enlarged it in 1712 and again in 1715. Rabbis served the community during the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, and the village was home to a regional rabbinate during the years 1841 to 1872. In 1877, a new synagogue was built on the Judengasse, or “Jews’ alley” (later renamed Bahnhofstrasse).

According to the town website, the Jewish residents played an important role in the social history of the town, and the long history of co-existence between the Christians and Jews in Schopfloch made it less susceptible to anti-Semitism even in the Nazi period.  Perhaps there were no pogroms or expulsion orders in Schopfloch.  None were mentioned in H. Peter Sinclair’s “Chronology of the History of the Jews in Bavaria 906-1945,” cited above and found here.

Overall, it would seem that Schopfloch would have been a relatively comfortable place for Jews to live when my ancestors Amson and Voegele Nussbaum were having children between 1805 and 1819 and the years following when their children were growing up.  Amson died June 7, 1836, and Voegele died October 2, 1842.  From what I can find in immigration records, my three-times great grandfather John (Josua) Nusbaum emigrated in 1843, the year after his mother died.  It appears that at least some of his siblings emigrated around the same time.  What would have motivated them to leave once their parents had died if in fact conditions for Jews were relatively good in Schopfloch?

The Nussbaum family was growing up in an era of significant change in Bavaria and in Europe generally.  Napoleon had risen to power in France as the 18th century ended, and the Holy Roman Empire crumbled. His armies invaded the lands in what is now Germany, and eventually he defeated the Austrian army and took over much of German land. His emancipation of the Jews in France in 1806 had an impact on those in Bavaria, and in 1813 Bavaria adopted the Jews Edict of 1813.  Although Napoleon was defeated shortly after, the Jews Edict of 1813 remained the law in Bavaria.

The Jews Edict was a mixed blessing.  As described by one source, “Jews now could acquire land and participate in trade but they were forced to adopt German surnames and to list the head of the household’s name and occupation as shown in the Matrikellisten (census) of 1817.”   This registry (while a good thing for genealogy research), which may seem benign, had a negative impact on Jews because it forced many Jews to leave their homeland.  Section 12 of the Edict provided that the number of Jewish families in any community could not increase.  That meant that a child in a Jewish family could not establish his or her own family, but had to leave the community.  Section 13 provided some exceptions, but they were quite restrictive.  In addition, Section 14 prohibited the issuance of a marriage permit even if the marriage would not result in an overall increase in Jewish families unless the man could demonstrate that he was going to engage in a legal occupation other than being a peddler.  http://www.rijo.homepage.t-online.de/pdf/EN_BY_JU_edikt_e.pdf

Thus, not all of Amson and Voegele’s children could stay in Schopfloch.   To do so would have created eight new Jewish families in the town.  Moreover, since Amson had been a peddler, chances are at least some of his sons had planned to engage in a similar trade.  So they had to leave Schopfloch, and since the neighboring towns were under the same restrictions, they could not even settle nearby.  They had to emigrate, and I am sure that America, a new country with a democratic form of government, must have been very appealing to these young people who were being denied the right to stay in the town where they were born.

The Jewish population in Schopfloch hit its peak in 1867 with 393 Jewish residents out of a total population of 1,788.  Although a new synagogue was built in 1877, by 1880 the Jewish population had dropped to 147 people.  It continued to drop so that by the early 1930s there were fewer than forty Jews in the town.  Nevertheless, the synagogue was renovated in 1932, and there was a large celebration rededicating the synagogue, attended by many Jews and non-Jews, including members of the Christian clergy, the mayor, and other town officials and residents.  One pastor spoke about the good relations between the Christian and Jewish residents of Schopfloch.

Schopfloch synagogue 1910 Source: Wallersteiner Kalendar, 1983 found at http://www.alemannia-judaica.de/schopfloch_synagoge.htm

Schopfloch synagogue 1910 Source: Wallersteiner Kalendar, 1983 found at http://www.alemannia-judaica.de/schopfloch_synagoge.htm

Tragically, just five years later on November 9, 1938, the Night of Broken Glass, or Kristallnacht, this newly renovated synagogue was destroyed by fire.  As described on the “Destroyed German Synagogues and Communities” website:

In 1938, in the wake of virulent anti-Jewish incitement, Schopfloch’s mayor advised the Jews to leave. All of them did so within months, and the synagogue was eventually sold (its ritual objects were transferred to Munich). Schopfloch’s last Jews left in October 1938. Although the synagogue was set on fire on Pogrom Night, the blaze was extinguished by the fire brigade. The building’s interior was completely destroyed, as were the ritual objects in Munich. Three Schopfloch Jews emigrated; the others relocated within Germany. Forty-eight perished in the Shoah. The synagogue building was demolished in 1939.

The cemetery, however, still exists, and a woman named Angelika Brosig began a project to restore the cemetery and to record all the names of those buried in the cemetery.  Sadly, Ms. Brosig died in 2013, and not all of the headstones have yet been translated and recorded, but the work is supposed to be continuing by others.  Thus far, I have not found any Nussbaums on the list, but I have to believe that my four-times great-grandparents Amson and Voegele are buried there.

Although Schopfloch is and was a small town without any particular historical significance of its own, it has been recognized for an interesting reason.  The Jews of Schopfloch developed a dialect of their own to be used in the course of cattle trade as a way of communicating without being understood.  It was a dialect combining Hebrew terms with German, and eventually it was used not only by the Jewish residents of Schopfloch but also by the non-Jewish residents.  In fact, the dialect, called Lachoudish, a shortened version of Lachon Kodesh, or “holy language” in Hebrew, continued to be used by the residents of Schopfloch long after all the Jews left the town in the 1930s.  The New York Times published an article about this secret language on February 10, 1984, giving some examples of the use of Hebrew terms in the dialect:

Lachoudisch is replete with words that bespeak the Jews’ wary relationship to Christian authority. The word for ”church” in Lachoudisch is ”tum” – from the Hebrew word for ”religiously unclean.” The word ”police” is ”sinem”- from the Hebrew for ”hated.” A priest is a ”gallach” or, in Hebrew, ”one who shaves.”

(James M. Markham, “Dialect of Lost Jews Lingers in a Bavarian Town,” The New York Times (February 10, 1984) found at http://www.nytimes.com/1984/02/10/world/dialect-of-lost-jews-lingers-in-a-bavarian-town.html  The article also provides historical and current information about the town.)

This website provides further examples of Hebrew terms used in Lachoudish.  http://www.medine-schopfloch.de/Lachoudisch/lachoudisch.html   Although Lachoudish is disappearing as there are fewer Schopfloch residents who remember it, there has been some effort to remember and revive the dialect.  This video, which unfortunately for me is in German, is about Lachoudish and also provides some images of Schopfloch today.  If anyone wishes to translate this for me, please let me know.

Coat of arms of Schopfloch

Coat of arms of Schopfloch (Photo credit: Wikipedia)













Gau-Algesheim and the Seligmans: My Great-great-grandfather’s Birthplace and What I Learned

Coat of arms of Gau-Algesheim

Coat of arms of Gau-Algesheim (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

From several documents and historical references, I know that Bernard Seligman, my great-great-grandfather, and his brothers Adolph and Sigmund were born in a small town close to the Rhine River called Gau-Algesheim in what was then the Hesse Darmstadt region of Germany. Today it is located in the Mainz-Bingen district in the Rheinland-Pfalz state in Germany.   Gau-Algesheim is about 15 miles southwest of Mainz and 40 miles southwest of Frankfort, Germany.  Its population in 2012 was under seven thousand people, and it is less than five miles square in area.[1]   From the photographs posted on the town’s official website, it appears to be a very charming and scenic location.  There are wineries nearby, and tourism appears to be an important source of revenue for the town.[2]



What was Gau-Algesheim like almost 200 years ago when my ancestors were living there?  How long had my Seligman ancestors been there, and were there any family members who remained behind after Bernard and his brothers left? How long had there been Jews living in Gau-Algesheim, and are there any left today? These were the questions that interested me the most about my great-great-grandfather’s birthplace.

There is a book about the history of Jews in Gau-Algesheim written by Ludwig Hellriegel in 1986, Die Geschichte der Gau-Algesheimer Juden, but unfortunately there is no copy available online, and the closest hard copy is in the New York Public Library.  I tried to borrow it through my university’s interlibrary loan program, but was it was not available for lending.  Thus, I’ve had to piece together bits of information from Wikipedia, JewishGen.org, the Gau-Algesheim website, and http://www.alemannia-judaica.de to get some answers to my questions, relying on Google Translate in order to read the sources written in German.  What follows is a very brief skeletal history of Gau-Algesheim overall and in particular of the history of Jewish life there based on these limited secondary sources.

Gau-Algesheim has ancient roots.  There is evidence of graves dating back as far as 1800 BCE, and evidence of a settlement during Roman times as well.  In the 700s a church and a monastery were established.  Gau-Algesheim was part of the Holy Roman Empire in the Middle Ages, and during that time was under the control of various different officials and jurisdictions within the Empire and often the subject of disputes and battles for control.  See  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gau-Algesheim  http://www.gau-algesheim.de/category/stadt-gau-algesheim/geschichte/  It was part of Napoleon’s empire until 1812, and then eventually became part of the nation state of Germany in the mid-19th century.


Gau-Algesheim. Rathaus am Marktplatz.

Gau-Algesheim. Rathaus am Marktplatz. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Its Jewish history dates back to at least the 14th century.  By the 14th century, the town had developed into a commercial center.  Many merchants and artisans lived in the town, including herring merchants, blacksmiths, bakers, barbers, coopers, tailors, and shopkeepers.  The monasteries owned a lot of the land, and there was also a fairly large class of nobility.  By 1334, there must have been a Jewish community in Gau-Algesheim because in that year a head tax was imposed upon the Jewish residents.  According to Wikipedia, Jews were required to pay this additional tax because they were considered the property of the crown and under its protection.[3] There was also a Jewish cemetery in existence during the 14th century.  However, this community must have been a very small minority, and the Jews were certainly considered outsiders by the Catholic majority.  In 1348 there was a flu pandemic in the region, and Jews were accused of poisoning the water, such accusations then leading to pogroms across the region.

Gau-Algesheim. Langgasse.

Gau-Algesheim. Langgasse. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My sources do not reveal anything about Jewish life in Gau-Algesheim between 1400 and 1800, but the population in 1790 was reportedly only nineteen (it’s not clear whether this refers to people or households, but I assume it refers to total people).  In 1808 there were three Jewish families, and in 1819 only six Jewish families.  In 1857, the Jewish population was fifty people, and the Jewish population peaked in Gau-Algesheim in 1880 when it reached eighty people or 2.6% of the total population of the town, according to the alemannia-judaica website.  (JewishGen puts the 1880 population at only 66.[4])  According to alemannia-judaica, a synagogue is not mentioned as being in the town until 1838. It was described as very old and in poor condition in 1850 and was rebuilt in 1861 and renovated again in 1873-1874.  There was also a mikveh and a religious school, although it seems that there was a joint school with the nearby town of Bingen. (Bingen, by comparison, had 542 Jews in 1880, amounting to almost eight percent of its overall population; it was only six miles away from Gau-Algesheim. By further comparison, Mainz had a Jewish population of about 3,000 in 1900, and Frankfurt had almost 12,000 Jews in 1900.)[5]

The tiny size of the Jewish population in Gau-Algesheim in the 19th century in the years when my ancestors were living there surprised me.  How did my family end up there?  And why did they leave? I don’t know the answers to the first question at all and can only speculate about the second and will write more generally about it in a later post.   But what I want to focus on for now is what happened to the Jewish community in Gau-Algesheim after my great-great-grandfather Bernard and his brothers left in the middle of the 19th century.

It appears that my ancestors were not the only Jews to leave Gau-Algesheim.  By 1900, the Jewish population had declined to 27 people; in 1931 there were only 31 Jewish residents.  Presumably many of these Jews had immigrated to another country, and many may have moved to the larger cities in Germany.  In the Reichstag elections of 1933, the Nazi Party only received 26.6% of the vote in Gau-Algesheim with the Center Party carrying almost half the vote.  Unfortunately, that did not reflect the overall vote in Germany, and the Nazi Party took control of the country, soon dissolving the Reichstag and all other political parties, ultimately leading to World War II and the Holocaust.  Whatever Jews were left in Gau-Algesheim before World War II either left the town or were killed by the Nazis.

There is no Jewish community there today.  The Jewish cemetery remains, however, although it was desecrated during the Holocaust and has been vandalized several times since then.  In 2006, Walter Nathan, whose father was born in Gau-Algesheim, visited the cemetery and was so disturbed by the condition of the cemetery that he decided to work to have it restored and to create a memorial to those who were buried there and also to those who had been killed in the Holocaust.  On November 9, 2008, on the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the memorial was dedicated by Nathan and many members of his extended family.[6]  Included in the headstones remaining in the cemetery was this one for a woman named Rosa Gebmann Seligmann who was born in 1853 and died in 1899 and married someone who was probably my relative.

With the help of two members of the Tracing the Tribe Facebook group, I can provide this translation of the German and the Hebrew on the headstone.  The German says, “Here rests in peace my unforgettable wife and good mother Rosa Seligman, nee Bergman, born May 11, 1854, died Feb.1 8, 1899. Deeply missed by her husband and children.  The Hebrew at the bottom says, “Here is buried Mrs. Roza wife of Alexander Seligman Died (on the) holy Shabbos 8(th day of) Adar 5659 by the small count. May her soul be bound in the bonds of life.”

There is also a plaque in town commemorating the Jewish citizens of Gau-Algesheim who were killed by the Nazis. It says, as translated by Google Translate, “The city of Gau-Algesheim commemorates their Jewish fellow citizens who were victims of Nazi violence and domination.”


There is another plaque hanging on the wall of the cemetery listing the Jews born in Gau-Algesheim who were murdered during the Holocaust according to Memorial Book: Victims of the Persecution of Jews under the National Socialist Tyranny in Germany 1933 – 1945.  It says, “Standing in this sacred place our hearts turn to the memory of those who fell victim to the violence of the Nazis, and we vow to keep their memory alive. In solemn testimony of the unbroken faith that connects us with them, their names are referred to in profound awe. We say the Kaddish—the prayer for the dead— and remember the terrible tragedy of the Jewish people.”

Among the names listed on this second plaque were these individuals: Bettina Elisabeth Arnfeld born Seligmann (1875), Johanna Bielefeld born Seligmann (1881), Anna Goldmann born Seligmann (1889), and Moritz Seligmann (1881),.[7]

On the JewishGen.org site, I found two more Seligmanns born in Gau-Algesheim: Jacob Seligmann, born April 8, 1869, who became a resident of Neunkirche and emigrated in 1935 to Luxembourg, and Laura Seligmann Winter, born June 9, 1870, who was also a resident of Neunkirche and immigrated to Luxembourg in 1935. [8]

These may have been my relatives.  Given the small size of the Jewish community that lived in Gau-Algesheim, I have to assume that at least some if not all of those named Seligmann were related to my great-great-grandfather Bernard and were thus related to me.  When I saw those names, I was stunned.   Because I have not found where my Brotman relatives lived in Galicia, because I have not found any Goldschlagers from Iasi who were killed in the Holocaust, because my Cohen relatives left Europe long before Hitler was even born, I had not ever before seen the names of possible relatives who were victims of the Holocaust.  But Bettina, Johanna, Anna, Moritz, Jacob, and Laura Seligmann—they were likely the nieces and nephew or the cousins of Bernard, Sigmund, Adolph and James Seligman.  They were likely my family.

Now I need to see what I can learn about them and what happened to them.  I need to be sure that their names are not forgotten.  This is what I know so far from the Yad Vashem names database:

Bettina Elizabeth Seligmann Arnfeld, born March 17, 1875, was residing in Muelheim Ruhr, Dusseldorf, Rhine Province, and was deported to Theresienstadt on July 21, 1942, and she died there on January 23, 1943.



Johanna Seligmann Bielefeld, born March 13, 1881, was living in Mainz during the war.  She died in Auschwitz.



Anna Seligmann Goldmann, born November 30, 1889, was living in Halle der Saale, Merseburg, Saxony Province.  She was deported from there May 30, 1942.  Her husband Hugo Goldmann, born in 1885, and their daughter Ruth Sara, born in 1924, were also deported that same day.  They were all murdered.



Moritz Seligmann, born in 1881, was not listed in the Yad Vashem database.  On the memorial plaque placed at the cemetery in Gau-Algesheim the only notation after his name is Verschollen, which means “missing, lost without a trace,” according to one source.



Jacob Seligmann, despite escaping Germany in 1935 and moving to Luxemburg, did not escape the Nazis.  He was killed in 1941 in Luxemburg, according to the Yad Vashem website.

Laura Seligmann Winter, who may have been Jacob’s sister, was a widow; on August 28, 1940, she also was killed in Luxemburg.



I will continue to look for more records that will tell something about the lives of these people and their families so that they can be remembered not only for how they died but also for how they lived.


“Dachau never again” by Forrest R. Whitesides – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dachau_never_again.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Dachau_never_again.jpg














[1] See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gau-Algesheim



[2] See http://www.gau-algesheim.de/category/stadt-gau-algesheim/geschichte/



[3] See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leibzoll



[4] See http://data.jewishgen.org/wconnect/wc.dll?jg~jgsys~community~-1774383



[5] See http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synagogue_de_Bingen_am_Rhein_(1905-1938)



[6] See http://www.iit.edu/magazine/spring_2009/article_1.shtml#top








[8] [8] http://www.bundesarchiv.de/gedenkbuch/directory.html