They were born in Oberhemer, Germany, between 1880 and 1885: Clara, Julie and Johanna, the three Löwenhardt sisters. Two of them moved to the Americas and died at an advanced age. Their youth may have been dominated by their nine brothers. Later, most of them perished in the Holocaust. What were they like, these three sisters?
Levi and Pauline Löwenhardt of Oberhemer (Upper Hemer), Germany, had twelve children, born between 1873 and 1892. Nine of them were boys; three were girls. Knowing little about my great-grandparents, it is difficult to imagine this large family living in a small provincial town in North Rhine-Westphalia. They were Jewish, yes, but raised at a time of growing nationalism among gentiles and Jews. The pressure for adaptation and assimilation was strong and there is no indication of any of the children turning into a pious, orthodox Jew. The picture with the largest number of family members in it, ten in total, was composed towards the end of World War One when the nine Löwenhardt brothers showed themselves in military uniform surrounding their widowed mother Pauline. The picture was not ‘taken’ but composed in a photographer’s lab from separate pictures. It is unlikely that all nine brothers and their mother met at any time during the war. A picture of the three sisters with or without their parents or brothers has not been preserved – if such picture has existed at all.
It was a disappointment, my first visit to Hemer. This was in the late 1980s. With some difficulty I found my way to the Jewish cemetery dating from the early nineteenth Century. A tiny plot at the dead-end ‘Am Perick’ street. Some twenty-five matsewot (gravestones) have been preserved. I read them all… Gottschalk, Blumenthal, Reinsberg, Waldheim. Not one Löwenhardt! Whereas Levi and Pauline had raised no less than twelve children in this town, no one is buried here. How was this possible?
Hemer itself was a disappointment as well. A somethat nondescript town in North Rhine-Westphalia. It is located in the borderland between the densely populated Ruhrgebiet and the Sauerland with its forests and lakes. I knew this is where my grandparents took their sons on occasional outings, to the Möhnsee Reservoir, for example, or to mundane Arnsberg or Iserlohn. Today’s Hemer is the result of the merger of the twin-towns Upper Hemer (Oberhemer) and Lower Hemer (Niederhemer), effected in 1910. At the turn of the century when the Löwenhardt children were growing up in Oberhemer, the twin-town was dominated by small metal industries producing wire, nails, screws and staples. There were rolling mills and foundries. In 1904-05 Oberhemer counted 2614 souls, 15 percent of them employed in industry.1
The first known Löwenhardt in Oberhemer had been Salomon, born in 1792. His place of birth is unknown, but probably in Oberhemer he married Prinz Moses (Mina Sternberg) in November 1839. Salomon died in 1864, Mina in 1897 – meaning that all twelve Löwenhardt children born between 1873 and 1892 will have known their grandmother Mina. The emancipation of the German Jews since the early decades of the nineteenth Century had an impact on the number of children born into a family. Whereas Salomon and Mina during the years 1840-1843 had three children, their oldest son Levi had twelve between 1873 and 1892. This was not uncommon among German Jewish families during this period.
Almost all of the older generation had earned their livelihood in the cattle trade. In no other profession in Germany the share of Jews was as high as in cattle and horse trade. Eighty percent of the firms were run by Jews. But by the early twentieth Century the occupation was in low regard among German Jews themselves as they sought to enter stable employment in industry.2 Hemer’s metal industries and the expanding industrial cities of the Ruhrgebiet offered plenty of jobs that were now open to Jews. This must have been the main reason why I found no Löwenhardt graves at the small cemetery ‘Am Perick’. All children had left town by 1903, as had their mother Pauline. Almost all settled in the Ruhrgebiet. None of the twelve died in their town of birth.
Here I will focus on the three girls. Who were they, Clara, Julie and Johanna? What came of them? In this story I take stock on what we now of them at this moment.3
The sisters were born in a cluster, with only my grandfather Adolf (October 1883) in-between the second and third of them. Before Clara (4 August 1880), five boys had been born – the oldest of them, Salomon (1873) was seven years old. And after Johanna (28 February 1885) another three boys were born. The final one of these three and the youngest of the twelve children was Hermann Löwenhardt (1 October 1892) who arrived in the USA in September 1921, married Elizabeth Ring, converted to Catholicism and had four children.
Two of the three sisters reached advanced age. Clara died in Montevideo, Uruguay, on 6 January 1964, aged 83. Johanna passed away in Venice, Florida USA, on 17 November 1972 at the admirable age of 87. Only Julie died relatively young: at age 58 on 22 July 1941. It is not known whether her death was related to the persecution by the nazi’s. After all, even during the Holocaust some Jews died of natural causes. I will return to this question in the second part of this story.
At the moment of writing few people are alive who knew any of the sisters. I know of no one alive who has been acquainted with Julie. I myself have met Clara… but at such young age that I do not remember. A few pictures have been preserved, one of them showing Aunt Clara from Montevideo with the author as a very young man playing in a sandbox. But with Johanna (“Tante Hanny”) the situation is different. She is fondly remembered by the children of her youngest brother Hermann whom she helped to immigrate into the US and with whom she was in touch until his death… one month before her own. Some of them have shared their memories of Aunt Hanny. But first, who was Clara?
- Hans-Hermann Stopsack, Vom Amt zur Stadt. Zur Geschichte von Amt und Stadt Hemer von 1900 bis zur Gegenwart. Hemer, Selbstverlag, 2000 [↩]
- Monika Richarz, ‘Viehhandel und Landjuden im 19. Jahrhundert. Eine symbiotische Wirtschaftsbeziehung in Südwestdeutschland,’ Julius H. Schoeps (Hrsg), Menora. Jahrbuch für deutsch-jüdische Geschichte 1990, München-Zürich, Piper 1990, 66-88 [↩]
- Sources: Stadtarchiv Dortmund; Gedenkbuch Bundesarchiv online; and, with many thanks, Magdalena Strugholz, Lucy Loewenhardt, Pauline Loewenhardt. [↩]