SEARCHING FOR THE CHUPPAH OF MY GRANDPARENTS
Cattle-dealer Herman Weijl is a respected man. In the Oldenzaal kehillah, the Jewish community, he is one of the parnassim, members of the governing board.1 It is 19 November 1914 and Herman’s only daughter is getting married. Herman is 59 years old, for 21 years he has been married to Jansje Poortje from Muntendam. Their daughter Louisa Mathilda was born in July 1894, her brother Louis in May 1897. Both children had been named after their grandmother Louise Meijers.
This Thursday, Louisa marries 28-year old cattle-dealer Arnold de Leeuw from Almelo. The mayor of Oldenzaal is in charge of the civil ceremony at city hall. His aristocratic name sounds very Catholic indeed: Nicolaus Xaverius Theodorus Maria Vos de Wael. But was the ceremony followed by a chuppah, a Jewish wedding? I have searched for an answer for a long time.
The civil marriage certificate I found on 17 April 2013 in the Oldenzaal city archives.2 But such document says nothing about a chuppah. There was an indication, though, circumstantial evidence on my very own bookshelves: the prayer book of my grandmother Louisa that, unlike her, miraculously survived the Holocaust. The Complete Prayer Book of Netherlands Israelites for the Entire Year. Embossed in gold on its deep-red leather cover, her name: L. DE LEEUW-WEIJL. It is precisely the kind of wedding present that she would have received from the local rabbi – Mr. Klein – after the chuppah. But proof?
Proof presented itself two months later. In the archives of the Amsterdam Jewish Historical Museum I stumbled upon the cash book of the Oldenzaal kehillah. I didn’t take notice at first – but then realized that this scrupulous financial administration allowed me to reconstruct the activities of the shammes and shoykhet, the Oldenzaal shul’s sexton and ritual slaughterer Leizer Melamed. From there it was just a few steps to a search for evidence of the chuppah. And yess! On the cash book’s November 1914 page, under Expenses and in graceful handwriting:
The five guilders ‘consecration money’ (Inzegengeld) must have been paid to rabbi Klein for his services, the two guilders ‘witness money’ (Getuigengeld) to shammes Melamed for his. In December the Revenues page of the cash book showed
Bruidegomsgeld f 8,-
Getuigengeld f 2,-
It seems that a month after his chuppah my grandfather Arnold paid ten guilders, eight for ‘consecration money’ and two for ‘witness money’. A simple calculation: the chuppah of my grandparents earned the rabbi five guilders, the shammes two guilders and the coffer of the kehillah a net sum of three guilders.
Melamed’s ‘witness money’ is a strong indication that the wedding took place in the local synagogue – perhaps on shabbes, 21 November 1914? Alas, the ketubah, marriage contract, has not been preserved.
The bride’s father Herman had no less than ten siblings, he was the oldest of the bunch. Since many of the families lived near, there will have been many wedding guests. The most important of them were Herman’s eighteen years younger brother Maurits (Mau, a cattle-dealer as well and living within walking distance from Herman) with his wife Betje (Bella, 34) and their two sons. Mau and Bella had married in 1901 in the bride’s home town Almelo. Bella was the oldest daughter of Arnold’s uncle Louis de Leeuw.
The marriage certificate of Arnold and Louisa shows the signatures of the newlyweds, of the parents of the bride and of mayor Vos de Wael. But not only these. Maurits Weijl has signed as well, the man who thirteen years before had married a De Leeuw girl – his Betje – from Almelo. He now was an official marriage witness for his niece Louisa. Who knows, perhaps Louisa had found her Arnold thanks to the existing wedding band between De Leeuws from Almelo and the Oldenzaal Weijls.
- Oldenzaal is a town in the Twente region of The Netherlands, near the German border
- With thanks to then City Archivist Jos Oude Essink Nijhuis.