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) Broβ 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.