On the trail of the Jewish past
A walk through Wittlich and to the “Judenbüsch” cemeteryAlready back in the 14th century Wittlich had a small Jewish community which had, however, perished in 1349 as a result of the progroms against the Jews. In the first half of the 17th century, Jews settled in Wittlich for a second time. This second Jewish community grew rapidly and became an important group for the development of the town of Wittlich. The Jewish share of the population fluctuated in the course of time, but in most cases amounted to between 4 and 6 percent.
At the beginning of the nineteen-thirties, about 270 Jews lived in Wittlich. Their number diminished very sharply from 1933 on. In 1939 only about 100 Jewish women, men and children still lived here. The last of them had to leave Wittlich in 1941/42 – involuntarily. They were deported in October 1941, in April and in July 1942 together with Jews from Trier.
The walk around the centre of Wittlich and to the “Judenbüsch” cemetery is intended to invite you to encounter the history of the Jewish community of Wittlich until its demise in the Nazi period. It is one chapter in the history of this town – a chapter that is not to be forgotten.
The route leads past buildings which can tell about the Jewish history of this town – and to places where such buildings stood in the past.
The actual walking time to the places described (without the cemetery) totals approx. 30 minutes. The cemetery can be reached by foot starting from the Synagogue in about 25 to 30 minutes.
SynagogueAt the beginning of the 20th century, the old Synagogue in Oberstrasse had become too small. The chief district architect, Johannes Vienken, was therefore commissioned to plan and build a new structure in Himmeroder Strasse. The consecration of this new Synagogue took place in 1910 with the participation of many of the population of Wittlich. The Catholic parish priest, Dean Stein, gave a ceremonial address in which he expressly emphasised the good relations between the religions. However, the Synagogue was only used for divine worship for 28 years – until its destruction during the “Reichspogromnacht” in 1938. During the War, it served as detention camp (the barbed wire fitted in one of the windows during restoration recalls this). Then the Synagogue remained empty for 30 years, decayed more and more, until it was bought by the Town of Wittlich in 1975. Since 1977, it has served as a Cultural and Conference Site now, but also as a memorial in remembrance of the Jewish Community in Wittlich and their members who perished during the Nazi rule. The Torah shrine from the Synagogue which is now set up on the outside to the left of the entrance as a memorial, contains a commemorative plaque for the perished community. In 1991, a memorial stone was set up in the foyer bearing the names of 85 Jews from Wittlich who were deported and murdered. In the house next door, a former Jewish dwelling house, a documentation of the Jewish past in Wittlich is on show.
Wittlich Chemical FactoryA Wittlich enterprise of world renown was the Chemical Factory in Kalktumstrasse which was well-known throughout Europe, among other things, for its floor wax and the shoe-polish “Ermin”. The expropriation of the Ermann family, the “Aryanisation” of this Jewish business was celebrated by the Nazis as an important event in 1936. Alfred Ermann then had to hand over his business to two “meritorious party comrades” and fled to Holland with his family. Together with his wife he was deported from there. They died in Sobibor. Their four sons managed to hide in Holland and thus survived the Holocaust.
After the War they sold the factory premises to today's owner. The ironware company “Eisenwaren Lütticken” uses it today as warehouse.
Fritz Hess Cigar FactoryThe house where the “Säubrenner-Apotheke” pharmacy is located today, opposite the “Viehmarkt” car park, was an important address for deliveries by tobacco growers from the Wittlich valley. Fritz Hess had his cigar factory there from 1920. Originally this factory had been in Oberstrasse in the building of the old synagogue which adjoined the Hess family's dwelling house.
Fritz Hess was a highly regarded man in Wittlich. This also becomes clear by the fact that in the twenties he was elected onto the town council together with two other Jewish citizens of Wittlich.
Fritz Hess died in 1925, his wife Rosa died in 1930. Both are buried in the Jewish cemetery in Wittlich.
Viehmarkt (Cattle market)Almost half of the Jews of Wittlich – above all the extensive Dublon family – earned their living as cattle dealers. Their business relations extended far into the Eifel Mountains where they were often away for days on end in order to buy cattle for the market in Wittlich.
Wittlich Cattle Market – in the grounds of today's Schlossplatz – was one of the most important livestock markets in western Germany during the first third of the century.
The reason why Jews were so heavily involved in cattle trading was above all the fact that they were banned from many other professions. The proportion of cattle dealers among the victims of the Holocaust is exceptionally high. As they did not rate among the richer members of the Jewish population, many of them could not afford emigration at the time when the persecution began.
BahnhofstraßeBahnhofstrasse (today Schlossstrasse) was the starting point for the activities of the “Boycott Saturday” on 1 April 1933. SA men marched through the town beating drums from there and positioned themselves in front of Jewish businesses. They carried banners with inscriptions calling for Jewish businesses to be boycotted. With this action the systematic exclusion and persecution of Jews began in Wittlich – just as in many other towns throughout Germany. It was made systematically difficult or even completely impossible for them to perform their occupation.
One example of this is to be found in the Main State Archive (Landeshauptarchiv) in Koblenz. In a leaflet from the year 1935 everybody who had been observed buying in the Jewish butcher's shop Hess (in Schlossberg) on a certain date was named publicly and abused as “Jews' slaves”.
TiergartenstraßeSome Jewish families lived in Tiergartenstrasse, too. In house no. 26, where the saddler Eduard Kaufmann lived with his family, some years ago, during reconstruction works, a fragment of a Torah scroll was found in the roof beams which had highly probably been used during worship in the Wittlich Synagogue.
It is unclear whether this scroll, which is today exhibited in the foyer of the Synagogue, had already been hidden in the Kaufmann family's during the Nazi rule, or whether it was brought to Tiergartenstrasse from the destroyed Synagogue only after the war in order to bring it to safety.
The Kaufmann family's fate is like that of many other Jewish families. In 1939, Eduard Kaufmann moved to Cologne with his wife and his children Kurt and Ilse. They were deported from there. Eduard Kaufmann died on 17 September 1942 in Litzmannstadt/Lodz. Sibilla Kaufmann and her two children were brought to the concentration camp in Riga. Mrs Kaufmann was taken from Riga to Auschwitz with the last transport and murdered there. The children Kurt and Ilse Kaufmann are the only two people from Wittlich who were freed from a concentration camp at the end of the War and thus survived the Holocaust. Another family which had lived in Tiergartenstrasse, was the family of the master-tailor Mirtil Bermann. With the exception of one son, who succeeded in saving himself, all members of the family were murdered in Litzmannstadt/Lodz and Auschwitz.
In addition the horse dealer Jakob Ermann lived here together with his wife and two children. He died together with his wife in Litzmannstadt/Lodz. Their two children succeeded in fleeing and later settled in Israel.
The Jewish school in KirchstraßeSince 1860 the Jews of Wittlich have had their own elementary school at Kirchstrasse 1. The number of pupils at the single class school fluctuated between 20 and 35.
By the way, the Jewish school was also attended by children from the Protestant primary school when the teacher was sick – and vice versa, Jewish children attended the Protestant school when their teacher was absent. Children who went on to secondary school went to the Ursuline nuns' school and the Cusanus school in Kurfürstenstrasse. Later they were forbidden to attend public schools.
The school building which was located below the parish church of St Mark, was demolished and closed after the “Reichsprogromnacht”. The teacher of the Jewish school was subject to state school inspection. At the same time, as cantor in the Synagogue and teacher of religion for the pupils at the higher town schools he had an additional contract with the Jewish community and was thus able to improve his meagre income as a teacher.
The last teacher, David Hartmann, left Wittlich in 1938. As an expert for Hebrew, he had also been responsible for drafting epitaphs in the Jewish cemetery, all gravestones from the time after 1938 have epitaphs only in German.
Market place and adjoining streetsAround the market place and in the adjoining streets (mainly in Trierer Strasse) there were numerous Jewish houses and shops, among them the shoe shop Wolff, the food wholesaler Ermann-Bach, the hosiery manufacturer Bender, the clothing shop Frank, the textile business Bär und Sommer. One of the few Jews, who was neither a businessman nor a craftsman, namely the lawyer Archenhold also lived here. It is reported from the first third of the century that Jewish businessmen were highly regarded in Wittlich. A few years later this picture changed. The market place was re-named and for some years its name was “Adolf-Hitler-Platz”. The Nazis used the square for their parades and rallies. After the war the square was given its old name again – however, the former residents and shop owners did not return any more.
The old Synagogue in OberstraßeThe side aisle of the old hospital church was bought by Jews from Wittlich in 1832 and rebuilt as a Synagogue. Previously private rooms had served as a synagogue. (Jewish services may take place anywhere where at least 10 men - and also women in reform synagogues - gather). At the beginning of the 20th century, this Synagogue became too small. After the construction of the new Synagogue it was sold to the Jew Fritz Hess, who used it as a cigar factory. After being sold once again, it was demolished in 1921.
BöhmergasseBöhmergasse, a small lane between Oberstrasse and Himmeroder Strasse, recalls with its name even today, that the Jews who came to Wittlich in the 17th century, are said to have immigrated from Bohemia.
Thanks to this immigration, a Jewish community came into being in Wittlich already for a second time which then existed for 300 years without interruption – until its destruction under the Nazis.
The first documented mention of a Jew in Wittlich dates back to the year 1309. As a result of the pogroms in 1349, this first Jewish community in Wittlich, however, perished already a short time later.
The deportation houses in OberstraßeFor many Jews from Wittlich, the two houses at Oberstrasse 54 and 56 were their last address in Wittlich. Many of them were brought together here before they were deported from Wittlich in 1941 and 1942.
Almost all of those, who had not fled at the beginning of the War, were later murdered in concentration and destruction camps, or died there of illnesses.
(Some did die in Wittlich – e.g. the last three who were buried in Wittlich cemetery in 1940/41. Thus, for example, the two sisters Bertha Sänger and Emma Mendel who died in the hospital of Wittlich at the age of 71 and 69 respectively.