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The history of the Jews in Weinheim

Tolerated, deported, murdered - a history of the Jews in Weinheim up to 1933

By Claudia Fischer

Early history

Reference is made to a Jewish community in Weinheim as early as 1298. It is presumed that Jewish people also lived in Weinheim much earlier but this cannot be verified.

It appears that around 155 AD, Jews along with merchants and soldiers came to Germany as Roman citizens.

The period after the Romans is not well documented so that one can only refer to a complete history of the Jews in Germany from the Carolingian era. In 1065 the Lorsch Code refers to a Jew in the region (CL 123 c). From 773 parts of Weinheim belonged to the Lorsch Monastery.

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The hard struggle for survival

In 1298 there was a Jewish community with a synagogue in Weinheim. This information comes from an entry in the Nuremberg Memorbuch. The recorded history of the Jewish citizens began as it ended, with mass murder. On 20 September 1298, an impoverished Franconian knight or butcher named Rintfleisch attacked the community. He and his gang massacred 79 members of the community under the pretext of desecration of the Eucharist.

Several Jews survived this massacre and rehabilitated themselves. Nevertheless, just 50 years later fate struck again. Between 1348 - 1352 the Black Death raged throughout Europe killing millions of people. In the desperate search for the causes of the epidemic a scapegoat was quickly found: the Jews who had poisoned the wells. The subsequent severe persecution destroyed over 200 communities in Germany, including in 1349 the small community in Weinheim.

In many history books it is claimed that no Jews lived in Weinheim between 1400 - 1650. Strictly speaking this is not quite accurate as there are records referring to individual families. They had, however, no role to play either in the town or in the Kurpfalz region. The ever increasing waves of expulsion, the smouldering accusations of ritual murder and desecration of the Eucharist made survival almost impossible. Many Jews fled eastwards and founded new settlements in western and southern parts of Russia.

A new beginning

During the 30 Years War (1618 - 1648), no references were made to Weinheim Jews only to passing Jewish traders.

It was not until 1649 that the Elector Karl Ludwig approved a Jewish family for Weinheim. The strongly mercantile orientated politics of the Elector after the war were aimed at compensating for the large population decrease. Everyone was needed to rebuild the country after the devastating war. Although welcome as providers of taxes and duties they were very unpopular in this period too: “but 4 more of them [than permitted], Meyer, Abraham, Mardochai and Wolf snuck in”.

The families of Meyer, Mardochai, Abraham and Wolf formed the heart of the Weinheim community for some time. Their names and those of their descendants can be traced to the middle of the eighteenth century.

Although the size of the community is unknown, we do know that in the whole of the Kurpfalz region, 53 Jewish children were born between 1657 and 1659. Some of them would have certainly been born in Weinheim.

Fenster der Synagoge in der Hauptstraße 143Mayer's child died of the plague on 10 December 1666. Mayer requested a burial site from the town council who granted him the Wüstberg. This area is still known locally as “Jewish Hill” (“Judenbuckel”).

By 1860 the community had become so big again (around 15 families) that a synagogue was required. The head of the community, Mayer Oppenheim and his son erected such a building at their own cost between 1680 -1690 in the Main Street (today Hauptstraße 143).

From 1662 the assets of Jewish families had to be valued regularly. As a result, records are available from 1721. These records encompass not just tax details but also places of residence. Thus we know for certain that in Weinheim no specific Jewish quarter existed and the Jewish families lived on the main trading street, the Hauptstraße.

The number of Jews in Weinheim during the calm times of the eighteenth century was relatively stable. Arrivals and departures were roughly equal.

Illustration: View from the Stadtmühlgasse on the backside of the house in the Hauptstrasse; top on the left the windows of the synagogue in the Hauptstrasse 143 are to be seen, about 1900.

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Weinheim becomes part of Baden: new names and new occupations

In 1803 Weinheim became part of Baden. This signified a change in the lives of the Jewish citizens. They were granted more freedoms and more rights. From the beginning of the eighteenth century Jews had begun to adopt German surnames. Until then it had been the custom to have only a first name. These usually had a biblical connection. Animal names were also common (e.g. bear, lion, deer, wolf). To avoid confusion, the name of the father was often annexed (son of …). This name was not passed on.

The 6th Constitutional Edict (“Kostitutionsedikt”) of 4 June 1808 declared that all Jews had to adopt German names by 1 July 1809. The existing names were to become first names. The choice of German surnames, which were then also to be passed on to descendants, was free. A declaration of the adoption of the new German surname had to be registered by the relevant state official (“Beamter des bürgerlichen Standes”).

Names were often chosen that indicated places of origin (eg Weinheimer, Oppenheimer) or occupations. A list of the adopted names is available in the Weinheim Town Archive.

The “Law on the Situation of the Jews” (“Gesetz über die Verhältnisse der Juden”) from 1809 recognized the Jewish religious community as a church. Constitutionally, Jews were to be treated as free citizens. Their position in the municipalities did not change however, they remained only “protected citizens” (“Schutzbürger”) who did not have the right to be elected to a local council and did not have rights of usage of the common land.

For centuries, Jews were barred from practising occupations that were organized in guilds. They earned their livings as brokers, traders, lenders, junk dealers, pedlars. Now they were expressly requested to take up a civil occupation. An edict dated 24 November 1809 granted them the right to choose their occupation. In Weinheim, a record dating from the year 1825 shows that none of the older Jews who were working before 1809 had learned a trade or profession.

During the 1830’s important debates were held in the Parliament of Baden on the equal status of Jews. The Member of Parliament for Weinheim, Albert Ludwig Grimm played an important role in these discussions. He voted, together with just one other Member of the Parliament, in favour of the complete equality of Jews. It took until 1862 however, for the “Law on the Civil Equality of the Israelites” (“Gesetz über die bürgerliche Gleichstellung der Israeliten”) to be passed. Notwithstanding this law, complete equality was not yet achieved as the participation in local authority affairs and use of common land was subject to special rules until 1872.

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The Jewish community in Weinheim after becoming part of Baden

Ausschnitt aus der Namensliste

In 1815 an accurate list was compiled for the first time of the Jewish citizens in Weinheim. The old and the new names were recorded as well as the names of wives and children. Thus, it is possible for the first time to provide details of members of the community including wives and children. At that time, 12 families and five single people lived in Weinheim, approximately 55 people in total.

The increased freedoms granted to Jews covered not only choice of occupation but also schooling for children. Before 1832 no references are made in the available records as to where Jewish children went to school.

Illustration: List of the names of the jewish inhabitants with their old and new names as well as information on their profession, 1815.

The Jewish children in Lützelsachsen went to either the Protestant or, more usually, the Catholic school. A Hohensachsen priest referred to this on 7 May 1832. The Weinheim children appear also to have gone to Christian schools.

In 1827, the synagogue council requested a Hebrew teacher for seven school children. The teacher was appointed but board, lodging and wages had to be met by the community.

The Baden Revolution 1848/49 and Albert Ludwig Grimm

During the Baden Revolution, anti-Semitism and violence flared up again in certain parts of Baden. These disturbances do not appear to have taken place in Weinheim. One reason for this lay in the fact that Weinheim was not completely agrarian. In the 1830’s the town had experienced an economic boom and its citizens were fairly well off. They did not need to fear that the support often provided to Jews living on the poverty line would adversely affect them.

The situation in Weinheim was probably also influenced by Albert Ludwig Grimm who lived there from 1806 - 1854. He was Town Mayor from 1825 - 1837 and until 1838, Weinheim’s Member of the Baden Parliament. He was one of the two Members of Parliament who in 1831 were in favour of complete equality of Jews:

“The Jew is a citizen of Baden, the Jew fulfils all the duties to which he is subject as a citizen.”

More …

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Old established families

It is notable that most families remained loyal to their town. They felt themselves to be Weinheimers and went about their business here.

In particular, the families Altstädter, Rosenfeld, Rothschild und Ullmann, who had lived in Weinheim from around 1717.

The Altstädters, Rosenfelds and Rothschilds were not just the biggest families in the town but also economically and politically significant.

Associations and foundations

Various associations and foundations document the flourishing community life. The Maier-Traut-Foundation for the Support of Poor Israelites (“Maier-Traut-Stiftung zur Unterstützung armer Israeliten”) was founded in 1848. The “Israelite Association for the Sick” (“Israelitischer Krankenunterstützungsverein”) existed from 1868, and was known from 1904 as the “Israelite Association for the Sick and Death Benefit Fund in Weinheim” (“Israelitischer Krankenunterstützungs- und Sterbekassenverein zu Weinheim”). In 1913 the “Israelite Women’s Association“(“Israelitischer Frauenverein“) was incorporated. The choir “Liederkranz“ was founded in 1888 and the Synagogue Choir Association (“Synagogenchorverein”) in 1904.

From 1918, the teacher Marx Maier provided a highlight with the founding of the Weinheim Chamber Music Association (“Weinheimer Kammermusikverein”) which had distinguished visiting musicians.

More to the Jewish association life …

Sigmund Hirsch

The fact that Weinheim’s Jewish population was not subject to the prevailing trend in Baden is a further indication that Weinheim enjoyed a better social structure than the rest of Baden owing partly to its economic stability. The existence of Sigmund Hirsch’s horse leather factory was of great importance to the largely successful integration and emancipation of Weinheim Jews. The factory provided approximately 350 - 400 jobs and was thus a significant factor in Weinheim’s economic life. Hirsch came to Weinheim in 1868 and set up his business in the “Tanning Quarter”. In 1900 the firm expanded with the new works “Kapellenäcker” and became the second biggest firm in the town.

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Erection of the new synagogue

Synagoge in der Ehretstraße 5 um 1910Sigmund Hirsch’s financial support also made it possible to close the old dilapidated synagogue in the Main Street and to commence work on a new synagogue. The speeches held by the synagogue representatives Berthold Kaufmann and Dr. Moritz Pfälzer at the official opening of the new synagogue on 2 August 1906 and the farewell sermon of the district rabbi Dr. Pinkuss were a clear declaration in favour of Judaism and Weinheim.

Illustration: Synagogue in the Ehretstrasse 5,
about 1910.

The First World War

Since their emancipation in the second half of the nineteenth century, Jews were citizens of the state of Baden with corresponding rights and obligations. In the First World War (1914 - 1918) thousands of Jews fought for Germany. Five from Weinheim were amongst those killed in action.

Anti-Semitic tendencies and the end of the Hebrew community

It appeared by the end of the nineteenth century as if anti-Semitism had been overcome.

However there were indications, also in Weinheim, that this situation of toleration was not a stable one. There was, for example, very little intermarriage between Christians and Jews. Such marriages were extremely rare in Weinheim and lay under the national average. Jewish and Christian families only lived together in one house in exceptional circumstances.
Signs of anti-Semitism can already be seen at the end of the nineteenth century. The first trace is in 1865. The local school was disparaged by some Christian citizens as a “Jewish” school as 20 of its 108 students were Hebrews.

On 20 February 1892, the synagogue council complained about the teacher and landscape painter Ludwig Zorn who had printed anti-Semitic slogans on newspapers available to the public.

In 1922 the Weinheim branch of the German National People’s Party (“DNVP”) showed its anti-Semitic side. After a death within the SPD party, the Jewish business man, Sally Neu, was entitled to take up a seat in the town council. Thereupon, two of the DNVP town councillors refused to continue sitting on the council. They also accused Sally Neu of misappropriating military goods after the war. A police investigation was commenced which ended in Sally Neu being cleared and his accusers strongly criticised. Nevertheless, in 1924 approximately one quarter of those living in Weinheim elected parties with anti-Semitic manifestos.

The previous harmony and tolerance was shown to be fragile and weak. Competition in economic affairs with non-Jewish businesses possibly also contributed to the anti-Semitic attitudes. From the mid 1920s this competition was exploited for propaganda purposes by the increasingly powerful National Socialists.

On 1 April 1933, eight weeks after Hitler’s seizure of power, the first official anti-Jewish measures were passed, a one day boycott of all Jewish shops.

Just one week later, Jewish state employees could be dismissed from their positions. The rules of admission for doctors and lawyers were amended. One after the other new laws were now passed all aimed either directly or indirectly against the Jews.

In 1933 the first big wave of emigration began. The once flourishing Jewish community slowly began to disintegrate.

On 22 October 1940 its history was finally over. The last remaining Jews in Weinheim were rounded up in the morning and transported to Gurs in the south of France.

There has been no Jewish community in Weinheim since then.

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The Jewish citizens of Weinheim 1933 - 1945

By Christina Modig M.A.

12 years of dictatorship in Germany – in a country at the heart of Europe. A totalitarian regime emerged in Germany that provoked and started a world war; oppressed and terrorised its own people; and persecuted its minorities e. g. those with other political beliefs, Sinti and Roma and, above all, German Jews.

Anti-Semitic atmosphere in Weinheim before 1933

Jews had been equal citizens since the turn of the century. The Jewish population in Weinheim also identified closely with its home town and Germany. In 1914 Weinheim Jews were among those volunteering for active service at the Front. Five of them, Karl David, Bernhard Lehmann, Max Lehmann, Moritz Rothschild and Sigmund Rothschild, were killed.

Die nach 1945 ergänzten Namen der jüdischen Gefallenen des 1. Weltkriegs am Kriegerdenkmal in der Bahnhofstraße.Nevertheless, one should not assume that anti-Semitism in the population emerged only after 30 January 1933. Fred Hirsch, born in 1902, who previously lived in Weinheim wrote the following to the Town of Weinheim on 28 November 1962:

“You will probably be astonished when I tell you that during my grammar school years in Weinheim there was for years in my class a complete divide between the Jewish and Christian pupils. The principal must have been aware of this but nothing was done to prevent it. At this time in Weinheim, the “Casino Club” was the focal point of society. Anyone who was anyone in Weinheim’s society was a member. Jews however were unwelcome.”

Illustration: The names of the jews killed in action during World War I, added to the war-memorial in the Bahnhofstrasse after 1945.

Jewish enterprise in Weinheim

In comparison to the national average of 55.6 %, the percentage of self-employed Jewish people in Weinheim was above average (82.5 %). The average of self-employed Jews was three times the average for Weinheim as a whole.

The horse leather factory Sigmund Hirsch, established in Weinheim in 1868, was the second biggest employer in the town (350 - 400 employees) and thus an important economic factor for Weinheim. The family company was managed on the technical side by Max Hirsch and on the commercial side by Julius Hirsch.

Many Jewish traders such as Adolf Braun conducted retail trade in Weinheim and their department stores contributed to Weinheim’s emergence as an attractive retail town.

A walk through Weinheim’s Main Street demonstrates impressively the Jewish spirit of enterprise.

More to the Jewish economic life in Weinheim …

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The Jewish community

The heart of Jewish religious life in Weinheim was the synagogue, officially opened in 1906. The community had only 60 tax paying members and little financial leeway and thus came under the district rabbi in Heidelberg. A close cooperation also existed with the large Jewish community in Mannheim.

It is difficult to estimate the exact number of Jewish citizens living in Weinheim after 1900 as various sources provide different information. 168 Jewish citizens were registered as living in Weinheim on 1. January 1933. According to recent research however, the number appears to have been approximately 300.

Harassment, reprisals and deprival of rights in Weinheim 1933 - 1935

Only two months after the National Socialists came to power, the first organized public anti-Jewish action took place (1 April 1993): the boycott day (“do not buy from Jews”).

Even before the national boycott action began, a local boycott initiated by the Weinheim party and its organisations took place on 11 March 1933. Shop windows were marked with large yellow crosses and prospective shoppers were hindered from entering Jewish shops by SA members.

Further harassment came with a decision of the Weinheim Town Council in 1934, preventing Jewish business people from taking part in the “Weinheim Week”. Reprisals were aimed not just at business people but also at members of the professions such as doctors and lawyers. SA and SS adherents positioned posters with the slogan, “the Jews are our downfall”, in front of the Weinheim practice of Dr. Friedrich Reiss and the law firm Dr. Moritz Pfälzer. A whole raft of laws and regulations gradually destroyed the Jews’ ability to earn their livings. For example, Ernst Braun from Weinheim who, after finishing his final exams in the secondary school, was refused entry to university in 1933 as an “undesirable”. He then commenced an apprenticeship at the leather factory Hirsch until he had to leave Germany.

Others were forbidden from taking up their articles of training upon completion of their law degree. Thus Friedrich Maier from Weinheim moved to Mannheim in 1935 and emigrated in 1937 to the USA.

Similarly Walter Altstädter, trainee at the Weinheim local court. He was not permitted to complete his legal training and emigrated in 1934 to Israel.

Gradually the Jews were driven from their positions as board members, lost their honorary positions and were ousted from clubs and societies. Worthy colleagues or sporting friends were relieved of their offices through no fault of their own. The Weinheim industrialist Julius Hirsch had to resign as board member of the Central Association of the German Leather Industry (“Centralverein der deutschen Lederindustrie”). His brother Max Hirsch had to give up his position at the Baden Chamber of Trade and Commerce (“badischer Gewerbeverein”) and his position as an honorary trade and employment judge.

The Jewish reaction to the changing situation

Despite the repression it was initially very difficult for the Jewish population to assess the situation correctly. They had often had to contend with discrimination and humiliation in the past and presumed that this time too they would be able to cope with the new situation. The increasing isolation and discrimination also led however, to the emergence of a new self-confidence. Their group identity became stronger and they again reflected on their own history, culture and religion. The old differences between Jews from Eastern Europe and the old established Jews; between Zionists and non-Zionists were pushed to the background in the face of the threatened danger from the NS regime which regarded Judaism as a single entity, thus strengthening the new-found solidarity among the Jews. This emerging self confidence led, in April 1933, to the founding of the “Central Committee for Help and Construction” (“Zentralausschuss für Hilfe und Aufbau”). In the following period, this committee provided the organisational structure for emigration by giving economic and legal advice, loans and support to graduates, middle classes and artists.

The central organisation, “Reich Representation of German Jews” (“Reichsvertretung deutscher Juden”) founded in September 1933 and led by Leo Baeck and Otto Hirsch also played an important role in emigration.

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The first Jews leave Weinheim

Some Jews from Weinheim also tried to build a new existence abroad, notwithstanding their close attachment to their home and the fact that they were not just turning their backs on their town but also their country. 15 Jewish citizens left Weinheim in the first wave of emigration which lasted until spring 1935.

How difficult it was to leave home and Weinheim was made clear in the records of the Weinheim industrialist Max Hirsch dating from 1940:

“At the time it would have appeared to me and us all as cowardly desertion to have left our work and our home in which we were so deeply rooted and to which we had dedicated our life’s work. The very idea was so appalling and incomprehensible that we could not even consider it. We still held on to the misplaced belief that a civilized land such as our Germany would soon be healed from this affliction.” More …

The decision to emigrate was closely linked to personal experiences of the Nazi regime. Those who were already unemployed and had witnessed the destruction of their careers risked less by emigrating. Similarly school leavers without a chance of a career, students who were no longer permitted to take exams or to study, politically active Jews (Zionists/socialists) all recognized the need to emigrate before owners of firms, sole traders, craftsmen or employees who could, albeit under more difficult conditions, continue to carry out their occupations until the beginning of 1938. It was mainly Jews who were in particular danger on political grounds who emigrated, such as politicians, journalists, artists, academics, civil servants. Those who clearly recognized the danger they faced presumed, in the main, that the Nazi regime would be quickly deposed or would moderate its policies towards the Jews. Thus, these first emigrants expected to emigrate only for a short period and preferred to move to neighbouring countries.

Others felt themselves to be too old to start again and hoped that that they would be able to adapt to the situation in Germany.

The “Tax on Fleeing the Reich” (“Reichsfluchtsteuer”) imposed in 1931 originally to hinder the flight of capital, also became another hurdle to emigration. Under this rule, Jews who wished to emigrate and had in 1931 possessed assets of over 20,000 Reich Mark were, from 1933, required to transfer 25 % of the total value of their assets to the German Reich. The remaining assets could not be converted into foreign currency in Germany but had to be exchanged abroad. The initially favourable exchange rate deteriorated rapidly over the years. In 1933, emigrants after paying the Reichsfluchtsteuer could still transfer 75 % of their assets abroad, from 1938 however, after paying the tax, only around 8 % remained. From 1938 it was also prohibited to take goods out of the country.

The Nuremberg Laws

With the passing of the Nurnemberg Laws on 15 September 1935 the legal incapacitation of the German Jews was systematically completed. The passing of the “Reich Citizens Law” (“Reichsbürgergesetz”) divided the population into “nationals” (“Staatsangehörige”) and “citizens” (“Staatsbürger”). Jews now belonged to the latter group and thus lost their equal status.

The laws stipulated who was to be regarded as Jewish. Intermarriage between nationals and Jews was prohibited. Existing intermarriages were put under immense pressure by the NS-Regime. In addition, Jews lost the right to vote and their total exclusion from state employment was completed.

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Assessment of the situation by those concerned

A considerable number of Jews welcomed the Nuremberg Laws with the words “at least we now know where we stand”. They believed that after the legal clarification that they were now mere “citizens” the Nazis would end their anti-Semitic actions. There was indeed a lull in such actions in the run-up to the 1936 Olympic Games which led to false hopes. Although the Jewish organisations clearly realized after the passing of the Nuremberg Laws that the break up of Judaism in Germany was only a question of time, no one could have foreseen that a regime whose anti-Semitic policies appeared so inconsequent and whose authorities and state officials were still so versed in the tradition of the rule of law would resort to mass murder.

Weinheim’s economic life

Time also ran out for Weinheim’s firms. This was the result of a four year plan passed in 1936. This marked the end of the free market phase of relative autonomy. Plans for rearmament and economic self-sufficiency were now pushed to the fore.

The aim of the plan was to implement national production programmes for certain key areas of the private economy. As part of this regulation, a quota reduction of 10 % was imposed on all “non-Aryan” firms. This resulted in Max Hirsch commencing sale negotiations with the firm Freudenberg.

Local anti-Semitic actions also aggravated the difficult situation of Jewish business people. In Weinheim for example, the July 1937 summer sales were sabotaged by SA men posted in front of Jewish shops distributing the propaganda publication the “Stürmer” making it almost impossible to enter a Jewish shop. Signs plastered with anti-Semitic slogans were placed at the Friedrichstraße, Lindenstraße and Hauptstraße crossroads, the old “Rodensteinbrunnenplatz” in the Bahnhofstraße and in the Hauptstraße in the former ironmongers Keller.

More to the Jewish economic life in Weinheim …

Numerous Jews leave Weinheim

The deteriorating living conditions resulted in increasing numbers of Jews leaving Weinheim. Not only because their means of existence lay in tatters but also because of fears for the family, causing wives in particular to push for a speedy emigration.

A further 45 Weinheim Jews left their home town between summer 1935 and the end of 1937.

The end of the Hirsch Lederwerke and the Feilenfabrik Freymann & Co.

Further restrictions accelerated the demise of Jewish firms, such as the “Regulation on the Registration of Assets of Jews” dating from 26 April 1938 (“Verordnung über die Anmeldung des Vermögens von Juden”). This provided the basis for further anti-Semitic measures in the administration and enabled the legal exclusion of Jews from business life.

This regulation forced Jews to declare their total assets (including household items, jewellery and securities) to the financial authorities. Only assets with a value of less than 5,000 Reich Mark were exempt.

This regulation forced the firms Feilenfabrik Freymann & Co. in Müll and the Lederwerke Sigmund Hirsch in Weinheim to give up their businesses.

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The November pogroms

A pinnacle of the Nazi discrimination policies were the November pogroms of 9 - 11 November 1938. Further organized public attacks on Jewish citizens were committed by National Socialists.

The trigger was the assassination on 7 November 1938 of the secretary of the German embassy in Paris, Ernst Eduard vom Rath by the 17 year old Herschel Grynszpan. His parents were among the 17,000 Polish Jews living in Germany who had been expelled from the Reich on 28 October. The regime exploited this act of revenge by organizing riots aimed against Jewish citizens and businesses throughout Germany.

The following order was given by the Kurpfalz SA Group to its subordinate divisions in the night of 9 - 10 November:

Innenansicht der zerstörten Synagoge, 5.1.1939“On the orders of the group leader all Jewish synagogues are to be blown up or set on fire immediately. Neighbouring houses occupied by Aryans must not be damaged. The action is to be carried out in civilian clothes. Mutinies or looting are to be stopped. Execution of order to be notified by 8.30.”

The destruction of Weinheim’s synagogue and first arrests

Weinheim’s synagogue in the Bürgermeister-Ehret-Straße 5 which had been officially opened on 2 August 1906 was also a victim of this action. SA men destroyed the interior and the Star of David with axes before blowing up the synagogue. The fire brigade was under instructions not to extinguish the fire.

In the town centre the shop windows of the Jewish shops were smashed, houses were searched and all Jewish men were arrested.

Illustration: Interior view of the destroyed synagogue, 5.1.1939.

The later fate of the synagogue property …

The end of Jewish business in Weinheim 1938

In 1938 the compulsory “Aryanization” of Jewish businesses was ordered by further laws and regulations. Sole traders had to cease trading, workmen were not allowed to exercise their trades and trustees were appointed to Jewish firms. Party offices registered all Jewish businesses in their districts and produced lists of value and liquidity.

In Weinheim the following businnes were affected: Butcher Max Oppenheimer (Hauptstraße 112), Wohlwert-Filiale Robert Lipsky (Hauptstraße 79), Leather traders Theodor Kassel & Marx (Hauptstraße 47), textile store David Benjamin (Amtsgasse 1), department store Geschwister Mayer (Hauptstraße 100), department store Moritz Neu (Hauptstraße 96), textile stores Josef Wetterhahn (Hauptstraße 69) und Isaak Heil (Hauptstraße 63), saddlers and decorators Sigmund Brückmann (Hauptstraße 29).

Expropriation and further restrictions

The expropriation of Jewish property continued and in February 1939, securities, jewellery and art works had to be handed in to public purchase points. Jews were only permitted to keep what they needed to live. This wave of regulations drastically increased the number of Jews requiring benefits. Around 60 % applied for help to the Jewish welfare organisations whose own financial possibilities had been severely curtailed by state intervention.

The aim of these actions was, among other things, to increase the pressure on the Jewish population to emigrate. The Gestapo also intervened directly in order to force emigration. Thus numerous members of the Reich Representation (“Reichsvertretung”) and the welfare associations were arrested and released only upon immediate emigration. The welfare associations were therefore unable to function effectively. Further regulations prohibited Jews from participating in cultural life in general. Cinema, theatre and concert visits were prohibited. Driving licenses and car registration documents had to be returned; tenant protection was lost; membership of associations was revoked and passports were marked with a conspicuous “J” and the compulsory names “Israel” or “Sara”. The ration cards that were distributed at the beginning of the war were also marked with a “J” entitling Jewish citizens only to a smaller ration.

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Last opportunity to flee before the war

After the November pogroms, desperate attempts were made to escape abroad. In the Weinheim Year Book 1991/1992 Martin Eckstein details the family discussions on fleeing the country which increased in intensity after the November pogroms and the short imprisonment of the father in the Buchenwald concentration camp. The Ecksteins however, did not have the financial means to emigrate. On 29 March 1939 the family moved to Pforzheim and lived there until 22 October 1940, the day they were transported to Gurs.

Many Jews were in a similar plight to the Ecksteins. Those who did not manage to leave Germany before the beginning of the war had little chance of escaping the Nazi’s machinery of destruction. So, for example, Hugo Rothschild who planned to emigrate with his wife to the USA at the end of August 1941 but was transported to Gurs/France along with 6502 other Jews from the Pfalz and Baden on 22 October 1940.

Others such as Arthur [Hirsch], Julius [Hirsch] and Max Hirsch were more fortunate. After their imprisonment in Dachau on 10 November 1938 their wives had already made arrangements to leave Weinheim. Max Hirsch reported:

“It was a difficult hour of parting when we had to leave our home in which we had as children spent the best years of our happy childhood, into which my wife and I had moved as a young couple, in which our four children were born and in which the parents, in better times, had lived their happy and harmonious lives. Although we had become hardened to our loss of rights and condemnation it still touched our hearts when we had to leave our dear home for ever.”

At this point the incredible luck of the then 14 year old Margot Seewi nee Rapp must be mentioned, her parents sent her in January 1940 to the then Palestine with one of the last children’s transports. It is impossible to imagine how her parents, aware of all the consequences must have felt upon parting from their daughter. In 1986 Frau Seewi made her own personal pilgrimage to Gurs to the place to which her parents, her younger brother Ernst [Rapp] and her grandmother Recha Heil were transported.

The outbreak of war September 1939

With Hitler’s invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939, the persecution of Jews in the Reich reached a new dimension. A vast array of regulations finally condemned the Jewish population to incapacity. Their lives had become strictly regulated and isolated and thus able to be controlled by the state. Curfews were imposed and contact to non-Jews was forbidden, they had to hand in their radios and move into “Jewish houses”. At the end of 1940 any Jew who was still earning had to pay a social transfer tax (“Sozialausgleichsabgabe”) of 15 % of their income. From 1 September 1941 the Star of David had to be clearly displayed on clothing. From October 1941 Jewish employees were only paid for work actually performed, they were no longer entitled to sickness or holiday pay. Jewish employees were not entitled to extra pay for working on Sundays or bank holidays or overtime. All allowances such as family and child benefits, Christmas, anniversary and loyalty bonuses and maternity benefits were scrapped.

On 20 November 1941, the Reich Minister of Justice decreed that all Jewish prisoners had to be notified to the Gestapo six weeks before their release so that they could be picked up by the Gestapo. Public libraries were no longer open to Jews, from December 1941 they were no longer permitted to use public telephones. Furs and woollen clothes had to be handed over to the Wehrmacht in January 1942, from February they were not permitted to obtain newspapers, magazines and legal gazettes.

The transport of Weinheim Jews to Gurs (22 October 1940)

After the occupation of France, an armistice was agreed between the German Wehrmacht and the French government under Pétain in Vichy. As part of this agreement, Alsace-Lorraine was annexed by the German Reich and was under the administration of the Gauleiter Bürckel (Saarpfalz) and Wagner (Baden). In the armistice negotiations the Vichy regime had had to agree to the deportation of all Jews from Alsace-Lorraine to unoccupied France which was also to have disastrous consequences for the Jews in Baden, Rheinland-Pfalz and Saarland (Saarpfalz). In an arbitrary interpretation of this agreement, Wagner and Bürckel planned the action “Bürckel” with the consent of the Reich government and the Gestapo.

This order was implemented on 22 October 1940, the Jewish holiday Sukkoth (Feast of Tabernacles). Early in the morning the completely unsuspecting Jews in Weinheim were informed of their imminent arrest and deportation. Depending upon the time allowed, the Jews had between 15 minutes and three hours to pack their essential belongings. An adult was permitted to take one piece of luggage weighing 50 kg and 100 Reich Mark and a child one piece of luggage weighing 30 kg. Jewellery, savings books and securities were confiscated. Of the 6504 Jews, 5617 were from Baden and at least 65 were from Weinheim.

The four year old Ernst Rapp, the seven year old Doris Hirsch and the ten year old Kurt Altstädter were the youngest.

The Jewish citizens were taken from the Weinheim Schlosshof to Mannheim and deported from there in special trains to France. The mental state of the deported, of whom 60 % were older than 60, reflected the whole spectrum of human reactions. They had already endured years of fear and repression and most of them suffered unspeakably under the events of 22 October.

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Life in Gurs Camp

Upon arrival of the deportees, the men were separated from the women and children and their luggage gathered in the open. The strong rains in the region meant that by the time the belongings had been collected they were often of no use. The deportees were confronted with a wretched scene. In parts of the nine male and four female barracks the rain came in and they had to sleep on damp straw as there were initially hardly any straw sacks available. There were no windows, only wooden blinds opened by hinges and electric light was scarce. The basic stoves could not heat the barracks adequately even if enough fire wood had been available.

Friedhof in GursThe daily rations in the first six months consisted of two watery soups with turnip, occasionally peas and very rarely a few grams of meat, together with a bread ration of 350 grams. This represented a calorie intake of between 980 and 1250 calories. N. B., a person weighing 60 kg requires, on average, 1800 calories whilst resting. The health and hygienic conditions were indescribable. Washing facilities were outside, mainly defective and frozen in winter. The toilets, simple buckets in half open shacks were difficult for the old and sick to get to, especially as the persistent rain and bad storms often turned the clay soil between the barracks into a mud bath.

Illustration: Jewish Cemetery in Gurs

These unimaginable living conditions led to infestation firstly with lice and fleas and then bugs and rats. In the hard winter of 1940/41, dysentery-related diarrhoea, cases of typhus, tuberculosis and meningitis led to atrocious mass deaths, particularly amongst the older internees.

Notwithstanding the attempts of the head of the Ilot, the barrack representatives, the French Camp administrators and, in particular, the head doctor to keep on top of the situation by disinfection, over 1050 people succumbed to the unbearable conditions during the winter months, among them eleven citizens from Weinheim.

Relief and rescue operations

Reports in the foreign press (particularly in Switzerland) on the catastrophic conditions forced the Vichy regime to allow relief organizations into the Gurs Camp. The Swiss relief organization, “Secours Suisse” provided the internees with medicines and supported the children, as did the French children’s relief organization OSE (“Oeuvre de Sécours aux Enfants”) which tried to move the children into homes. This involvement led to the then 11 year old Martin Eckstein from Weinheim being moved after four months in the Camp, together with 50 other Jewish children, to an orphanage with 120 French orphans near Aspet (Département Haute Garonne). He was the only member of his family to survive. His parents Albert (49) und Felicie Eckstein and his 19 year old sister Lore who had also been sent to the Gurs Camp were then deported to Auschwitz and murdered there. The Quakers who looked after the children in Aspet helped the young Martin to flee to relatives in Zurich.

Kurt Altstädter also shared the same fate as Martin Eckstein. When he was 10 years old he was sent to Gurs with his parents Ludwig and Karolina Altstädter, he worked on a farm in Aix-les-Bains until 1942 and then survived the war in Geneva. His parents were killed in Auschwitz in 1942.

The then seven year old Doris Hirsch was also the only family member to survive thanks only to those who kept her hidden in various children’s homes.

Emigration was still a possibility even in this situation although this often depended upon the discretion and whims of the French administrative officials.

A foreign visa was required together with a transit permit through Spain, Portugal or Morocco and an exit permit issued by the Vichy regime. In addition, a ticket for the ship and foreign exchange for the cost of the journey ($ 400) had to be found. Relations or friends also had to agree to take in the emigrant. The “Reich Association of Jews in Germany” (“Reichsvereinigung der Juden in Deutschland”) endeavoured to obtain exit papers and send them to Gurs. These endeavours were hindered by the edict of the Reich Security Main Office (“Reichssicherheitshauptamt”) from 28 February 1941 which stipulated that the necessary documents had to be obtained from the German representative in Paris.

Kurt Altstädter, Mina Irma Mayer and Kathinka Stiefel all from Weinheim were able to take this route to safety.

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Expropriation of Jewish private property in Weinheim

The deportation of the Baden and thus the Weinheim Jews led to the biggest expropriation of Jewish private property. Upon deportation, savings books, securities, jewellery and cash (in excess of the 100 Reich Mark allowance) had to be left behind. Houses were sealed off and an inventory was conducted.

The Mannheim Chief of Police gave the Town of Weinheim the order to begin registering and valuing the belongings the Weinheim Jews had left behind in their homes. Valuables such as cash, jewellery and silver were to be handed over to the Mannheim Police; the Chief of Police was to be informed if any of the Jewish goods were suitable for use by Weinheim’s community. Any food stuffs were also to be registered and made available to the Nazi organisations.

Public auctioneers were appointed for the Town of Weinheim who drew up detailed lists and divided into five categories, the complete inventory, furniture and simple household objects of the Jewish homes.

Private homes of the Jewish citizens who, upon deportation to Gurs, had had to leave them so hastily taking only the barest necessities with them were broken into and the contents sold.

Sales and public auctions in Weinheim’s Central Fruit Market (Obstgroßmarkthalle)

Upon completion of this registration a meeting took place on 6 December 1940 in Weinheim’s Town Hall with the Mannheim Chief of Police. The meeting was concerned with the continuing process of utilizing Jewish assets.

The result was, among other things, a public action of household objects, at which a 10 % expense was imposed.

The public auctions of Jewish household objects took place between December 1940 and February 1941 in Weinheim’s Central Fruit Market. The last advertised auction in Weinheim’s Central Fruit Market took place on 6 February.

Initially, the Town of Weinheim administered the land, houses and gardens etc. of the Jewish citizens; a sale was not planned originally. Town administrators and local group leaders supervised the distribution of the empty Jewish houses: of the 33 applications for flats, those with large families were to be given priority. Use as business premises or offices was not permitted, even for the Party and its organizations.

The Wannsee Conference (20 January 1942)

On 20 January 1942, the Wannsee Conference took place and the decision to methodically and systematically exterminate the European Jews was made. Consequently, on 14 February 1942 the Jewish emigration organizations were disbanded shattering the last hopes of escaping abroad.

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First transports to the death camps

Although deportations to the concentration camps had already taken place before the Wannsee Conference, mass raids and large-scale transports to the death camps were now organized.

From February 1942 the first transports rolled into the death camps Auschwitz and Lubin/Majdanek. This also applied to those who were still interned at Gurs. Deportation commenced with those Jews who were not afforded protection by non-Jewish partners or non-Jewish children. At the beginning of 1944, the Gestapo abducted the widows of non-Jews even if they had non-Jewish children. Finally, from February 1945 all Jews were abandoned defenceless to the mercy of this machinery, even the partners of still existing intermarriages. Thus Margareta Siehl from Weinheim was to be deported mid February on one of the last transports to Theresienstadt. Her husband, a so called “Aryan” had already lost his position as a teacher in 1937 because he refused to divorce his Jewish wife.

In a letter to the local newspaper (Weinheimer Nachrichten) dated 17 January 1996, her son Hans Martin described how his mother escaped this transport:

“… My mother was to be transported mid-February with (in hindsight) one of the “last” transports to Theresienstadt. My father fought, as he had done in the years before, like a lion to save his wife’s life. But no one, not even those who had helped him previously, could do anything now. All Jews christened or not were to be exterminated by the end of the war. We sat together midday Sunday desperately saying our farewells to our mother and wife. A day later (according to my father’s diary entry, on 12 February 1945), our general practitioner Dr. Jahn appeared at our house and made the following suggestion to my parents: “I will certify her unfit for transport and give her several strofantin injections. This might save her from deportation on Tuesday.” On the same day my father took this certificate to the Gestapo in Mannheim and the official doctor. A miracle occurred. The last transport departed without her. …”

After the War

According to latest research, 114 of the 285 Jewish citizens living in Weinheim after 1933 (40%) could emigrate.

Only 10 people (3.5 %) survived the end of Nazi terror in Weinheim. These were 5 Jewish women who were married to “Aryans” and their children.

Ernst Braun, son of the Weinheim textile merchant Ernst Braun managed to emigrate to the USA in 1939 and returned as an American soldier to Germany. In his capacity as a radio broadcaster he appealed to German soldiers to capitulate. He described his feelings on a visit to Weinheim:

“[…] and the back of our former house looks exactly as it did ten years ago. The name of Braun of course has been replaced by the name of Delert. I looked around and although everything looked familiar it looked strange, cold and repulsive to me. The spirit, the sentiment, the atmosphere of former years had gone. All that used to be near and dear to me was removed. At that point I did not think that I was recognized at all in Weinheim.”

His brother Alfred Braun initiated a meeting of former Jewish citizens of Weinheim that took place from 28 May - 9 June 1979 in Weinheim. 17 former inhabitants of Weinheim made the journey to their old home town. A further meeting took place from 15 - 20 April 1991.

Treffen der ehemaligen jüdischen Bürger 1979

Illustration: Meeting of the former Jewish citizens, 1979.

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