Remembering Hermann Loewenhardt, 1892-1972
by Pauline and Lucy Loewenhardt, USA, and John Löwenhardt (introduction)
Hermann Loewenhardt was 28 years old when on 12 September 1921 he arrived in the USA. He was the youngest of the twelve Löwenhardt children from Oberhemer, Germany and the second and last to arrive in the US. His sister Johanna had arrived with husband and two children in August 1910, aged 25. Hermann married in 1929 to Elizabeth Henrietta Ring. Between 1934 and 1941 two daughters and two sons were born.
In the US, Hermann converted to Catholicism, the religion of his German-born wife. He had been born into the Jewish family of Levi Löwenhardt (1840-?) and Pauline Lennhoff (1847-1933). Hermann had a troubled childhood, spending seven years in the Jewish Orphanage of Westfalia and Rhineland in Paderborn, from age seven to fourteen. Seven years later, World War One broke out and he and his eight brothers were all drafted into the army. Hermann fought at the Russian front… and survived (as did all of his brothers). By the end of the war his sister had been in the US for eight years. She and her husband Robert Benning vouched for Hermann, and he immigrated three years later.
When in 1972 he died at the age of eighty, Hermann Loewenhardt had spent more than fifty years in the US. At the request of the Löwenhardt Foundation, his daughters Pauline and Lucy wrote their memories of their father:
Pauline Maria, born 1934
I was born in a small white frame house on Devon Avenue on January 18th, 1934. I am told that my father delivered me, as Doctor Bede Mitchell did not arrive in time though of course, he signed the birth certificate. I had a head of dark hair and as my father loved to say, “a perfect manicured set of fingernails and toenails”. My sister, Lucy Henrietta, arrived 18 months later in July of 1935. I don’t know if he changed diapers but he certainly looked the proud father in the photos I have. As a teenager I wanted Dad to make more money. We were never hungry, never wanted for the necessities of life, but we were poor. I grew up with handmade clothes and well mended socks. I did not appreciate the devotion which went into our home life until many years later. Dad and Mama were very proud of what they had accomplished as immigrants to this country and they were extremely proud of their children. They did not feel poor but I did. Through the years my father worked in a variety of factory jobs but never earned much money. His occupation is listed on my birth certificate as “welder.” Though we always had enough to eat, there was no money for luxuries. My mother always stayed home to care for us. They both worked very hard to provide for their family and were so proud to be Americans yet they clung to their German heritage.
I grew up during World War II. I was 7 years old in 1941 when the war started. I remember walking with my father to the newsstand to buy a paper. As we walked, I heard the newsboys shouting the headlines, “America attacked at Pearl harbor.” It was a difficult time to be German-American. My schoolmates taunted me about being a “kraut.” Mama and Dad did not offer solace. I’m sure it was a difficult time for them also. They never talked about their fears but I felt the fear.
My father’s Jewish background and what was happening to the Jews in Europe was not discussed in front of the children, but the anxiety and guilt they felt leached out of them into me. It remained another hushed family secret. In my child’s mind I couldn’t understand how my Aunt Johanna could be Jewish. How could this be? She and my father were sister and brother. We were Catholic. The questions were never spoken out loud but stayed buried in that place where children hide their worries and uncertainties. I knew that our relatives lived in Germany and were in danger. I did not know at that time that Dad was Jewish. They didn’t talk about it. I was especially fearful about the war after the Detroit race riots in 1943. We lived near the area where the riots were taking place. There were fires and tanks rolling through the streets. I thought the war had come to Detroit.
My father remained a quiet, stern, elusive figure during my childhood. It was difficult to really know him. I don’t remember hugs or kisses from him until later years when he lived with me and my family. He never talked about his childhood in Germany except to say that he was the youngest of a large family and was raised in an orphanage. He was a quiet, peaceful man who disliked noise and confusion. He was a genuinely good man, devoted to my mother and to his children and never thinking of himself. I remember him as an optimist but critical of people who advocated policies that he thought were wrong. For example, he spoke harshly about Margaret Sanger who promoted birth control. He never went anywhere by himself except to work or to Sunday Mass with the men’s group or to get a haircut. He kept everything around the house in good repair and had a tool bench in the basement.
His favorite summer activity was listening to a Tiger Baseball game on the radio on a Sunday afternoon. He usually fell asleep before the game ended. I have a photo of him sitting in a canvas chair on our little front porch. His feet are up and a hole is clearly visible in the sole of his shoe. In later years he took my brothers and me to hockey games. He was a big fan of the Detroit Red Wings and I loved going to the games with him. Hockey games were ubiquitous in Detroit neighborhoods wherever there was an ice rink or sometimes on the snow-covered streets. My brother, Joe, still has scars from catching a puck in his mouth.
Dad was a strict disciplinarian and a few times he spanked us. He could raise his voice when needed. As we got older he expected us to take responsibility and do the right thing under any circumstance. My brothers got into typical boyhood troubles and received the majority of his ire. One winter day, they decided to light a fire under a large pile of discarded Christmas trees in the empty lot next door. The flames produced by the dried pine trees quickly reached higher than our 2-story house. The fire department was called and my brothers were in trouble for a long time.
My father never recovered from my mother’s death. She died in 1953 at the age of 55. She was the linchpin that had held our family together. At my father’s urging, I continued with school and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing in 1955. I felt I should stay at home to help run the house but Lucy took over those duties until I finished and moved back home. Then she went on to school and also become a nurse. My brother, Hubert, joined the Navy at 17 and Joe followed as soon as he was old enough. They were both in the Navy Submarine Service. My father eventually sold the family home and came to live with me. By that time, I was married and we had started a family.
I married in 1957 and by 1965 I had 3 children, Mary, Joseph and Peter. I was delighted that my children could know their one remaining grandparent. My husband’s parents were also dead. Grandpa Herman spent many happy hours with the children, singing German songs and telling them stories. I have photos of him playing ball with the kids in our yard in Detroit. He was helpful around the house too. He watched the children occasionally and helped out in the kitchen.
He devoted the last years of his life to peaceful endeavors. His life centered on his grandchildren and his faith. He was always a strict Catholic but in the best sense of the word. He tried to help others even though he had little for himself. He belonged to the Third Order of St Francis, a lay group associated with the Franciscan Order (an order of Monks and priests who lived a secluded life in a monastery.) They visited the sick in hospitals and helped the poor by donation and direct service.
He gradually lost his sight because of Glaucoma but continued to get around very well in spite of it and remained active. He would go out for a walk every day and feel his way with a cane. My children learned that he needed to have his belongings remain undisturbed as that was how he was able to care for himself. In 1971 I returned to graduate school and the older two children helped him with his lunch if I was not home. In 1972 he had a stroke and we put him in a Nursing Home, as I could not care for him at home. We brought him home for our first family reunion in August of 1972 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He died peacefully a few months later just 11 days after his 80th birthday. When my son, Joe, (age 11) learned about his death, he played taps for him on his cornet. Dad is buried in Detroit, Michigan next to my mother. We missed him very much.
During the years when my Dad lived with us I tried to talk to him about his childhood in Germany and about his family but he remained evasive as always. I understood why he wanted to want to forget about war but never understood his reluctance to talk about his family. In his later years he occasionally awakened during the night screaming as he had done when I was a child. He said it was because he had been sprayed with mustard gas during WWI combat on the Russian front. Somebody would run to his room and wake him up from his nightmare.
Tante Hanny came to Dad’s funeral from her home in Venice, Florida. She had remarried in 1962 at the age of 77 after being a widow for many years. She and her new husband ran a motel on in a small town in Florida. Later they retired to the small town of Venice, on the west coast of Florida.
I never met her first husband, Robert, so he probably died in the 1930’s. Photos of those early years always show her alone with my parents. I have one photo of her with Robert and my father. At the funeral she seemed in excellent health and looked much younger than her 88 years. She had her hair done, wore makeup, had her fingernails done and as always was talkative and vivacious. Yet she died just one month later in a hospital in Venice, Florida. The cause was pneumonia. Her husband, John, blamed her death on the trip to Michigan. I went to visit her shortly before her death and she sat up in her hospital bed giving orders and taking charge as she had always done. I do not know where she is buried. It took me a long time to recover from their deaths so close together.
Lucy Henrietta, born 1935
Mama was the disciplinarian as I recall because Dad must have been away a lot, probably working hard to care for his young family. Later, as I grew up he greatly influenced me with his quiet ways, strong work ethic, infinite patience, and devotion to the Catholic Church, especially St. Anthony. He loved to sing, in fact when he immigrated to Detroit, he belonged to a singing club called Concordia. He may have met Mama at the club.
Dad suffered lifelong effects from mustard gas while fighting in WWI. We learned early on to wake him up when he had nightmares, and scared us when he cried out in his sleep. Furthermore, I recall family trips in the Detroit area to the Vernor’s Ginger Ale plant on Woodward, the Zoo, and the Henry Ford Museum where I once got lost among the giant locomotives. Similarly, he took us to Belle Isle, Palmer Park, the Detroit Institute of Arts, and the Shrine of the Little Flower. Trips to Windsor, Ontario Canada were taken by bus with Mama for food especially during the War years.
I remember several other memorable trips; Toledo, Ohio where we visited with the Sperbers and the Webers. There we also met Sister Liliosa, sister of our mama’s grandfather Ring. In addition, we frequently visited our friends the Melchers and the Reuters who lived on the East side of Detroit.
Dad was my teacher when he taught me to drive our 1934 big black Plymouth with the gear shift on the floor. He also taught me to try some of his favorite traditional German foods. For example: Schmalz (lard) spread on dark pumpernickel bread, Limburger cheese, stewed prunes, blood sausage, beef tongue and liverwurst sandwiches. Christmas Eve was always a special time in our family when we all gathered at dusk to light the tree, listen to a special reading by Dad, and then open gifts. I recall a weekly ritual; every Saturday evening he sat at the kitchen table and shined his shoes for Sunday mass.
Dad’s favorite exclamation was “Ach Du Lieber.” He loved baseball, and faithfully listened to the Detroit Tiger’s games on radio since we had no television. Dad could be firm, and I remember occasions when he refused to let me date someone he didn’t like, or go out in public in black pants.
One of my last visits with Dad was in the late 1960’s when he was in a nursing home in Rhode Island not too far from our brother Hugh and his wife Jeanne. The last time I saw Dad was at a family reunion in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Prosit Dad! I love you. Lucy.