Spotlight on Collections

Posted on January 10th, 2013 by

The majority of our archival collection here at the Jewish Museum of Maryland dates after the construction of the Lloyd Street Synagogue (1845).  This isn’t surprising giving the size of the Jewish population in Baltimore before that time.  But we do have some items from the earlier part of the 19th century or even the end of the 18th century.

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and Miriam (daughter of Ezekiel) in Baltimore, 1839. Courtesy of Mabel F. Kraus. 1964.24.2″]

Handwritten ketubah (marriage contract) for Simon [Floss?

Prayer book, in Old German and Hebrew, edited by W. Heidenheim and published in Rodelheim by J. Lehrberger, 1838. This book was used by Rabbi Abraham J. Rice (first rabbi at the Lloyd Street Synagogue) with family information inscribed. Courtesy of Mr. and Mrs. Leo Flehinger. 1963.6.1

Indenture between Daniel Evans and Richard Bell for a piece of ground in Fells Point at Fleet and Ann Streets for $1000.00, 1818. Courtesy of Albert Berney. 1992.232.2

Power of attorney concerning Michael Gratz, his wife Miriam Gratz and Michael’s brother Bernard, 1795. Courtesy of Dr. Joseph Francus. 1983.31.2

A travel diary/itinerary for a trip taken July 9-August 17, 1786. 1988.145.10

Hebrew or Yiddish note with English translations regarding the death of Joshua Cohen in Germany, 6 Tammuz 5539 (1779). Courtesy of Maxwell Whiteman. 1989.1.19

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Jews in the German Army in World War I

Posted on December 20th, 2012 by

Our final post in the World War I series is a guest post provided by Jonathan Feng, who has graciously agreed to write a little bit about Jews serving in the Germany army.  As always we'll add in some images of photographs and objects from the JMM collection.

Group of men in the German army during World War I with Gertrude Strauss (nurse) taken at a hospital in Karlsruhe, Germany. Isidor Maier (donor's father) is in the upper corner of picture. Courtesy of Meta Oppenheimer. 1998.74.1

My name is Jonathan Feng and I have been invited to guest blog by Jewish Museum of Maryland archivist Jennifer Vess about the First World War.  I am an earnest civil servant whose only qualifications to weigh in on this matter is a short stint in a graduate program for public history and an unnatural fascination with spiked helmets and trench warfare.

The First World War (1914-1918) is a period of time which serves as a major demarcation between two eras.  The nineteenth century was clearly over at the end of the First World War and the world was barreling into the twentieth century with a head of full of steam.  Empires which had stood since the end of the medieval period (Russian Empire,Ottoman Empire, Austro-Hungarian Empire) found themselves disintegrated at the end.  The grand nineteenth century empires ofGreat Britain and France were soon to follow in a few decades.

Cross-shaped WWI medal earned by Hugo Bessinger in Germany. Courtesy of Claire Beissinger. 2011.4.1

While the role of the Jewish people is well known in the Second World War and is well documented in mainstream scholarship, their role in the First World War is less known.  John Keegan, the late military historian, only mentioned the Jewish people three times in his work on the First World War (pages 227, 302, and 344 should you care to look in your own personal copy of the book).  Most likely, this is a result of the fact that mainstream scholarship has tended to focus on the major power structures and in the realm of politics and government, the representative Jewish population ranged from minimal to non-existent due to the fact that the Jewish population was, to put it very lightly, not well liked by their non-Jewish neighbors.

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Postcard of German soldiers in World War I, boarding a train, c. 1914-1918. Courtesy of Mrs. Paul Kramer. 1994.72.15

This does not mean that the Jewish people did not make any significant contributions to the First World War. In 1916, due to a long-standing tradition of not being nice to the Jewish people, the German high command decided to do a census (Judenzählung or “Jewish census”) to verify their own pre-established belief that the Jewish people were not being good Germans and supporting the war.  What they found was that the Jewish people were major participants in the conflict, with 10,000 Jewish men volunteering for service and approximately 100,000 Jewish men in total who served in the German military.  The vast majority of them (roughly 78,000 to 80,000) served on the front lines of the First World War and more than 30,000 of them were decorated for their service.  Twelve thousand of those Jewish soldiers lost their lives serving in the First World War.  Many of those who served did so in the hopes that they would finally earn some respect from their fellow countrymen and prove that they were indeed proud Germans.

Hindenburg Cross, struck to commemorate all German soldiers who served in World War I). Awarded to Kaufmann Sigmund Guthorn. 1984.159.1a

Such would not be the case, though.  After the onerous terms of the 1918 Treaty of Versailles were delivered and imposed by the Allied Powers, the German people were looking for reasons for their defeat.  The Dolchstoßlegende or “stab-in-the-back myth” developed and categorized the Jewish population of Germany as saboteurs who undermined the German war effort on the home front and ultimately caused the defeat of Germany in the First World War.  This supposed guilt of the Jewish people fueled more anti-Semitic attitudes and would contribute to the rise of Nazism in the interwar period in Germany.

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Lives Lost, Lives Found

Posted on November 16th, 2012 by

A blog post by assistant director Deborah Cardin.

On Wednesday, I traveled to Patterson Mill Middle School in Harford County to facilitate educational activities for 100+ 6th graders over the course of the day. The activity that the teacher selected was our Lives Lost, Lives Found photography exploration unit that was developed several years ago when we had an exhibit of the same name on display. The exhibit explored the experiences of the 3,000 German Jewish refugees who found safe haven in Baltimore in the 1930s and 40s. The exhibit provided wonderful educational opportunities to teach students of all backgrounds about the Holocaust from a different perspective, using first-hand testimony and artifacts from individuals who left Germany during an intense period of upheaval and discrimination.

 

Personal belongings of Herta Baitch who left Austria for Baltimore in the 1930s as an unaccompanied child participating in the German Jewish Children’s Aid Society’s rescue of Jewish children.

In addition to examining conditions in Germany that led to the large-scale migration of Jews and the difficulty that Jews encountered in their attempts to leave, the exhibit also explored the challenges that the refugees faced in adapting to life in their new homeland.

Because the exhibit afforded us the opportunity to create a stand-alone curriculum incorporating photographs on display, we have been able to continue facilitating Holocaust-related school programs. Students examine poster sized reproductions of the photographs in groups, answer questions about the photo that encourage them to use critical thinking and teamwork skills, and present their findings to the class. As a final activity, students attempt to create a timeline of the photos which gives them the opportunity to think about how the photos tell a story with a beginning, middle, and end. (The curriculum and photos can be downloaded from the education section on our website: http:///www.jewishmuseummd.org/educational-programs.)

The stories captured in the photos that the students explore are quite moving and bring to life this distant historical event in a more personal manner. After the students have finished the activity, they listen intently as they learn about the real stories behind the photos. For example they study this photo:

The Weil Family, Hilda and Theo with their children Erna, Lisa, and Toni on vacation in Hollenthal, Germany, 1925

and then learn the story of the Weil family. As we discuss this photo, students who have earlier questioned why Jews didn’t simply leave once the Nazis came to power realize just how complex this question is. The Weils had deep roots in Germany; Theo Weil was a decorated army officer in the German army during World War I and was a successful businessman. Like many other Jews living in Germany, the Weils felt more German than Jewish and were reluctant to uproot their family for what they thought would be a temporary political situation. However, it soon became apparent that their situation was not going to improve. This point was further proven by Theo Weil’s arrest in the wake of Kristallnacht. Theo’s wife, Hilda, arranged for Theo’s release from Dachau by selling family possessions and paying a bribe to the prison officials.

As we discuss the Weil Family’s plight, students also become aware of just how difficult it was for Jews to leave Germany because of the strict immigration quotas that many countries – including the US – had established. The Weils had applied for visas prior to Kristallnacht which was fortunate as the wait for visas became extraordinary afterwards. They still were forced to endure a lengthy wait as the US limited German and Austrian immigrants to 27,370 immigrants per year.

While awaiting their US visas, the Weil daughters had an opportunity to travel to England where they worked as household servants. While living in England, they received their US visas in April 1940. After arriving in the US, they settled in Baltimore and immediately found jobs and worked hard to establish new lives for themselves. They also worked to help their parents emigrate from Germany.  They were soon devastated to learn that their parents were sent to Gurs, an internment camp in France.

Theo and Hilda Weil (standing in the second row in the right) outside a barracks at Gurs, 1940

The three daughters worked strenuously to secure their parents release. Because their parents had been approved to receive US visas, they were able to appeal to the US State Department for assistance.

Because Theo and Hilda Weil had no identifying documents with them when they were deported to Gurs, their daughters had papers drawn up for them.

Amazingly their work was successful and their parents were released from Gurs and reunited with them in Baltimore in April 1941.

(The story of the Weil family has been well documented by Anita Kassof in the Winter 2002 edition of Generations in an article, “Dispossession and Adaptation: The Weil Sisters Rebuild Their Family in America.” Back issues of Generations are available in the JMM gift shop. Contact Esther Weiner / eweiner@jewishmuseummd.org for details.)

The photograph of the Weil family is the first one in the series of photos in the timeline and it inspires such interesting discussion about the rich lives that Jews led in Europe prior to the Holocaust, the struggles they encountered in their attempts to leave, and the hard work that refugees encountered in settling into their new lives while awaiting news of relatives left behind in Europe.

After working with five separate classes and having such positive interactions with the students and teachers at Patterson Mills Middle School, I left feeling energized about the impact that JMM programs have on students and how our resources inspire them to think about topics they are studying in school in new ways.

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