Hermann Loewenhardt told his American-born children that he had been in an orphanage in Germany before he emigrated to the United States. It was difficult to believe. Why should he have been in an orphanage? Born in 1892, Hermann was the youngest of the twelve children of Levi and Pauline Löwenhardt of Oberhemer. At the time of his birth, his father was 52, his mother 45 (she lived to be 85!) and his oldest three brothers were 19, 18 and 16 years of age. His oldest sister, Clara, was twelve.
While visiting Germany in August of this year  I stumbled upon a book written by the historian Margit Naarmann about the Jewish families of Paderborn during the nazi terror. It had an appendix listing the children of the Jewish orphanage – and to my surprise not only Hermann was in that list, two of his brothers were as well: Julius (1887 – 1973) and Siegmund (1889 – 1944). All three had been living in the orphanage during the first years of the Twentieth Century, Hermann from age 7 to 14. Magdalena Strugholz in Dortmund, who managed to get hold of the book, has found that Ludwig, the father of Kurt Ikenberg, had also been in this orphanage.
The Jewish Provincial Orphanage for Westfalia and Rhineland was opened in 1856 thanks to the work of Fanny Nathan (1803-1877), a devout Jewish woman who took the mitswa of tsedaka very seriously. She had a gift for fundraising and for committing Jewish and non-Jewish authorities to her cause. In August 1863 the custom built orphanage was openeded, financed entirely by monies raised by Fanny. She headed the orphanage until her death in 1877. One single and hazy picture of the orphanage at Paderborns Leostraße has survived, the building is no longer there.
The brothers Julius and Siegmund Löwenhardt entered the orphanage in January 1899 at ages 11 and 9. Their brother Hermann came one year later on 3 April 1900, aged 7. All three came from Hemer where in the following three years their family dissolved. In the Autumn of 1903 their mother Pauline was the last to leave town, for her place of birth, Plettenberg.
What may have been the cause? It has for many years been a mystery until in May 2021 I received a copy of Der Schild, the newspaper of the German Union of Jewish Front Soldiers, dated 6 March 1936. It had a long article about the military exploits of Levi Löwenhardt and his nine sons – and stated that Levi had died in 1898. This is the only source I have on his departure from this world – but it makes sense in combination with the date on which Julius and Siegmund entered the orphanage.
The number of pupils at the orphanage was declining by the time of the séjour of the three Löwenhardt boys Julius (1899-1901), Siegmund (1899-1903) and Hermann (1900-1907). In 1895 there had been 62 pupils, in 1904 46 and in 1906 only 38. The numbers declined further to 21 in 1942 when the orphanage was closed and almost all pupils were murdered.
Soon after Julius and Siegmund had arrived in January 1899, orphanage director Johanna Marcks-Nathan died. Her daughter Paula Marcks took over. She will have had a considerable impact on the education of particularly Hermann. At the occasion of the orphanage’s fiftieth anniversary in 1906 it underwent a complete overhaul and renovation.
In the garden every pupil had a plot of one square meter in size for which he or she was responsible. The orphanage had its own stables with milch cows. Jewish families in Paderborn often invited orphanage children for parties and took them on trips to the countryside or wider afield. But apart from the weekly visit to the synagogue, the social life of orphanage pupils was limited to the orphanage grounds.
Julius left the orphanage when he had turned fourteen years old, in October 1901. He went to Lüdenscheid. Siegmund left at that age on 31 December 1903, for Bruch/Recklinghausen. Only Hermann Löwenhardt stayed on, until his fourteenth birthday. He left the orphanage on 29 April 1907 for Stadthagen. When, after leaving the orphanage, the pupils were learning a trade with a craftsman, the orphanage continued to provide them with financial support. This was so until money ran out by 1930.
Edited on 11 May 2021
- Margit Naarmann, Die Paderborner Juden 1802-1945. Emanzipation, Integration und Vernichtung. Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der Juden in Westfalen im 19. Und 20. Jahrhundert. Paderborner Historische Forschungen Band 1, n.d. (1988), Chapter V: “Das Jüdische Waisenhaus für Westfalen und Rheinland in Paderborn von 1856-1942”, 355-385
- —, “Fanny Nathan 1803-1877. Gründerin des jüdischen Waisenhauses in Paderborn”, Internet-Portal “Westfälische Geschichte”, 2005
- Der Schild, 6 March 1936