May 17, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Part 44 (written 2014)

(Continued from two weeks ago)

We returned to the village and were taken to the home of Herr Hoffmann’s second daughter, who lives with her family in a home built into the side of a hill and therefore consists of four small floors. We were offered coffee and cake, accompanied by a statement from Herr Hoffmann explaining that he knows that we won’t be able to eat the cake, and therefore he also provided several bowls of fresh fruit.

While in the home of his daughter, Herr Hoffmann presented me with a folder with articles, clippings and photographs taken from his archives. He also presented me with a rare book from his personal library, Aus unbeschwerter Zeit “From Unburdensome Times,” which is the story of a Jew in the village of Max Dessau, the author. It is inscribed with a dedication by the author to a professor (name not legible) and a second dedication to me by Herr Hoffmann.

I want to describe some of the historical content of the folder that Herr Hoffmann gave me. Aside from the description of how he found the gravestone, there is attached a copy of a newspaper clipping dated November 23, 1844 from the local newspaper, “Taunusbote”, which describes in detail the dedication ceremony of the first synagogue in Schmitten on November 15, 1844. It was attended by relatives and friends from half a dozen surrounding villages, and since it was on a Friday afternoon, without enough time to return home before the start of the Shabbat, they were the guests of the Schmitten families. The former synagogue had been in someone’s living room. Also present at the dedication was the pfarrer of the local Protestant church as well as representatives of the state government.

There is also a quote from a local newspaper printed in 1914, mentioning the Jewish businesses in Schmitten including the store belonging to Hermann Strauss that sold children’s toys and glass and porcelain merchandise. This was obviously prior to the opening of the Strauss Hotel. A copy of the ad is shown. Also shown is an ad dated 1929 advertising Hotel/Pension Strauss owners; Strauss & Herz under supervision of the Honorable Rabbi Dr. Hoffmann, Frankfurt. I have to assume that the reference to the name Herz is Opa’s sister who, at the time, must have been a partner in the Hotel.

Also, of interest is a copy of a document dated January 21, 1897, when Opa was one year old, giving permission to the butcher Hermann Strauss to construct a slaughterhouse on a specified property. Included were detailed descriptions of the hygienic requirements for properly disposing of the blood, fat and other byproducts of the slaughter, with architectural drawings, and the like. I know nothing of the history of my grandfather having been a butcher, except that I was aware that to supply the restaurant and hotel they did their own slaughtering. I doubt that a small restaurant and hotel would have justified the construction of a separate slaughterhouse. Consequently, it must be assumed that he also had a commercial meat business selling to the general population. This is confirmed by my cousin Leo Halberstadt who told me once that he had been told that in the winter the meat would be delivered to the customers by dogsled.

There is also a newspaper clipping from 1938 with the heading ‘Juden nicht erwuenscht’ stating in typical Nazi hateful language that Jews were overrunning the beautiful vacation resort Schmitten. As early as 1934 the local Nazi Party representative complained about the Jews and ordered signs to be posted accordingly with that wording “Jews not wanted here.” It seems that some residents objected and tried to tear down the signs. As a consequence, new metal signs were erected and everybody was instructed that Jews were  not wanted and that everyone had  to accept that fact. In that article, Jews are called “Schmarotzern” which means vermin.

The folder also contains pictures of the cemetery after the windstorm before it was cleaned up as well pictures of the individual gravestone before and after the restoration.

A history of the Jewish Congregation of Schmitten written by Herr Hoffmann shows that in 1841 there were 27 individuals, in 1880 there were 37, and only 15 in 1930. Also included in the folder are two clippings from local newspapers in 2001 on the subject of talks given by Herr Hoffmann in the Protestant Community House in the village where he had been pfarrer. Hoffmann also mentioned  that there still are people who do not want to be reminded of what happened, who want to draw a line under the past, and who resent what he is doing in keeping the subject of the Holocaust alive.

Another clipping dated 1993 has the only known picture of the Schmitten synagogue as it looked before being torn down, and the accompanying article discusses the dispute at that time about either preserving it as a landmark or tearing it down and erecting a memorial. The current owners at that time, who were also the owners of the adjoining Hotel Ochs wanted to incorporate the property into the hotel property but would have no objection to a memorial being erected.

Another full-page newspaper clipping is an extract from the book “Dokumente zur Geschichte der Frankfurter Juden 1933 bis 1946” by Paul Arnsberg, really having nothing to do with Schmitten, but describing the stories of several famous German Jews during the Nazi times and their attempts to deny their “Jewishness” or attempts to avoid treatment as Jews. It involved mostly converted Jews or Jews who had for many years not lived as Jews.

I have added to the folder a clipping that I had received some years ago, I do not remember from whom, of a picture of the dedication of the Bronze Tablet on a stone wall erected for that purpose, where the Schmitten synagogue had stood, with an accompanying article. There is no date shown but I think it took place in 1996. I also added the pictures of my grandfather’s and my aunt’s house which I took in 1958 which are more meaningful than the pictures after renovation, which I had just taken.

All in all, it was a very sentimental trip and brought back many memories of happy times in the early 1930s.

(to be continued next week)

By Norbert Strauss

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