Category Archives: Travel

Adventures in Munro Lands

In summer of 2015, my parents, brother Angus, and cousins Greg and Denise came to see me graduate from the University of Oxford. We took advantage of the opportunity to combine it with a family trip to Scotland, and spent two days of our holiday in the Munro area. George Munro, secretary for the Munro clan, was our tour guide, and we were privileged to have the chance to meet the chief’s mother, Mrs. Eleanor Munro.

Our day in Munro Lands started with torrential rains, which is not very surprising. We climbed through some muck up to a high point on the edge of traditional Munro territory, where there is a memorial to Munros who died in an exceptionally bloody skirmish with the McDonalds. The story is that the McDonalds wanted to take in tax too many of some stollen cattle that a Munro was herding home (I don’t remember where he had stolen them from), and so it came to violence. Or at least that’s what I remember. I have a feeling the view from the monument might have been much better had the weather been clearer.

We then travelled along the Cromarty Firth to Evanton, where Foulis Castle sits. Mrs. Munro was only supposed to meet with us for an hour, but I think she quite enjoyed the conversation, because our audience turned into three and a half hours, with a tour of the castle and long moments spent chatting in the impressive sitting room.

Mrs. Munro even let my brother complete one of his spiral sculptures in the garden of Foulis Castle!

After such a special morning, we had a lovely lunch in the new Munro Storehouse restaurant, and some of the best tablet I’ve ever had. Yum! Our guide said he sometimes stops in just to have a bit of tablet. (Tablet is a Scottish thing a bit like fudge but actually much easier to make.) We browsed the history exhibit at the storehouse for a bit after lunch, waiting for the most recent downpour to let up.

As it was drying out a bit, we decided to venture some outdoors sites in the afternoon. First, we were taken to two major cemetaries, important to the Munros. We enjoyed perusing them, but found no one to whom we knew ourselves to be directly related.

We ended our day with a climb up to an early pagan standing stone on the edge of Munro land.

That evening we enjoyed a tasty meal in Inverness (though only my mother wouldn’t try the haggis). However, the best was yet to come.

As we drove north from Inverness and back through Munro land on our way to John O’Groats, I recognised a name for a turn-off. We followed the signs, and found the church where I remembered James Munro had been baptised. Obviously once a populated little village, the church stood next to one remaining house, and both were falling into disrepair. Clearly, no services had been held in that church for over fifty years.

I rushed around, intent on finding a long-lost relative. I took to taking pictures of any stones I thought might remotely be connected, gradually losing hope. But then, as the skies were beginning to open again, the last stone in the cemetery that I had not yet examined was the one. I had found my great-great-great-great-grandparents! The picture is the last of a grave in the following gallery, before the images of the gate and the church from afar.

We had to move on, to continue our journey and discover more amazing things in the northern highlands and the Orkney Islands. But the best thing is that I live in the UK, and in the north of England. For me, this graveyard in Kilmuir Easter Ross is just a six or seven hour drive away from my house. Brits may laugh at that, and think it’s much too far, but for me, raised in America, that’s really not bad at all.

Journey to Our Hometown in Germany

On Easter of 2015, I took a train from Oxford to London, the tube through London, and then boarded the Eurostar to Paris. Easter evening I stayed in a station hotel near the Gare de L’Est in Paris, and boarded a train to Mannheim, Germany. There, my long-time friend Claudia (Schaut) Bro╬▓ met me, and I spent an enjoyable Easter Monday in Hemsbach with her family, her parents, and all the aunts and uncles and neices. The next morning, we arose early, and my wonderful friend became both escort and translator to the hinterlands of Hesse.

We took the autobahn for an hour or so to the north of Frankfurt, and then turned off onto what in the UK would be considered ‘A’ roads. We travelled on these for two hours or so, and then changed to even smaller roads, to drive for another hour or so to get to the town near which my great-great-great-grandfather was born. Claudia and I spoke the whole time about how much in the middle of nowhere this area of the country was– and how it must have been even more so in the 19th century!

A view on the approach. The middle of nowhere!!

A view on the approach. The middle of nowhere!!

When we arrived in Gedern, we easily found the historical society, located in a small office in the Schloss, which was basically now the county hall.

The Schloss

The Schloss

The Historic Society

The Historic Society

Miriam Gries, with whom I had been corresponding, and who was evidently the only person in the office who spoke English, was unfortunately on her annual leave during that week. However, the famous Mr. Bartikowski (‘expert in Jewish issues‘) soon appeared! He was in quite a beat up car, with his son, I believe, and his wife, who was so old that she was unable to get out of the vehicle, but the family was evidently dying with curiosity about me.

He told Claudia to follow him, and we jumped back in the car and followed him over the hills and across the farm fields to Ober-Seemen.

Gedern from the hills on the way to Ober-Seemen.

Gedern from the hills on the way to Ober-Seemen.

Coming into Ober-Seemen

Coming into Ober-Seemen

We parked in a narrow alleyway by the old synagogue. He told us that for many decades the townspeople have tried to keep it up, but that it was now privately owned and in the process of being sold. The locals didn’t have the money to continue its upkeep, but the individuals who have variously owned it have done well.

Just around the corner from the synagogue, almost within view, was the house that Nathan built, where Koppel and his son Nathan were born. It is standing largely unchanged, though the street level would have been lower, and so the ground-floor doors are now below modern street level, and steps now lead up to a front door on what would have then been the first floor.

The Zimmermanns' house in Ober-Seemen

The Zimmermanns’ house in Ober-Seemen

Mr. Bartikowski told us that the relations between Jews and non-Jews in Ober-Seemen was by-and-large very good. The Jews had mainly come from different areas of Germany, but had come to Ober-Seemen escaping other libels and pogroms, finding the community at Ober-Seemen more welcoming and less antogonistic. This, I think, is supported by the enduring good repair of the synagogue, and astoundingly, the lack of destruction of the Jewish cemetary.

We hopped in the car again and drove out of the village and up into some hills above the town. There, fenced in a small area between farms and houses, clearly taken care of and mown, was the still extant Jewish Cemetary. Mr. Bartikowski told us how the community thinks it is important to maintain the cemetary as a testament to the long history of Jews in Ober-Seemen.

The Ober-Seemen Jewish Cemetary

The Ober-Seemen Jewish Cemetary

It was brilliantly sunny, and though the breeze was chill, we warmed quickly. I found Koppel Zimmermann without much trouble, as well as a host of other Zimmermanns. I took pictures of as many as I could, in hope that when my Yiddish is good enough, I can translate as many of the stones as I can. Mr. Bartikowski was very eager to have me do this if I could.

We took our leave, as we had to drive back to Hemsbach, and then on to Offenburg where she and her husband live.

Claudia explaining something to me in earnest

Claudia explaining something to me in earnest

Mr. Bartikowski does this research purely out of personal interest, having no Jewish heritage himself. His family moved to Ober-Seemen after the second World War, and he has made the local archives his hobby. He has said he will happily send me more information, if he can help, whenever I send him more questions through Claudia.

Mr. Bartikowski and me

Mr. Bartikowski and me