Clara Löwenhardt, 1880-1964
The pictures of ‘Aunt’ Clara and myself have been preserved in a photo album made by my parents and documenting the first two years of my life. Fortunately, they dated the pictures by writing my age in months. All of them were taken in my hometown Almelo. And so I was able to reconstruct that Aunt Clara visited us in the period January (first pictures) to May 1949 (last pictures). A letter from Clara, written in German on 8 February 1947 and airmailed from Montevideo, has also been preserved. It was addressed to my uncle Werner, brother of my father, then living in Amsterdam. 1 But this is all I have to go by. When did she emigrate to Uruguay? Unknown. What profession did she have? Unknown. Did she marry? Unknown. What came of her? Unknown, too. I only know that she was one of the three Löwenhardt children from Oberhemer (the other two being Johanna and Hermann) who survived the Holocaust by emigrating from Europe before the outbreak of the war. Of the other nine, at least six were murdered in Riga, Minsk, Treblinka and Auschwitz.
The dating of the snapshots of Clara and myself has made me believe that she came to Europe after the war to ‘take stock’ of what was left of her siblings and their families. Presumably, she landed in The Netherlands, visited my parents in January 1949, then travelled to Germany and returned to my hometown in May before she left Europe. She may also have visited Friedel in London. With my grandfather’s gold chain watch and my grandmother’s prayer book, the photos showing Aunt Clara and myself are the only tactile testimony to my relation to the generation of my grandparents. All grandparents were dead before I was born.
Julie Löwenhardt, 1882-1941
My father, born in 1913, will have known Julie. She was his aunt and they lived in the same city, Dortmund. At the time when Julie’s second daughter was born, my father was nine years of age. By the time when he fled from Dortmund to Holland (1935), Julie lived with her husband and two daughters a few tram stops away.
But my father never spoke of Julie… or of other family members. So I have to go by documentary evidence, and that evidence is wanting. It suggests that perhaps she was the scandal child of the family.
German civil records show two things. First, that Julie’s first child was born on 12 April 1910 in Hamburg when she was 27. The child’s name (at the time of her birth? Or perhaps later?) was Paula Jägers. Second, that on 23 December 1919 Julie married a ten years younger man, Arthur Jägers, in Dortmund. Julie’s youngest brother Hermann, then 27 years old, was official witness to the marriage and signed the marriage certificate. This civil marriage certificate has been preserved and is now part of the Löwenhardt family archive. It shows a few things that are of interest.
First, on Julie’s husband: he was Jewish and his mother’s maiden name was Esther Novitrust, a very uncommon family name. Arthur was a worker in an iron factory, Julie was working as cashier. Both Julie and Arthur listed as their residential address Gerberstraße 12 in Dortmund, implying that they had been living together for some time. Surprisingly, ‘businessman’ (Kaufmann) Hermann Löwenhardt was living at that address as well. A final surprise concerns the signatures at the bottom of the certificate. Julie signed
Julie Jägers geborene Loewenhardt
…but then she – or the registrar – crossed out her family name and on the next line wrote
A second daughter, Emma Irma Jägers, was born on 6 June 1922. It is not known whether Arthur Jägers was the father of Paula; whether, if so, he recognized her at the time of her birth or – whether his child or someone else’s – by the time he married Julie. But by now this is no longer a hot issue.
Julie died at the age of 58 on 22 July 1941. Her daughters were aged 31 and 19. A few details of her death have recently become available. In New York I found a letter written in August 1941 by Abraham de Leeuw in Enschede, Netherlands, reporting that Julie had died ‘of a (medical) operation’. Soon after, a contact in Dortmund wrote to me that she had not died in that city, but in the Jewish hospital of Cologne-Ehrenfeld. He thereby confirmed that her death had in some way been medically related. But we still do not know whether her illness was ‘natural’ or had in some way been induced or provoked.
Arthur and the two daughters had been forced to give up the house at Gerberstraße and move into a so-called ‘Jews house’ (Judenhaus). It was located at Parsevalstrasse 8 in an industrial area in the northern outskirts of the city. On the first of June they had registered at this address; it may be that Julie lived here for a short while as well before she was admitted to the hospital in Cologne. ‘Jews houses’ represented a macabre phase in the extermination of the German Jews. All over Germany during this period they were concentrated in mini-ghetto’s in the form of private city dwellings, often expropriated from wealthier Jews. Great numbers of people were forced to live in extremely cramped quarters and under bad conditions. 2
In 2010 Magdalena Strugholz discovered Julie’s grave at the Jewish section of the Dortmund-Wambel cemetery. The gravestone says Sara Jägers… but it is Julie. A form of the city’s ‘Public Gardens and Cemeteries Administration’ confirms that Julie was buried here on 29 July. 3 In 1939 the nazi state had forced all Jewish women to carry the middle name ‘Sara’ (and all men ‘Israel’) and Julie’s documents were changed accordingly. Arthur and his two daughters perished or were murdered in the Riga Ghetto whereto they had been deported on 27 January 1942.
Johanna Löwenhardt, 1885-1972
Johanna, the youngest of the three sisters, is the one we know most about. She was the ninth child of Levi and Pauline and after her another three boys were born, Julius in April 1887, Siegmund in May 1889 and Hermann in October 1892. Eight years before the end of the Century, the family had twelve children. But it did not take long for it to fall apart.
Unfortunately, we do not know when (and where) Levi Löwenhardt died. There are indications that this was around the turn of the Century. The three youngest sons entered the Jewish Orphanage for Westfalia and Rhineland, located in Paderborn, in 1899-1900. Julius and Siegmund came in January 1899, they were ages 11 and 9. Hermann came on 3 April 1900, aged 7. All children had been born in Oberhemer, so the date of mother Pauline leaving that town to return to her birthplace Plettenberg can be taken as the date by when the family had, at least temporarily, fallen apart. 4 This was the Autumn of 1903. On 5 November Pauline, then 56 years and a widow, visited town hall and reported that she was leaving for Plettenberg. 5 Julius had left the orphanage in Paderborn in 1901; he moved to Lüdenscheid. Siegmund left it one month after his mother left Oberhemer and moved to Bruch/Recklinghausen. Only the youngest, Hermann, stayed on in Paderborn. The conclusion is straightforward: Johanna’s father Levi must have died between early 1892 and late 1903, most likely in the late 1890s. When in early 1899 Julius and Siegmund were sent to Paderborn, Johanna was fourteen years old.
The Hemer city records bear painful testimony to the falling apart of the family. On 3 March 1903, a few days after she had turned 18, Johanna deregistered, saying she was moving to Aplerbeck, a village near Dortmund. She said she was a sales lady, Verkäuferin. On 11 July of that year her older brother Emil left. He was a housepainter and left the town without a set destination – ‘Auf Wanderschaft’. In November, nine days after Pauline, Max, metal worker, and his wife left. Max had married in January 1901 and his wife Henriëtte Phillipps was six months pregnant when they moved to Essen.
At an unknown date in 1903, Johanna returned from Aplerbeck to Hemer. On 4 December she deregistered again, saying she was moving to Berlin. This was the last entry of any Löwenhardt in the Hemer city records. 6 Perhaps it is a coincidence, perhaps Johanna meant something by choosing this symbolic date for her first move out of her hometown, a few days after turning 18: it was on 03-03-03.
We do not know Johanna’s whereabouts between 1903 and her departure for the United States in the Summer of 1910. But we do know that on 1 February 1907, almost 22 years old and two months pregnant, she married Robert Julius Fritz Benning from Lüneburg. Robert was 27 years old. In September 1907 and October 1908 their sons Hans and Ralph were born somewhere in Germany. The S.S. Pennsylvania, a cargo liner, took the whole family from Hamburg to New York in August 1910.
Johanna had lived in Germany for the first 25 years of her life. She had 62 years ahead of her in the United States. She had married in Germany but was a widow in America for 46 years (Robert Benning died in Detroit in 1926 aged 47; Johanna was 41). She was German-Jewish by birth but in the US carried the not-so outlandish name of Benning (instead of the tongue twister Loewenhardt).
The Bennings lived in Detroit (Michigan) at 2941 Field Street, about five or six miles from the city centre. When in June 1921, a year after he and his family had received US citizenship, Johanna’s husband applied for a US passport, he identified himself as an art decorator. Ten years after immigration, the family was relatively well to do. In 1921 Robert made a business trip to Europe (Netherlands, Belgium, France and Switzerland). Four years later Johanna made a trip as well, accompanied by her two sons then aged sixteen and seventeen. A picture postcard of the boat trip to Europe has been preserved, click here. On the passport application she wrote that she intended to visit Germany, France, Switzerland, The Netherlands and England.
After her husband had died, Johanna and her sons stayed in the Detroit area. But in the mid-1930s she moved to Kansas City MI where she became the owner of a dress shop. She remarried at the advanced age of 77 to John Meier and she seems to have had a very happy last ten years of her life.
In America Johanna had two nieces and two nephews, born in Detroit between 1934 and 1941. In 1921 she and her husband had facilitated the immigration of her youngest brother Hermann, who had settled in Detroit. His daughters Lucy and Pauline have kindly shared their reminiscences of ‘Tante Hannie’.
The young nieces were impressed by Johanna being, in the words of Lucy, ‘a very fashion conscious lady; always well dressed in good taste with her hair and nails perfectly groomed.’ When her brother Hermann died in Detroit in 1972, Johanna came from Florida to attend the funeral. Pauline remembers that ‘she seemed in excellent health and looked much younger than her 87 years. She had her hair done, wore makeup, had her fingernails done and as always was talkative and vivacious.’
When she visited her brother and his family in Detroit, much of the conversation was in German, and the nieces and nephews picked up some German words. Their German ancestry was no mystery to the children. But Pauline writes about a 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.’
Johanna died on 17 November 1972, a month after she had returned to Florida from the funeral of her brother Hermann. Lucy recalls that ‘she simply gave up and died’. In medical terms, according to Pauline, it was pneumonia. Pauline saw her shortly before her death: ‘she sat up in her hospital bed giving orders and taking charge as she had always done.’
It is as yet unknown where Johanna Löwenhardt is buried.
- The letter indicates that Clara had been in touch with her niece Friedel Löwenhardt, daughter of her brother Isidor, who survived WWII in the United Kingdom; and that Friedel was in touch with Werner. The letter deals mainly with packages of chocolate and cigarettes sent by Clara to Werner and to my parents.
- On the ‘Jews houses’ at Parsevalstrasse, see Rolf Fischer, Verfolgung und Vernichtung. Die Dortmunder Opfer der Shoah. Dortmund 2015, p. 47. The complex consisted of wooden barracks for up to 150 people each.
- Best. Reg. Nr 1561, Buchstabe D, Feld 2b, Grab Nr. 59; document provided by the city administration of Dortmund, in the possession of the author.
- In the 1920s and early 1930s mother Pauline lived with several sons in Dortmund; she died there in 1933
- Hemer city archives, Amtliches Abmelderegister Hemer 1903
- Hemer city archives, Amtliches Abmelderegister Hemer 1903, 1905