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Ruth Karola Kahn was born in Lorsch on Sept. 16, 1923, the oldest of four daughters of Karl Kahn, a livestock dealer from Babenhausen. Her mother was Paula Lorch from Bahnhofstraße 15. Ruth and her sisters grew up in Lorsch. In 1929 she entered the confessionally mixed girls’ and boys’ class of the Wingertsberg School, together with 46 other Lorsch children. In 1934, the family moved to Babenhausen. The escape to Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) failed in 1939 after the British colonial administration withdrew its promise to take in 500 Jews. Ruth, who had finished her schooling, was sent by her mother in 1940 first to Lorsch, and then to Ludwigshafen, to help with the household chores of relatives. In Ludwigshafen, she was caught up in the deportation of 6,500 Jews from Baden and Palatinate to Gurs in southern France on October 21, 1940. From there she was sent to the large internment camp of Rivesaltes. Here there is evidence of an escape attempt – together with a young man. In any case, Ruth was separated from her uncle and aunt. She was accused of prostitution and sent to a remote women’s camp for political prisoners and Jews, Rieucros. From there comes the surviving letter from January 1942. In the spring, her situation worsened. The next camp, Camp de Brens, had an inner area that served as a concentration camp for German and Polish Jewish women. After a raid announced by the prefecture on Aug. 26, 1942, 31 women, including Ruth, were to be deported. When the French gendarmes entered the barracks, the women put up considerable resistance for hours, ultimately unsuccessfully. Via the intermediate camps of Saint-Sulpice-la-Pointe and Paris-Drancy, Ruth was taken to Auschwitz with her fellow sufferers. Convoy No. 30 arrived there on 11.9.1942. Whether she survived the selection and lived to see her 19th birthday, we will never know.

Camp de Rieucros, par Mende (Lozère) Le 11.1.1942
Bar[aque] 3 Ruth Kahn
Dear [uncle] Leo!
I received your letter dated October 26, 1941 on January 9, 1942, and was very pleased with it. Thank you very much for the enclosures, I was so happy to see at least the handwritings of the dear ones at home. I am now in another camp, but uncle and aunt are still in Rivesaltes. The food is much better here. I am here since November 20, 1941 and got myself quite well accustomed. For how long, yet? It is the third camp for me in 15 months. It is time all lost. I do not understand why aunt Irma can’t write to me directly, because I know a family in Riv[saltes] who regularily receives mail from Johannesburg, and even aunt Gustel [in Darmstadt] sent money to a cousin to Riv[saltes] which was well received. Dear Leo, you have already achieved a lot with my uncle, he pulled himself together and added a few lines to your dear letter, which surprised me a lot. However, I do not want to be outrageous, he sent 200 fr[ancs] that I can really use. I now own some money for the first time in one year. Please say thank you uncle Leo in my name, I have been very happy about it. Please do also greet many times the dear ones in Canada by me, all our friends and relatives, especially your loved ones. From time to time I hear something from my parents [from home, Babenhausen] by the Red Cross, and so I did this week receive news from uncle Alfred [from birthtown Lorsch] for the first time. Uncle Siegfried [in Riveslates] is not well at all and is staying four weeks now in the infirmery. Aunt Lucie could also be better. Uncle Siegfried hast lost 42 kgs. Can you imagine him like this? His, and aunt’s nerves are completely broken. It is very cold here at the moment and we have a lot of snow, but the landscape is wonderful. The camp is at an elevation of 450 m. I have small opportunities to earn some money which is quite nice. How are you and your dear ones yourselves? I wish I could be with you, but I want to keep my head up, there’s got to be different one day. I even believe, I am a little bit better off here than my dear parents, and for this reason alone I have to bear it. I have to close now, be greeted warmly for today, by Your Ruth.

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The Hessian transports to the extermination camps took place on 25.3.1942 (1000 persons) to Piaski in Poland, and on 27.9.1942 (1268 persons) to Theresienstadt, the so-called “Alterstransport”. The trains departed from Mainz / Darmstadt in each case. Piaski served only as a transit camp to the extermination sites of the Lublin district. And those who survived the overcrowded Theresienstadt were sent to Auschwitz.

 

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The first to leave were the young adults with an education. They had prospects of work, especially in the United States. However, visas were subject to quotas and one had to designate a guarantor person (who gave a so-called affidavit) in the country. Older people and families with young children were usually denied this. Therefore, they tried more “exotic” countries, such as Cuba, Ecuador or even Rhodesia, which rarely or never worked out. After the pogrom in November 1938, in the wake of which the men who had been deported to concentration camps were only released if they had signed to emigrate, everything had to happen quickly. Already in January 1939 the children were sent in organized transports to England or Holland. The parents of 9-year-old Kurt Abraham sent their boy alone to relatives in Paris. After the family reunited in France, they fell into the hands of the Nazis a second time. The parents were deported, little Kurt survived the war with the help of the Jewish underground. Others were more fortunate. The family with the five boys of the cattle dealer Leopold Kahn was able to emigrate to Canada via England-where they were able to pick up their two oldest sons. The second most important escape route was to Palestine. But here, too, entry was at least made more difficult by the British Mandate authorities. The window of opportunity for escape from Germany was not open for much longer. After the start of the war, but at the latest from 1940, the regular connections to the free world were cut.

The letter from the cattle dealer Leopold Kahn to his two oldest sons, Ernst and berthold, whom he had sent to England at the beginning of 1939 and did not know whether he would see them again:

Sunday, Lorsch 12 February 1939
Dear Children!
I am so pleased that both of you are well, blithesome and healthy, which I can – thanks God – still say of myself and the children, too. Dear children, we would love so much to see a picture of you once, maybe you have the chance to send us one. Dear Berti, concerning your tonsils, that ‘s a trifle, you know Ruth got her’s out a few years ago in Bensheim and could instantly return home, you see it’s not a big deal. The children are already in bed and I was told to send their regards and kisses. Fritz is eagerly studying English now. Lorsch played Oggersheim today and won there by 4:1, I still have the cows. Very well then, go and write a nice letter to uncle Ralph, because he is a very good man and he does so much for us, just go and thank him for everything. Let us soon have more good news from you, stay healthy and blithesome, be greeted and be kissed many times by your loving Papa.

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In August 1933, Die Stimme, a Jewish newspaper from Vienna, reported with a slightly amused undertone about the “chutzpah” of Siegbert Mann from Lorsch, who had posed as a Nazi party member. In addition to being sentenced to the prison term described, Mann had previously been deported to the Osthofen concentration camp near Worms. Five years later, in 1938, Austrian Jews were the first to experience the full force of the Nazi extermination program. The elimination of Jewish economic life after the Nazi seizure of power directly affected the rural Jews as businessmen. Livestock dealers held out the longest, until 1937, when they were forbidden access to slaughterhouses in Hesse. Sales in the trade fell to almost zero. In order to make a living, mortgages were taken out on the houses. Foreclosures followed. After the pogrom in 1938, the Nazi state took what was left with a “Jewish property levy”. 30,000 Jews were forced into concentration camps to make a “voluntary” declaration to immigrate. If one was then actually lucky enough to obtain a foreign visa, everything had to be given up. The highly mortgaged houses mostly fell to the banks. Those who had not managed to leave Germany by the beginning of the war in 1939 were threatened with deportation “to the East” from 1942. Siegbert Mann, who was married to a Catholic, was arrested at his workplace in the Lorsch sawmill on March 9, 1943 and taken to Auschwitz.

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On September 29, 1914, the merchant Abraham Abraham sent a package of food supplies to Jacob Schneller on the Western Front. In the surviving accompanying letter to his Christian friend, Abraham wrote that God may help the “righteous German cause” to a speedy victory. Abraham’s hopes for a quick end to the war, which was only a few weeks old, were soon dashed. His son Sigmund had also been drafted, like all Lorsch men fit for military service, and was seriously wounded. Three Lorsch Jews fell at the front, three of four brothers from the Guthof family who fought in France. Lorsch Jews were also in action on the Eastern Front. The shoemaker Abraham Lorch from Stiftstraße wrote from the river Memel to Eduard Rohrheimer, who had been wounded and was staying in Lorsch. Some of the Lorsch Jews were taken prisoner, probably longest of all Alfred Lorch, who in 1919 still sent a picture postcard from the English camp Handforth near Manchester to an uncle in Johannesburg. The patriotism shown by the German Jews was poorly rewarded. As the war wore on, anti-Semitism spread, and there was talk of “shirking.” An investigation by the War Ministry, which was kept secret until after the end of the war, proved the opposite: at over 17%, proportionally more Jews than non-Jews (16%) were called up for military service. According to an endowment by Reich President Paul von Hindenburg, all front-line fighters received the Cross of Honor starting in 1934. The Jews among them thought at that time that this subsequent award – even signed by Hitler after Hindenburg’s death – would protect them from the onset of Nazi persecution, which unfortunately turned out to be a fatal misconception. This was also the experience of Leopold Kahn, whose wife had sent his medal to Buchenwald concentration camp in November 1938.

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The rural Jews were slow to free themselves from the old occupational restrictions. They remained faithful to the division of labor with their Christian neighbors, which was the trade in agricultural products and livestock, and everything that goes with it: slaughtering, fodder, fertilizer, leather and fur trade. Leather trade became shoe trade. Building materials were among the newer trade products. However, the advertisements were dominated by goods and services of daily use. The flying merchants settled down and soon offered their rich product range in large shop windows.

 

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The Electoral Mainzian Oberamt Starkenburg was an exclave. The nearest Jewish cemetery was in Alsbach, on Hessian-Darmstadt territory. The way across the border cost a duty for the funeral procession and the corpse, and the burial itself was also taxed. For the year 1705 the first Lorsch burial is proven with Simon ben Jehuda, who called himself Simon Lorsch. However, apparently not everyone could afford the prescribed rites. Therefore, in 1739, Jews from Lorsch, Kleinhausen, Bensheim, Biblis, Bürstadt, Bobstadt, Heppenheim and Hambach founded a burial brotherhood, the Chevra Kadisha, a charity association for mutual support, especially for poorer community members. The seat of this brotherhood for the Starkenburg Oberamt was in Lorsch. If a death occurred in a community, a messenger was sent to Lorsch to organize the funeral within the shortest possible time – often the following day. The funeral procession went from Lorsch across the border at the Wattenheim Bridge to Alsbach. At the end, people gathered in the Lorsch synagogue. The Starkenburg Chevra Kadisha was the second oldest association of its kind in the Electorate of Mainz. It was expanded in 1812 to include an association for the endowment of brides. The members met annually in Lorsch for the reckoning and the banquet. For these occasions, they owned a many-piece pewter tableware. The expenses were considerable. As usual, a silver goblet filled with wine then circulated, on which the names of the donors since 1739 were engraved. Moritz Mainzer noted them all down in 1914, otherwise they would have been forgotten, because the goblet was stolen during the November pogrom in 1938 and has been lost ever since. And with it all records of the society.

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In the second half of the 19th century the Lorchs took over the predominance among the Lorsch Jewish families from the Mainzers, many of whose descendants emigrated to Mannheim, Frankfurt and to America. Even before the death of Jonas Mainzer (1835 – 1888), Simon Lorch (1842 – 1913) became community head in the 1880s. Simon Lorch had married his niece Mina Wolf, the elder daughter of his sister Theresa. Her husband Gottschall Wolf had died young. Simon took over Wolf’s business house next to the synagogue. The property with the synagogue had been owned by the Jewish community for about 150 years at that time. The prayer room was on the 1st floor, downstairs lived the salaried teachers. In the basement there was a groundwater mikvah. In 1884 the old building was demolished and a new synagogue made of stone was built. The master builder was Franz Anton Klein (1847 – 1894), a teacher of Heinrich Metzendorf. Klein was married to Mathilde Kilian from Lorch. Lorch was responsible for the construction on behalf of the community. Thus, even before the larger communities of Bensheim (1891) and Heppenheim (1901), the town had a representative synagogue made of stone, the style of which seems to have been strongly inspired by the eclectic facade of the New Synagogue in Darmstadt.

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Naftali ben Salomo, called Hirz Menz, came to Lorsch at the end of the 17th century, probably from Mainz. With his wife Schönle, from Pfungstadt, he founded a clan of successful merchants and traders in the town. The first five generations made considerable fortunes, much of which was lost in the sixth generation due to the First World War. The National Socialists robbed the rest and some family members of their lives as well. Their story exemplifies the development of successful rural Jewry in the 18th and 19th centuries. The Mainzers owed their rise to three factors. Like many Jews, they were industrious but also strategically working merchants. As soon as the edicts of tolerance issued by Erthal, the Elector of Mainz, made it possible for them to do so from 1784 onward, they acquired houses and fields from their profits. In 1831, a dozen Lorsch farm estates were owned by various family members, some of which they managed themselves (trading in crops, tobacco, and livestock), but also rented out. They took enormous risks. For example, in order to win the bidding for a large business such as supplying the Darmstadt Grand Duke’s army with bread flour – ultimately successfully – Samuel Mainzer put up his own farm tract (Römerstraße 6) and several fields worth over 4,000 gulden as a mortgage in 1845. Although the infant mortality rate of all Mainzer births (1838 – 1875) was higher than the average in the Reich (37 compared to 25%), all 13 children (from two marriages) of Maier Mainzer I from the fourth generation survived. But only for three of them Lorsch still offered opportunities for development: Leopold, Jonas and Nathan. Their siblings sought and found their opportunities elsewhere, in Mainz and in Mannheim, in Alzey, Frankfurt, and in America.

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The Church State of Mainz was a fractured territory around monasteries and convents acquired in the medieval period with the centers at Mainz (Lower Archbishopric) and Aschaffenburg (Upper Archbishopric). The communities belonging to the Bergstrasse district formed exclaves in the south of the Lower Archbishopric (Starkenburg Office) with borders to Worms, the Palatinate and the Landgraviate of Hesse. The local parish priests of the chapter were executives of the Church State for the Jewish rural communities that formed here. In the diocese of Mainz, Jewish congregations that held organized services in a synagogue or prayer room had to pay an annual episcopal tax of 3 gulden to the bishop’s see. The so-called Synagogicum was used to support the provincial rabbi, who held a civil servant-like position at the court in Mainz. The local priests collected the money and the Dean deducted it. Since 1736 this was the duty of Georg Adam Castricius from Gernsheim. From the records from the beginning of his tenure, we have the first evidence of the existence of synagogue congregations in the Bergstrasse district chapter. In 1737 Castricius prepared a tabular overview with these seven places: Gernsheim, Biblis, Lorsch, Heppenheim, Viernheim, Bürstadt and Bensheim. Dieburg was added in 1740. In detailed notes he describes the process and thus hands down a valuable contribution to the organization of the Mainz rural Jewry in this period. After Castricius’ death in 1757, the Synagogicum was still sporadically recorded until 1765, after which there is no more evidence in this protocol book, which was kept until 1821. As early as 1725, the Lorsch priest had noted the collection of the Synagogicum in his church register: “3 fl. from the local Jewish community.”

 

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