The Jewish section of the General Cemetery in Dortmund-Wambel, Germany. The lawns are immaculately kept. On a sunny day in July 2010 I find the grave of my great-grandmother Pauline Löwenhardt, buried here in 1933. I am roaming the gravesite and suddenly I stumble upon a simple gravestone that gives me a shock. ‘Benjamin ten Brink’, it says, ‘died 16 January 1931’. That is all, and it wets my curiosity. How on earth did a Ten Brink manage to die in Dortmund, 1931? The Ten Brinks, at least my branch of the family, are from Denekamp in The Netherlands, some 140 kilometres to the North-West.
MOSES & BENJAMIN TEN BRINK
Almost six years have passed and now I know that Benjamin was a distant relative of my grandmother Julia, born in Denekamp in 1890. She grew up in that provincial town close to the German border. The Jewish community was small and Julia must have known of Benjamin, his father, his brothers and their booming business. After 1912, when Julia married one of the sons of Pauline, she lived in Dortmund. With her husband Adolf Löwenhardt she ran a butcher shop. Since Benjamin died in that city in 1931, it seems unlikely that they were not in touch.
In Denekamp around the time of Julia’s birth, local farmers and workers speaking of Benjamin’s father Daniel Samuel and his sons referred to the ‘Chicken Jew’, hoonerjör in the local dialect. There is nothing sinister in this nickname. The little that we know about the Chicken Jew comes from interviews of two of his former employees, noted down in 1976 and 1988. The Denekamp historical society recorded their words and published them in a book in 2002.(1) Since these two men have passed away no one is alive who can tell us first hand about Daniel Samuel ten Brink (1808-1891) and his poultry empire. He ran his business with his sons Hertog, Isaac, Moses and Benjamin who continued it after his death and took it abroad. A blurry picture is all that remains…
By the late 1890s the poultry farm developed into an international poultry export business. Each week many hundreds of chicken, geese and duck were slaughtered – many in accordance with Jewish dietary laws – and delivered to Nordhorn, Hamburg (some 300 kilometres), and Dortmund in Germany, at times even to Berlin. From the 1920s the firm owned several cars (Fords) and employed six male non-Jewish workers and many local women.
Live poultry was bought from local famers and at markets in towns such as Almelo, Enschede and as far away as Apeldoorn. In 1988 one of the retirees said that at times he had returned to Denekamp with some 600 live chicken in his car. The race was now on to deliver them in time to the kosher homes in Germany. Every Tuesday the shoykhet (ritual slaughterer) came from nearby Oldenzaal on his motor
cycle. This was Leizer Melamed, employed by the Oldenzaal Kehile (Jewish community) for ritual slaughter in the region. Melamed slaughtered each chicken with ‘a small sabre’ and placed a stamp on its skin, proof that it was kosher according to the kashrut regulations (dietary laws) of the Talmud as certified by the Chief Rabbi. The live chicken had been turned into Jewish chicken.
To the large Jewish communities in several German cities, Ten Brink purveyed these jörnhooner, ‘Jewish chicken’ or ‘Jews’ chicken’. This funny word is a reversal of the word by which his business was identified by the locals in Denekamp. On Thursday morning, the kosher chicken were driven to Nordhorn, just across the border from Denekamp. And from there they went to Dortmund where they had to be in the shops no later than Friday morning when women would buy a chicken for the preparation of their shabbos meal that evening.
Apparently the business of the Denekamp hoonerjör went so well that two of the sons of Daniel Samuel decided to open their own shops in Dortmund. The register of the Handelskammer (Chamber of Commerce) of Dortmund testifies that the Moses ten Brink ‘Game and Poultry Business’ (Wild- und Geflügelhandlung) was founded in that city on 26 May 1890 and registered with the Handelskammer on 12 January 1901. The firm was located at Ludwigstraße 2 in the city centre, just off the busy Brückstraße shopping area. This supposedly was the location of the poultry shop. Moses and his family lived just around the corner at Brückstraße 26, Benjamin and his family a mere three minutes walk from there at Helle 6.
In January 1929 the ownership of the firm changed. This may have been related to the fact that Moses was almost 70 years and Benjamin about to turn 60. The new owner was Benjamin’s son-in-law Abraham Haag.(2) He will have had little profit of his business, for in 1933 it fell victim to robbery by the nazi’s who forced Jewish merchants to sell their businesses at predatory pricing. On 1 October of that year the firm was ‘cancelled’ (abgemeldet) and in December 1937 it was officially stricken from the records.
Benjamin (1931) and Moses’ wife Pauline Meijer (Groningen, 1939) died of natural causes. Moses ten Brink was hit by a tram on Monday morning 17 July 1933. The accident occurred at the corner of Brückstraße and Reinoldistraße. That same evening, Moses died in Dortmunds Luisenhospital.(3) Benjamin’s wife Mina was murdered in Sobibor, their son Albert Daniël in Mauthausen (January 1941) and the other children Rosa, Hermann and his wife Martha and grandchild Inge ten Brink (born in Enschede, Netherlands, 4 June 1937) all in Auschwitz. Moses’ only son Hugo died in Malapane, February 1943; his wife Caroline and their three children (born 1938-1942 in Groningen, Netherlands) all in Auschwitz. Not one survived. May their souls be bound up in the bond of eternal life.
Thanking Stichting Heemkunde Denekamp and Rolf Fischer (Dortmund) for their help.
- Joods leven in Denekamp. Stichting Heemkunde Denekamp, 2002. [↩]
- Abraham Haag, born in Amsterdam 21 November 1887 was ‘poulterer’ by occupation. He was married to Benjamin’s daughter Rosa ten Brink, born in Dortmund on 10 August or 8 November 1896. Their children Dagobert, Joseph and Bernhard were born in Dortmund between 1921 and 1932. The family fled to Groningen (Folkingestraat 53) but were all murdered in Auschwitz, 12 October 1942 / 31 January 1943. Community Joods Monument. [↩]
- Nachrichtenblatt für die Jüdische Religionsgemeinde Dortmund, 4 augustus 1933 [↩]