May 29, 2024
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May 29, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

The original Strauss Hotel/Restaurant in Schmitten.

At the memorial to the Schmitten Shul.

Angelika Rieber of the Gesellschaft, who does not live too far away from Schmitten, had arranged with a Herr Martin Hoffmann, a Pfarrer (Protestant Minister) to pick us up at the hotel and take us to our destination as well as to act as our guide there. Herr Hoffmann had ministered to the population of Schmitten as well as that of neighboring villages and had taken upon himself the task of researching and preserving the histories of those Jewish communities. He has established a personal archive on the subject, and much of my knowledge and documentation comes from that source. Later in the day he presented me with a folder with copies of his personal writings on the subject, along with newspaper clippings and photographs. Especially, considering that he is not of our religion, he must be commended for the wonderful work he is doing, all on a voluntary basis and at his own expense. Although we had the opportunity to be with him and his family for only a few hours, I got to know him as a very warm and caring person, a person whom I would be proud to call my friend.

Pfarrer Hoffmann, who now lives all the way in the south of Germany at the Bodensee, near the Swiss border, picked us up along with his son-in-law, who did the driving. The latter spoke English so that my wife, sitting up front with him, could have a conversation with him during the trip. Herr Hoffmann does not speak any English so that our conversation in the back was in German. We drove first to the home of one of Pfarrer Hoffmann’s two daughters living in Schmitten, where we exchanged drivers by switching husband for wife. Herr Hoffmann’s daughter, who is a Lufthansa flight attendant, spoke English well and accompanied us as our driver for the rest of our stay there.

On our way to Schmitten we stopped for a few minutes in Dornholzhausen, a small village north of Bad Homburg, where Opa had had his warehouse as long as we lived in Bad Homburg. The building had naturally been reconstructed. No one there could remember the Strausses anymore, with the youngest of Opa’s employees, by the name of Fritz, having just died six months earlier. I remember Fritz from my youth very clearly since he would always pick up the meat from the butcher in Frankfurt for Oma, and I being just a few years old, and not being able to pronounce words clearly yet, would say “Fitz binged Feisch”(Fritz is bringing the meat).

Our first stop in Schmitten was at the memorial to the synagogue at the place where it once stood. Herr Hoffmann had been instrumental in seeing to it that the memorial was erected after the town had decided that the shell of the building, which had been erected in 1844, and after World War II had been used as a garage and warehouse, had become an eyesore to the neighbors, and had to be torn down. During the Kristallnacht, although the synagogue was not set on fire, (probably because it would have burned down the whole neighborhood), it had been gutted by the Nazi hordes and had remained that way throughout the war.

The next stop was the home of the former Hotel Strauss, birthplace of my father and all his siblings and home of the Strauss family for many years before that. Externally the building was unchanged from what I remember when visiting many times as a child, and from the way it looked in 1958, when I saw it last, and had taken a photo. At that time, it was in use as a café, but now it was a private home. Herr Hoffmann did not think that the present owners knew anything of its past, and we therefore did not try to establish any contact.

From there we proceeded to the street where I remembered my aunt Bertha Herz, Opa’s oldest sister, had lived and where she had had a housewares store. Whenever we visited Schmitten as children, it was with Tante Bertha that we always stayed. She had lost her husband in World War I, and had a son, Benno, who was able to leave Germany before 1938, first going to Cuba, and then coming to the U.S. We found the general area where the house must have been, but all the old structures had been torn down and replaced with new buildings.

There is no paved road to the cemetery, so that it was a rough ride into the hills on paths more suited for horses than cars. We found the cemetery to be surrounded by a fence with a locked gate. Herr Hoffmann had obtained the key and we were able to enter. There were two rows of gravestones, all upright and in unbroken condition, with my grandparents in the front row. My grandmother, Jettchen, was buried in 1923 and my grandfather, Hermann, in February 1926.

Although there are nine gravestones of former residents of Schmitten, there is a 10th gravestone, but without a grave. Herr Hoffmann, while conducting his research in 1974, had found the additional gravestone with a Hebrew inscription on it (but without a grave), in what was once the Jewish cemetery in Arnoldshain, another village in the area, proving that there once was a Jewish community in that village. This information came from a city plan from the year 1840, showing that at a particular location there was a Judenfriedhof (Jewish cemetery). One of the older residents, who had been active in the church there, had remembered the last time that a funeral of a Jew from Schmitten had taken place there. That was before the establishment of the Jewish cemetery in Schmitten. He thought it must have been around 1890. Herr Hoffmann, after asking for guidance from the Jewish community in Frankfurt, was instrumental in seeing to it that the gravestone was taken to Schmitten and set up as the 10th one in the Jewish Cemetery.

A heavy windstorm some years ago knocked down several large trees at the cemetery, damaging several of the gravestones as well as the fence. Herr Hoffmann saw to it that the debris was removed, the roots of the broken trees cut out, and the fence repaired. It is interesting that to this day the name of the hill on which the cemetery is located is called Judenkopf (Jews Head). No explanation was given regarding its origin.

(To be continued in two weeks)

By Norbert Strauss

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