My father was born in 1929 in the tiny village of Altwiedermus in the state of Hessen, Germany. Altwiedermus had a population of 300 when Hitler came to power in 1933, including 27 Jews. Many of those Jews were relatives of my family. Thirteen of the Jews of Altwiedermus were killed during the Holocaust. There are no Jews living in Altwiedermus today.
Thanks to Gisela Lorenzen, village historian, for her painstaking efforts to piece together the story of the Jews of Altwiedermus. Gisela has put together part of my family tree dating back to 1770 and she shared many details of her research with us on our recent trip to my father’s birthplace.
Altwiedermus must have changed a bit since my father fled to America with his mother and sister in 1938, but it is still a sleepy little village with a population of less than 1,000. One of the most remarkable buildings we saw was the old synagogue. Built in 1866, the synagogue had its own mikvah and appears to have been just large enough to fit the small number of village worshippers. It is one of the smallest synagogues in Germany. The synagogue is now a historical monument although there are no funds to adequately restore or preserve the building.
My father’s family had a successful tannery business. The family property (shown below) included a large house with separate buildings for leather working and animals. All three buildings are still standing. The house was passed on to refugees from Silesia in 1945 whose descendants live there today.
The trip to Altwiedermus was very emotional for me. Most of my father’s family got out of Germany in time to save their lives. One who didn’t was Meta Adler, my grandfather’s sister, for whom we hope to initiate a memorial project. She was an unmarried woman without the means to devise her own escape.
We bid farewell to Altwiedermus from the medieval Ronneburg castle set in the hills high above the village. I’m not sure when or if I will ever be back, but thanks to Gisela I now have a better appreciation of my family history. Even more important, I have photos and documents to pass along to my children and future generations of our family.