PLETTENBERG was still on my to-do list. One of the few family related towns I had never visited. It is the birthplace of my great-grandmother Pauline Lennhoff. From Plettenberg in Nordrhine-Westfalia she moved some thirty kilometres north and settled in Oberhemer with Levi Löwenhardt. Between 1873 and 1892 they had twelve children, nine boys and three girls. In May 1933 Pauline died and was buried in the Jewish cemetery at Dortmund-Wambel, 85 years old. When five years ago I visited her grave, it was obvious: nazi thugs had fired bullets at her tombstone. But she was spared the horrors of the Holocaust.
These days the Germans cherish their Jewish cemeteries. Even where no Jew is left in town, the cemeteries are well kept and properly signposted. A cynic would say: the Germans take a liking to dead Jews. I am pleasantly surprised when on the day before our departure on the Internet I find the address and even a detailed plan of Plettenberg’s Jewish cemetery. It holds 34 graves, seven of them are Lennhoffs.
It is the first day of February 2015 and we set off from Hochsauerland, heading home. The end of a long weekend in which our Labradoodle Moshé (aka Moos, Moshele, Mister M.), now almost two years old, has for the first time experienced the phenomenon snow. The hills were covered with a thick blanket of snow and Moshele jumped right into it, four paws down simultaneously. Moos himself has a fur of pitch black curls and the contrast with the bright white snow is striking. His snout is covered by powdery snow, icy balls stick to his black curly paws. But… into the bench now for the ride home. First stop: Plettenberg, some seventy kilometres West.
Approaching the town, I feel that my great-grandmother grew up in an idyllic setting. Green hills to both sides, we drive along the wide Lenne valley, the river that probably was at the origin of Pauline’s family name Lennhoff. The town itself stands in gross contrast to the landscape. She is ugly and abhorrent. Practically no old buildings left and a Stadtmitte packed with unsightly twentieth-century buildings. In Pauline’s days the town will have shown far more romance.
This Sunday morning there is no one in the streets. The Schützenhalle is the only place showing activity. A depressing jumble sale has just opened its doors. We hurry away to the Jewish cemetery at Freiligrathstraße.
It is situated on a slope of the small Oester river. It takes some cunning to negotiate the locked gate and the wooden fence. Under my yarmulke I step fresh tracks into the virgin snow and I feel an intruder. I inspect each and every tombstone, starting with Mozes , Johanna and then Ingeborg Lennhoff. She died in March 1929, two years old and her grave is marked by a large, modern looking stone lacking any trace of Hebrew writing. Beyond her lie Lennhoffs with tombstones that are hardly legible.
But then: a large grave covered by hedera. It is of such proportions that two bodies might be buried here. But I see only one tombstone. The top is of unusual shape: a triangle between two quarter circles, the round sides of which point to the triangle. The stone has text on both sides, as one sees more often on German-Jewish tombstones. The front is in Hebrew, the back side in German.
I am dumbfounded, this I had not expected. It is the grave of my great-great-grandfather Isak Lennhoff, Pauline’s father – and he was a kohen. He lived 1817 to 1863, Pauline was fifteen years old when he died. The Hebrew side of the tombstone shows two big hands, fingers pointing at each other.
A kohen in the mishpoke! I detect the grave of Pauline’s brother (and his wife), right behind that of the father, of course a kohen as well. In every Jewish community the kohanim (plural) are held in high esteem. They are considered descendants of the high priests in Biblical times, the status of kohen being passed on from father to son. If a kohen is present in shul service, he will always be the first one to be called for an alyah.
Sooo, Isak Lennhoff was a kohen – but, alas, I am not. Pauline is in-between Isak Lennhoff and my grandfather Adolf Löwenhardt (1883-1944). The German text on the stone dates from 1863 and makes me smile:
Hier ruhet in Frieden
den ihm Gott beschieden
geb. im November 1817
gest. den 1. März 1863
Ruhe sanft ohne Sorgen
Bis zum Auferstehungs
Here rests in the peace of God Isak Lennhoff, born in November 1817, deceased on 1 March 1863.
Rest gently without worries until resurrection morning.