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Unsere Heimat
[Our Hometown]

A Newsletter about the Culture and Landscape of the Saarlouis District

13th year Double edition number 3/4, 1988

by Katharina Best

Translated from the German by Shay Meyer

Edited by Toby Bird

The beginning of the history of the Jews in our region is shrouded in darkness. Hundreds of years before the birth of Christ, some Jews were living outside of Palestine. We are better informed historically about their living in oriental lands. But the sources concerning the life of the Jews in the western world became more abundant with the expansion of the Roman Empire. A decisive event, that drove many Jews into exile, was the conquest of Jerusalem (70 C.E.) with the destruction of the temple by the Roman commander Titus.

But foremost, when the Romans under the emperor Hadrian suppressed the Jewish revolt led by Bar Kochba (133 C.E.), all possibility of rebuilding the temple was taken from the Jews. Jews were no longer permitted to enter the city of Jerusalem. Hadrian's successors, among them Emperor Constantine I and Justinian, renewed the prohibition.

Historical outline within the European boundaries since the Roman period

The first phase of the history of the Jewish people began with their homeland laid waste and with the loss of the temple, which had been their religious and political center. Life in the Diaspora now became the rule for the Jews.

Nevertheless, after these catastrophic events, some religious centers came into being in Palestine, which were of decisive importance for the history of post biblical Judaism in the Diaspora. In the academies of these spiritual-religious centers, the religious writings were united into one definitive canon, the Mishna. The oral legal traditions were codified and later expanded into the Talmud, the collection of laws and traditions of post-biblical Judaism.

The dissemination of these books made the emergence of communities in the Diaspora really possible. The religious and social structure of the books formed a unifying factor and prevented the disintegration of the Jewish folklore all over the world. In their faithfulness to these laws, the Jews of the Diaspora found their security, which helped them preserve their identity for centuries.

In the year 321 there was already a Jewish community in Köln [Cologne]. Jewish slaves and traders lived in the Trier district. It is assumed that during the Roman period there existed a Jewish colony in the Saarbrücken district, where important military and commercial roads intersected. But the earliest proof of the presence of Jews in the Saarland region exists for the Middle Ages. The oldest source dates from the second half of the 13th century. Jews from Berus are mentioned in a creditor-report[1] of the Lorraine monastery at Hesse near Saarburg.

It is also documented that in the 14th century emperor Karl IV empowered archbishop Boemond of Trier to admit Jews into the towns of the diocese of Trier. He was empowered with royal authority to admit Jews, including having authority over Jews. One may also assume that, at that time, Jews were admitted into the smaller towns of the Trier principality. Our region belonged to the Trier principality and to the Duchy of Lorraine until after the French revolution.

The second phase of Jewish history in the West began in the Middle Ages. In general, the continuation of the persecution of the Jews resumed in the Middle Ages. But this was not true for the Middle Ages as a whole. The records from approximately the 7th till the 10th century give information about the important role of the Jews in trade. The emperor Ludwig the Pious (814 – 840), of the Charlemagne dynasty, proved himself friendly to Jews through the granting of letters of protection. But there already existed orders and laws that restricted the freedom of the Jews in those same centuries.

Nevertheless there is a historian who fixes the date of the start of the persistent division between Jews and Christians in the 14th century. Up until the Crusades, Jews lived principally in towns as respected traders and manual workers, on the land as farmers or wine growers. Especially in Alsace they lived in villages in close contact with the people. At that time, Yiddish, a language with a core of middle to high German, was largely a colloquial language of trade. Later it became derided by most of the population, which debased the Jews economically and isolated them socially[2]. When printing of books emerged, the Yiddish language spread throughout middle Europe.

The Clunian reform movement, which began approximately in 1000, based itself theologically with the new position of Christianity separated from Judaism and thereby laid the ground for a strengthened anti-Semitic posture of the church in the Middle Ages. The first great wave of persecution in the age of the Crusades spread mainly in the Rheinland towns of Mainz, Worms, Speyer and Trier where large Jewish communities existed. In Trier many Jews plunged into the Mosel or killed each other. Others sought refuge with archbishop Egilbert. But the wrath of the people now turned against him. Egilbert was able to save himself and only those baptized through compulsory baptism, a procedure that the Jews were forced to undergo[3].

The religious enthusiasm to take back the holy land from the hands of the Turks, strengthened with fanaticism, turned itself against the homeland Jews. Until the capture of Jerusalem, the infidel Turks favoured neither the Christians nor the Jews. Subsequently, they viewed the Jews as brothers against the common enemy, who had taken possession of Palestine. This is where the root of Christian anti-Semitism reveals itself, because to the Christians the Jews were also infidels. It was already a teaching of the early church that Christians could not accept Jews as brothers since they were murderers of God.

During the Middle Ages, enmity and persecution of Jews were motivated not only by religion. Almost always, this was coupled with political and economic motives. Often religion served to hide substantial economic interests of the Jews. But it cannot be denied that religious accusations against the Jews had not died out even into the 20th century. The Christian church remained attached to the anti-Semitic tradition of the medieval church, which evolved at the time of the Reformation.

In the 13th century the tendency to attack the Jews on economic grounds, began to strengthen. With several religious reforms in 1215 the church forbade Christians to take interest on loans. The Jews now took over the money-lending business. Through limited flexibility, which was forced on them by exile, they already played the roles as merchants and traders. Through the basic laws concerning Jews, which restricted them occupationally, this remained as the only possibility to earn a living. They were not permitted to own land. In the towns they were not admitted into the guilds, which meant that they could not practice hand-work trades.

The emperor set the rate of interest because he held jurisdiction over the Jews. He could delegate it [the jurisdiction] to princes and to city-states. The Jews were obliged to charge 40 to 200 percent after the dictates set by the rulers. Interest collection by the Jews was a sure source of income for the emperor and the landowners. But they could not always depend on it.

Jewish usury, for which one held Jews responsible for centuries, had its origin in the business deals between Jews and Christians. The princes served their own interests through the Jews, but in the eyes of the people only the Jews stood as exploiters. These conflicts of an economic nature were inevitably due to these unfair decrees. In times of need one held the Jews alone responsible for the economic misery. Apart from economic grounds, one found other reasons to persecute them. Christians blamed them for the ritual murder of Christian children, claiming that they used their blood for religious purposes and that they stole sacramental wafers and defiled them. When epidemics such as the plague broke out, they blamed the Jews for poisoning the wells.

In the towns Jews were isolated from the Christians in restricting ghettos, where they were not permitted to leave as they wished. When darkness fell, the gates of the ghetto were closed. Also on Christian holidays they could only open the confined spaces and the dark streets of their living quarters. The clothing orders compelled them to mark their clothes with a yellow dot and to wear the pointed Jews-hat. The yellow “Jew-Star” [Magen David], which the Jews had to wear in the Third Reich for identification, was thus not an invention of the national socialists [Nazis].

In the Middle Ages, the Jews were direct subjects of the emperor; in the later centuries they were subjects of the princes and city states to whom the emperor delegated the jurisdiction over Jews. The jurisdiction over the Jews, originally created for the protection of the Jews and exercised only by the emperors, increasingly became the despotism of the new masters when delegated to the provincial rulers and city-states. In the manner in which they administered the law, the Jews were subjugated to them. The country princes enacted new laws, the so-called Jewish-regulations. They intended to control the legal standing of the religious minorities and preserve a certain protection of them. The Jewish communities were granted a form of self-government, but the provincial rulers could intervene. From now on, the Jewish regulations made them into a well defined group of people.

The prince provided several Jews or a group of them with a letter of protection. The protected Jews could remain in the princedom for a limited time, or permanently. To be sure, a considerable fortune was the prerequisite to obtain a letter of protection. As soon as a Jew became poor he was rejected from the protection and was obliged to leave the land within three months. This rule shows clearly the inhuman nature of the laws of the Jewish-regulations. They were not tailored for the needs of the Jews in the first place, but served the interests of the rulers. The protection was not valid for the Jew as a person, but for the Jew as an object. When the object was no longer of use, it was thrown away.

This dependence expressed itself in a drastic way when not only individual families were affected, but when it affected the whole Jewish community in the territory. They charged such high rates of interest – as decreed by the princes – which made the debtors depend on money lenders, on Jews. They became the scapegoat, to be blamed for the outrage against the people. The people, called the landed class, complained vehemently to the princes. Thus the Jews were expelled collectively from the land in the Trier principality in the 15th century and again in the 16th century. In the duchy of Lorraine developments proceeded in a similar manner.

After a certain time, when the storm against the Jews had subsided, or a new ruler took over the leadership, they were again allowed to come back in. The princes depended on the money-deals of the Jews for their extravagant holding of court, especially during the age of absolutism. Thus the Jews lived in even greater insecurity. Through the repeated expulsions, many of them were reduced to severe poverty. The majority of them eked out a living as traders of used goods, hawkers, pawnbrokers and beggars. Thus, the image of the Jews as poor, dirty and ragged, spread in the view of the people throughout the land.

Several Examples from our Region to Illustrate Laws of the Jewish-Regulations

In 1591 the high court met in Nalbach for its annual session. An evangelical preacher and a Jew were prosecuted for taking residence in Nalbach without a residence-permit. The accused explained that they had applied for permits. They had also paid the taxes, to legalize the residence[4]. The member of a different Christian faith was subjected to the same law as the Jew. In 1723 a Jew from Diefflen was expelled from the house of a Christian. He had trespassed against the Jewish-regulation of the rulers. It stated that Jews and Christians were not allowed to live together under one roof[5]. Presumably Christians would occasionally take Jews into the shelter of their homes, had not this law been part of the Jewish-regulations. In 1774 the landlord von Hagen evicted the Jew Judas Levy, from his estate, in the Nalbach valley. Levy was unable to pay the annual protection money[6].

A new phase of Jewish history began in the Trier principality in the 17th century. The prince Lothar von Metternich enacted a new Jewish-regulation in that he once again issued letters of protection[7]. The number of recipient Jews in his land was small, and he changed the legal standing of the Jews but slightly in relationship to the earlier Jewish laws. Their lives continued to be tightly regulated. Their residence was still conditional on its serving, as before, the interests of the princes. As subjects, though with fewer rights than the remaining population, they were finally allowed to own land. Their numbers remained limited; but no one of the successors expelled the entire Jewish community from the lands. This circumstance therefore allowed the Jews to feel relatively more secure and their economic situation gradually improved.

This development did not take effect in the duchy of Lorraine. The Jews there still lived under Middle-age conditions, as one of the despised groups of the population. This changed in the French Revolution when the Jews of Lorraine and Alsace received full human and civil rights by decree in 1791. The duchy of Lorraine belonged to France at that time. The granting of equality of the Jews with the other citizens was expanded to the German regions on the left bank of the Rheine under Napoleon. Through the legal granting of equality, the Jews were included with the other citizens in the new population register. Up till that time they did not have fixed first and family names, so this measure had far reaching consequences. It was a violent intrusion into their previous tradition, so they felt especially insecure about the giving of names.

The Prussian period on the Saar

In 1814 the greater part of Saarland with the Rheinland came under Prussian rule. The incorporation meant a reverse for the Jews from the path to emancipation. The French decree of 1791, which granted them full rights of citizenship, was extensively repealed through limiting laws. State offices were henceforth forbidden for them. The granting of legal equality followed in Prussia in the course of the 19th century, beginning after 1871, when the German commonwealth was founded. While the emancipation granted the Jews citizenship by law, the social integration did not follow step. The government hesitated for decades before openly allowing them into official positions. The old prejudices were deeply rooted. The ghetto-existence, that is the isolation of a minority with cultural disadvantages for centuries, could not be overcome overnight through the best of legislation.

Jews in Nalbach and Diefflen

For centuries, the towns Nalbach, Diefflen, Körprich, Piesbach and Bettstadt – Bettstadt is a suburb of Piesbach today – were a single unit for administration, law and church. In the course of the centuries they were constituencies of various rulers, in the Middle Ages of the archbishops of Trier, in the later principalities they were subject to estate-owners.

From the 18th century the villages Nalbach and Diefflen became part of the estate of the von Hagen family. More Jews lived in the Diefflen area than in any other part of the von Hagen estate. It is possible that Jews lived here even before the 18th century. One remembers the previously given example, that in 1591 a Jew was charged before the high court of illegally residing in Nalbach.

Although Nalbach was always at the center of the estate, the Jewish community of Diefflen was the largest in the estate up until the middle of the 19th century. The Jews preferred Diefflen because of the nearby foundries in Dillingen. Prior to the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789 the workforce comprised as many as 400 workers. Diefflen followed after Dillingen in providing the most workers. An economic opportunity presented itself to the small Jewish groceries, cattle dealers and butchers because the foundry workers also carried out farming nearby.

In 1768 twelve Jewish families were counted in the village. The heads of households include the following[8]:

Abraham Levy   Jaank Levy
Leiser Abraham   Kombel Nemre
Meyer Moryes   Abraham Ber
Gottlieb Levy   Samuel Moryes
Leib Sirman   Israel Hirsch

In this list we find names which no longer appear in later decades. One recalls that with the introduction of the population registers in 1808, the Jews were recorded with new names. The origin and meaning of some, which sound strange to us, were found in a Yiddish[9] dictionary.

Ber apparently evolved from the Aramaic bar. It means son, son of the law [bar mitzvah] in the religious context. This applies to the 13 year old boys who are obliged to observe the laws of an adult. The leader of the revolt against the Romans was call Bar Kochba. Leiser is a vulgar form of Eliser = Lazarus. Leib derives from the Hebrew word lebh and means Herz [heart]. Nemre goes back to Nimrod, a form from the Old Testament, with the meaning: successful hunter.

Georg Colesie puts forward an interesting entry from the baptismal register of the Nalbach parish for the year 1788. Among the seven names of children born between 16 January and 3 February there appears, a little isolated and not numbered like the other children:

Seligmann Bonn was born on the 15th day of the Jewish month Iyar, 5544 after the creation of the world or 23rd May of the year 1788 [23-May-1788 = 16-Iyar-5544].
Israel Hirsch.

His entry in the German language appears clumsy in comparison with the regular writing of the parish priests.

The record of the birth of Seligman Bonn was probably on a special note among the other names since the statement about the birth of the 8th child was partly concealed. Unfortunately it is not known why this announcement came to be in a Christian baptismal register. Bearers of the name Bonn lived until the dissolution of the community in Nalbach. Rosa Bonn, the last of the family, disappeared from the Gurs concentration camp in 1940. In 1848 the Jewish community of Diefflen with 41 souls out of a total population of 708 persons, reached the highest number. In later decades the Jews preferred Nalbach as a place of residence. This depended on the general movement of population at the time of the industrial revolution. The large suburbs and the cities grew. But none of the Jewish families, who moved to Dillingen in the 20th century, came from Diefflen or Nalbach. In Nalbach the community consisted of 27 Jews out of 882 residents.

In 1847 the name Weiler appears for the first time in one of the lists, one of the extensive Jewish families of Diefflen during the 20th century. In the Diefflen suburb chronicles, whence he came, Johann Spurk recounts that Jewish families were allowed to settle there. He had taken the family of 5 persons to a new home with a covered wagon. The journey ended with a broken axle on the meadow-ridge between Nalbach and Diefflen. So the Weiler family was obliged to make a halt in Diefflen, and they settled there with their sons Daniel, Samuel and Bernhard.[10]

The following list from the municipality of Nalbach gives us insight into the families. It was prepared as an estimate of the class-tax of 1876, wherein the rates of the annual festival-dues were re-evaluated.[11]

Name Residence Profession Class-tax (mark)
Hirsch, Samuel Nalbach Lamp collector 3
Bonn, Joseph Nalbach Livestock trader 3
Bonn, Solomon Nalbach Grocer & Butcher 6
Kahn, Emanuel Nalbach Livestock dealer 3
Wolf, Wolfgang Nalbach Business man 3
Wolf, David Nalbach Business man 6
Wolf, Israel Nalbach Host and grocer 3
Wolf, Salomon (widower) Nalbach Grocer 12
Kahn, Jakob Nalbach Business man 6
Weiler, Mar..? Diefflen Butcher 12
Lion, Kallmann Körprich Livestock trader 3

Therefore new families from Nalbach were included for the class tax at that time. In Diefflen only heads of families were taken into account. The previous predominance of Diefflen moved in favour of Nalbach. Although the Diefflen community shrank so much in 1853 that only one member was entitled to vote at the assembly, the Jews of the three towns of Diefflen, Nalbach and Dillingen held their gatherings in the Diefflen school house after the old custom. A room in the home of Serges Kahn served them as house of worship.

The Jewish community of Nalbach did not wish to remain dependent on Diefflen any longer. Through the construction of a synagogue, Nalbach became the center of the synagogue community of Nalbach – Diefflen in 1854.

dil000.jpg [20 KB] - The Nalbach Synagogue
The Nalbach Synagogue of about 1938/1939

Voluntary contributions of the families of both communities made the building possible. The synagogue stands near the Catholic church. Apparently the Nalbachers took no offence to this, that the Jews celebrated their religious festivals in the neighborhood of their church. Citizens of Saarwellingen felt otherwise, when in 1829 the large Jewish community of Saarwellingen planned the building of a synagogue and a school. The detailed letters of protest to the estate committee can be found in the district archive of Saarlouis. The 18 m long by 8 m wide building of the Nalbach synagogue merges with the street scene through its representative façade. I describe it after the reproduction of a photograph that the Nalbach community made available to me. The three level façade is laid out in Roman style in its lower level. With the Baroque style upper level it makes a harmonious impression overall.

The upkeep of the synagogue cost the community a considerable amount. 53 Jewish citizens lived in the pair of towns in 1895, the number in 1843 was only 68. In 1890 the chairman of the community, Mosis Bonn, approached the communal authorities about a grant for the synagogue. This application was declined. The town council of Nalbach was also not prepared to make a school hall available for instruction in the Jewish religion. They based this refusal on the grounds that most of the children were from Diefflen. It is doubtful if the 20 Jews of Diefflen had more children than the 33 of Nalbach. Thus the children of Nalbach were further obliged to attend the Jewish school in Saarwellingen if they wanted to be instructed in their religion and in the Hebrew language. The example of Diefflen remains exemplary where the Jewish citizens held their meetings in a school hall.

The History of the Dillingen Synagogue Community

It is not definitively documented when the first Jewish families settled in Dillingen. The year 1756 is informative in this respect because Charles Francois Dieudonne de Tailfumyr, who became Baron of Dillingen in 1746, and who also owned the iron works, allowed the Israelites Hayem and Zerf Worms and Elias Reutlinger of Saarlouis to establish a Jewish cemetery in the Dillingen woods on the Diefflen boundary.[12] The Dillingen foundries made the land available. Not only Jews of the Saarlouis Synagogue Community were allowed to be buried there. It is assumed that Jews lived in Dillingen at this point in time. Tailfumyr had received from King Stanislaus of Lorraine – Dillingen belonged to Lorraine at that time – the concession to set up a printing works in his newly established paper mills. Jews could also be employed in them. They could be granted equal rights with the Christian workers. In reality it is doubtful if the intention of the owners was to offer the local Jews a broader range of occupations. The paper mills were in the hands of the Tailfumyrs for only 5 years in all.

Following an earlier order of the kings, only two Jews were allowed residence in Dillingen.[13] Philipp Schmitt, the pastor of Dillingen from 1833 till 1848, dealt with this in the family book, which he maintained, including the Jews who came to Dillingen at the beginning of the 19th century. About the 18th century he writes: Prior to 1800, 2 Jewish families lived here.[14] The names of both families were not given. Schmitt mentions that one family was childless and that the other moved out. Further on he mentions: Samuel Levy from Blozen at Colmar, a butcher, married to Barbara Levy from Niederbronn in Alsace, came here in 1800.[15] The seven children were named: Lissa, Godol, Joseph, Juda, Lion, Johann and Adel. Three siblings, Lion, Johann and Adel, moved out when they married.

In about 1820 the Jew Jakob Alkan lived in Dillingen. He originated from the area of Waldweis and by profession was a so-called Jewish trader, possibly a cattle trader. Schmitt described him as a grocer and butcher. He described him as follows: …loaned money against securities, bought all stolen goods, and also brought women. Pastor Schmitt took over the parish starting from 1833. He could only relate what Dillingen citizens told him about the Jews; Jakob Alkan must certainly have taken care to provide for his large family. By the report, all the children were listed as: Samuel, Cathisch, Herz, Friedrich, Jean (Fischel), Joseph, Jeanette, Bibi, Lehn, Carline, Moses, Lion. It is expressly documented that three of the children married. It cannot be concluded from the text if Herz, Joseph and Bibi who moved away were also married. After looking through the registration cards of the Dillingen authorities it appears to me that even in the 20th century a number of Jews were not married. In the 19th century it was even harder to find a Jewish partner in the neighborhood, since so few families were resident in the area. About the daughter Lehn we learn: Lehn had a child out of wedlock.[16] Schmitt supplemented his report with the following information, that characterized the capable Alkan as versatile: Jakob Alkan is a musician without knowing a single note, started with nothing and now has 3 houses and one garden.[15] Before the second world war there were two music teachers in the Alkan family. They inherited the musical talent from their ancestors.

The third Jewish family is that of Joseph Levy and his wife Eva Levy from Frauenberg. The remark: had a name for honesty (1830) speaks well of his reputation in the community. He moved to Dillingen in 1830. His children were Esther, Samuel and Gottfried (Gotz).

The butcher Juda Levy (1830), married to Dolz Cahn and their children Samuel, Esther and Rosa were the fourth family. The children of Juda Levy, of Joseph Levy and of Jakob Alkan are included in the protocols of the school board of the Dillingen community.16 The lists for the years 1836, 1837 contain the names of the scholars that were absent for the month from the half or full day lessons. It turns out that the children of Juda Levy's family were absent more often than the children of the other Jewish families, and then mostly unexcused. The father explained to the school board that he needed his daughter Esther at home because his wife was often in poor health. They punished him with a monetary fine for the many lost school hours.

The children Leo, Magdalena and Friedrich Alkan were absent in the month April of the year 1836 for 23 to 25 days. The father excused them, they had scabies, a skin disease. Further absences he explain on the pretext that his children attended the school in the town, presumably the Jewish school in Saarlouis. The school board demanded a certificate from the mayor as evidence. The protocol records: In the year 1836 the total of 65 children missed lessons an average of 15 times. The reason was not only due to lack of interest. The children were needed at home, like Esther Levy. It could also be that they had no shoes.[16]

The lists of absences show clearly that the social level of the Jewish families in Dillingen was poor. The living conditions were especially primitive. The Jews did not stand out socially from the poor Christian families of that time.

The old time Jewish residents of Dillingen descended mostly from the families Levy and Alkan that pastor Schmitt reported. In other tax and election lists of the 19th century bearers of these names are frequently found. The names appear again in the following list which derives from the class tax for the year 1863.[17]

1. Alkan, Samuel 6 Rthlr   5 Levi, Samuel I 3 Rthlr
2. Alkan, Jakob 2 Rthlr   6. Levi, Samuel II 4 Rthlr
3. Alkan, Johann 5 Rthlr   7. Levi, Juda 1 Rthlr
4. Bonn, Rosalie 1 Rthlr   8. Levi, Joseph 4 Rthlr
    [Rthlr = Reichsthaler]          

One can assume that there was a continuity of these families in Dillingen up until the dispersal of the Jewish community. To a large extent, the occupations butcher, grocer, meat purveyor, shokhet and cattle dealer that Schmitt handed down remained associated with the Alkan and Levi families. The meat trade was the only manual trade that was open to the Jews since old times, though only in villages and towns that had no butcher guild. In the 20th century the Alkans still lived on cattle trading or they were merchants. Two music teachers descended from the family. It was no different in the Levi family. In the protocols of Saarwellingen is recorded the marriage of the locksmith Joseph Levi from Dillingen. In 1833 the home for neglected children was founded in Dillingen.[18] With government aid, pastor Schmitt wanted to save the children of the poor from begging. In the lists of the donors and also the suppliers of bread the name Levi appears as baker. In Dillingen, Jewish manual laborers are scarcely mentioned in the 19th century. In the address book of the town Saarlouis of 1899, the Jews Israel Levi of Dillingen and Wolf Marx of Diefflen are noted as clerks of the government legal office. Gottfried Levi attained the status of an official; he was a legal official. At the start of the 20th century it was still not common to take on Jewish officials in the state service. But several women already had occupations as milliners, saleswomen, business women and stenographers. In the ambitious industrial area of Dillingen, most Jewish citizens had occupations as salesmen. In the record cards of the Dillingen authorities, the majority of them were registered as businessmen or dealers. Thus the scope remained between a modest grocery to a large sales-house. The forefathers often went through the towns as peddlers and lamp-collectors. The economic level of the Jews of Dillingen corresponded to the economic level of the remaining population. It depended on the industrial development of the foundries. Thus the social relationship between the two groups improved and stabilized slightly, so that before the second world war, the majority of the population, both Christian and Jewish, lived a modest life. Also the numeric development of the Jews of Dillingen corresponded essentially with the development of the general population into a town. The following are some data of the 19th and the 20th centuries.[19]

  Dillingen Citizens Jews
1824 17
1831 1981 20
1843 1422 20
1895 4144 37
1900 5326 46
1905 6745 59
1910 8053 71
1924 9462 126
1927 10099 131

Up till the turn of the century the Jewish community could immigrate by only a few ports of entry. Most of the influx came after the First World War. Further growth in the number of Jewish residents did not occur in later years. Whoever interpreted the sign of the times realized that the German Jews could not expect a good future. The rapid rise in the Dillingen population within so few decades was largely due to the expansion of the foundries. Because of the economic improvement the Jews also preferred industrial areas and towns after the war. The origin of the influx since the turn of the century can be read from the population register of the Dillingen community of that time. Most of the incomers stemmed from the villages in the nearby surroundings which had larger Jewish communities than Dillingen where few Jews lived initially. They came from Merzig, Brotdorf, Illingen, Rehlingen, Itzbach, Büren, Kerprich-Hemmersdorf, Fürweiler, Saarwellingen, Fraulautern and from places in the Saarbrücken, Neunkirchen and St. Wendel districts. The second largest group came from the Mosel, Pfalz and Hunsrück. Only a few came from other parts of the Reich, which is also true of foreign places. For most who were born in the Reich, Dillingen was not their first station. This also holds for immigrants from France, Czechoslovakia, Poland the Ukraine. It is remarkable that many families moved into Dillingen.

One case leaves an exceptional impression. It concerns Josef Hanau, born out of wedlock in 1883 in Kerprich-Hemmersdorf as the son of Brunette Hanau. He was registered as belonging to the Catholic religion. His unhappy fate was – so far as can be gleaned from dry file records – that of a wanderer. In 1914 he moved from Kerprich-Hemmersdorf to Dillingen. He earned his keep as a day-laborer. The following addresses are registered on his card:

1916   Lotteriestr. 26
1917   Kaiser-Wilhelm-Str. 40
1918   Paulinenstr. 44
1918   Pachtener Str. 2
1920   Schulstr. 12
1921   wohnte er eine zeitlang in Siersdorf
1921   Lotteriestr. 11
1922   wohnte er in Haustadt
1922   Schulstr. 12
1926 - 1932   Saarbrücken 5
1932   Schulstr. 12
1934   Roonstr. 26
1934   Kaiser-Wilhelm-Str. 30
1934   Kaiser-Wilhelm-Str. 33
1937   Hinterstr. 25
1937   Paulinenstr. 8

In the course of 23 years he changed his residence 17 times. Whether his unsettled life derived from his character, or from the circumstances of the times and his occupation remains in the dark. In the cards the name “Israel” was appended to his civil name. The Jews were obliged to bear this name from January 1939. In the lists of Dillingen Jews, missing or deported to concentration camps, stands the name Josef Hanau[20] in the category: fate unknown, missing. It is unknown if he was already deported on the trains of the first evacuation in the clearing of red zones. In 1940 it is certain that no more Jews lived in Dillingen. I shall dwell on this point later.

Up till 1854 the Jews of Dillingen observed the Sabbath and the religious festivals together with the Jews of Diefflen and of Nalbach in a prayer hall in the house of Serges Kahn in Diefflen. The Jewish community of Nalbach built their own synagogue that year. The Dillingen Jewish community did not definitively belong with the community of Diefflen-Nalbach, but participated in the costs of the Diefflen prayer house. At that time the Jews of Dillingen had no prayer house of their own. Later – the point in time is not known – they arranged a prayer hall for themselves in a private home. They also took part in the meetings which took place until the middle of the 19th century in a room of the Diefflen school. The relationship of the authorities and of the citizens to the Jews must have been good at that time. At one meeting in 1853 of all the Jews with voting rights in the community of the joint prayer hall[21] in Diefflen, Nalbach was represented by ten voters, Diefflen by one and Dillingen by five. The combined Jewish community numbered 83 souls.

In the 1920s, when the prayer hall did not suffice for the growing community of Dillingen, they acquired a plot of ground in Schloss St. to build a synagogue. Already in 1904 they had approved taking up a collection to build the synagogue. The day of the official opening at the start of April 1924 appears in the “Upper and lower valley newspaper”. A gathering of a thousand persons took place. The Jewish families from all the surroundings took part in the procession to transfer the Torah from the prayer hall to the synagogue. Also the citizens of Dillingen came to take part in this unique event of the Jewish religious ceremony. The Dillingen foundries provided their music hall to contribute to the festive environment. Deputies of the municipality were present. Also spiritual leaders of the local Christian faiths took part in the celebrations[22]. It is not known to me if Dr. Prior, the pastor of the Holy Sacrament and Karl Zickwolf, the leader of the Evangelical community were present in person. It was an experience of the community spirit which lets us understand why the Jewish residents were unwilling to grasp the alarm signal of the new times a few years later.

In 1929 the effort was rewarded by a loan of the corporation law[23]. Only a few Jewish synagogue communities possessed the status of a public-legal corporation. The community wanted to employ a seminar trained teacher. Up until then a teacher of the Saarwellingen synagogue community instructed the children in religion. In the 18th century the families of the area were predominant in religious education. This changed in the 19th century in accord with the emancipation of the Jews. The Jewish communities endeavored to improve the education of their children. But Jewish schools existed only in the Saarlouis district and around 1828 was founded an elementary school in Saarwellingen. So most children attended the local municipal schools. The parents taught them religion at home up till then. In many cases this private tuition was insufficient. From time to time the religious education was deficient. Well qualified Jewish teachers were hard to find on the Saar. Also the means to pay them adequately were lacking. From 1929 onwards, the legally constituted synagogue community could impose culture taxes on its members corresponding to the church taxes: up till then the expenses of the cultural community were defrayed by donations from the members. But these could not be obtained by compulsion.

The finances of the community were assured so long as it had enough members and these paid up on time. The organs of the corporation were: the committee of representatives and the community board. The members of the committee were elected from all eligible men. The committee then elected the board.

The voting list of 1929, for the first election of representatives had 34 eligible men. The pensioner Cerf Alkan[24], born 1850, was first and oldest on this list. He was no longer alive for the horrors of the Nazi times. The elections for both bodies was supervised by a representative of the Trier administration because Prussian law was still in force though the Saar district was not Prussian at that time. The state had authority over the Synagogue communities.

The relationship between Jews and Christians

It seems important to me to discuss the relationship between Christian and Jewish citizens before the advent of National Socialism. In the small towns, living together was not as tense as in the large cities where the wealthy Jews lived together with other Jews and held the influential positions. This made for widespread professional jealousy. As far as I could get information on the Jews of Dillingen, people lived amiably alongside each other and also with each other. I rely on the report of the opening of the Dillingen synagogue. In cities and large towns Jewish citizens were elected to the local councils. The businessman Eugen Levy of 59 Stumm Street was a member of the Dillingen council. He was also one of the mayor's representatives. In several committees he represented the interests of the municipality: as a member of the building committee, the finance and the slaughterhouse committee as well as the committee of notaries and advocates. He sat as a delegate on the lands-council of the region for the interests of Dillingen. In the committee of the gymnasium and girl's high school he took care of the questions about the high schools. Respected and influential citizens sat on the high school committee. But already in 1934, - before the plebiscite on the Saar – he came to be banished from the local council. Alois Lehnert (1968, P. 350) reported: After the founding of the “German Front” in the local council, he was expelled from the local council by 17 votes against 4 in the session of 13 December 1934 on the grounds: Levy was absent from the previous 4 meetings of the local council and the committee sessions without excuse, but did not resign his mandate according to clause 70 of the land ordinance.

Levy recognized the political situation because the registration authority records that the Eugen Levy family moved to France on 29.01.1935. The couple and their daughter survived after the change of residence by virtue of the protection afforded by temporary French citizenship which they had acquired on 30.11.1934.

Further, we learn from Lehnert in the book about the home-town that the Jewish business people played leading roles among the business people of Dillingen. He recalled the great trade-fair of Dillingen in 1928 which they supported generously.

The theatre society “Volksbildungverein” [Peoples education association] was founded in 1921. For the course of a decade the Jewish proprietors of the furniture store on the triangular junction, the Richard brothers, made the stage props available to the esteemed theatre troupe and transported them to “the stage”. At that time stage performances took place in the hall of an inn.

When Dechant Hillen, the predecessor of pastor Dr. Prior, was laid to rest in the Dillingen cemetery in 1925, the Jewish community was also represented. In 1932 Dr. Prior, the first pastor of the Holy Sacrament, celebrated his silver jubilee in office. The letter of good wishes which the synagogue community sent to him gives evidence that the representatives of both denominations strove towards mutual understanding. It was a sign of the ecumenical thinking. The content of the letter runs[25]:

Dillingen, 26 October 1932

Right honorable pastor Dr. Prior!

The synagogue community of Dillingen sees it as an honorable duty to express hearty good wishes to you on the 25th anniversary of your taking office. The synagogue community views in deepest admiration the messenger of God's word, and the preacher of God's faith. On this occasion the synagogue community allows itself to emphasize the loyal conviction which his Reverence has shown for the interests of the Jewish religious community, as well as the work that his Reverence has invested for peace and harmony between the religions.

May his Reverence be granted many more years to pursue the holy office in the service of God.

Board of the Synagogue community

Adolf Hoffmann


The “Dillingen Reporter” published the following report on 25 April 1928:

Jubilee in the Israelite synagogue

With today's Passover festival the chairman of the local synagogue community, the merchant Mr. Adolf Hoffmann of Dillingen, celebrated his 25th jubilee as founder and director of the community. In the quarter century of his activity Mr. Hoffman has always devoted all his energy to the prosperity of the works and spared no effort to establish harmonious living together and thereafter to keep it alive and in bloom. The success of the community at achieving its own house of worship in a simple but idyllic space is due in no small way to his selfless effort. The local community does not let the day pass day without repeating the appropriate appreciation. On this honorable day we also wish the best of luck for the jubilee celebrator, who in the course of the years has become an outstanding and all-time beloved citizen of our community.

The text is instructive. It reveals the founding of the community in 1903. We also learn that Mr. Hoffmann exerted himself unselfishly towards the building of the synagogue. Neither the “outstanding and all-time beloved citizen of our community” of 1924 nor of 1928 helped with the fate that his family suffered. He owned a textile business in Stumm Street. The family emigrated in 1935 to Luxembourg. His wife Hildegard, born Loew, met the end of her life in Auschwitz on 31.05.1943. Their son of 40 years Ludwig, a trainee by profession, also died in Auschwitz on 31.12.1943. The records report nothing about the fate of Hoffman. Their daughter Carla[26] married the cattle dealer Josef Samson. The population registrar of Saarbrücken recorded the death of the couple: date of death 31.04.1944. Their daughter Sonja was 4 years old when she emigrated to Luxembourg in 1935.

From Frau Kaethe Riehn I learned that the Dillingen Jews contributed donations toward the building of the Sacrament church. This was generous in proportion to the Catholics. When the church was opened in 1913 there were hardly any wealthy Jews in Dillingen. The economic rise came only after the First World War. Pastor Dr. Prior expressed his gratitude to them.

Another example illuminates in a convincing way the good harmony of Christians and Jews:

The cattle dealer Hermann Levy from Itzbach put out a herd of sheep to graze on the leased meadows on the Saar. In the autumn of 1921, after heavy falls of rain, the Saar rose so rapidly over its banks, that the herd was in danger of being drowned. The tenant ferryman Johann Weiskopf and his sons saved all the sheep and brought them in safety to their barn. There were more than a hundred that they took out of the water. Wilhelm Weiskopf told me about the effort of his family. Cordial relations existed between the Levy family and his family due to the ferry which carried the Levys across the Saar. Later, the Levy family lived in Dillingen. I shall deal some more with Hermann Levy later on. Frau Riehn relates that she was employed as a skilled worker with the master tailor Benny Levy. When their daughter Martha married in 1921, the Levy family invited her and the second worker to the wedding. The wedding took place in the prayer hall, which was located on a lower floor, beneath the Levy home. Frau Riehn stressed that the solemn ceremony of the wedding, strange to them, impressed both of them deeply. To this day she thinks warmly of the hospitality of his family.

The hometown researcher Georg Colesie wrote in his “History of the Nalbach valley” that the Jews of the Nalbach-Diefflen synagogue community were also well integrated with the populace. From 1885 till 1888 the communal council supported the Jewish widow Falk. In 1899 the widow of Emanuel Kahn also received 15 marks per month for support.

In the years of the 1920s the small Jewish community was no longer in the situation to undertake the repairs that were necessary for the Nalbach synagogue. Therefore, the Nalbach population allowed the proceeds of a charity ball to come to the community for this purpose.[27] The Jewish children, who attended the town school with the other children, had contact of comradeship and friendship with their schoolmates.

The following quality characterizes the relationship of the Jewish and Christian citizens of Nalbach. When dealing with cattle, the Jews who were formerly cattle dealers dealt with each other in the Yiddish language. So as not to be outdone by ear, the farmers also learned and used Yiddish. This was also usual in other districts, for example in Alsace and the Pfalz. The Yiddish language was passed down among the farming population from generation to generation. They expressed themselves in Yiddish not only for cattle dealing, for them it was a sort of home language. There are still living some elderly citizens of Nalbach who can converse in Yiddish. I have evidence of this from the former mayor Hans Klein and from Fritz Bellmann. With them, the remains of an old culture died out.

All in all it is established: in the years of the 1920s the Jewish citizens of both synagogue communities of Dillingen and Nalbach were integrated in the population.



  1. see Herrmann 1974, P. 334 return
  2. after C. Th. Weiss: The Jewish Germans of Alsace P. 122, 125; unfortunately, later bibliographical issues of this publication could not be located. return
  3. see Fox 1979, P. 119 return
  4. see Colesie 1894, P. 169 return
  5. as above return
  6. as above, P. 158. return
  7. see Laubenthal 1984, P. 27. return
  8. see Colesie 1894, P. 153. return
  9. see Weis, P. 132 (reference 2 above) return
  10. see Grandmontagne 1985, P. 64. return
  11. after a handwritten list from the protocols of the community archives at Saarwellingen, signed by mayor Weismueller on 5 January 1876. return
  12. see Lehnert 1968, P. 155. return
  13. see Dillingen parish archives, History Vol. I, P. 245. return
  14. see Dillingen parish archives, Family book Vol. II, N. b, P. 71. return
  15. see Dillingen parish archives, Family book Vol. I, Nr. 5, P. 71. return
  16. see Dillingen parish archives, Protocols of the school board, Vol. II, Nr 17. return
  17. see Saarlouis disctrict archives, X A: Jewish synagogue community of Saarlouis P. 218 return
  18. see Dillingen parish archives, Protocols of the home for neglected children Vol II. return
  19. see Lehnert 1968, P. 241, 349 return
  20. see the memorial book of the federal archives, Vol. 1 of 1986, P. 1675 return
  21. see the Saarlouis regional archives X A Bl. 84 return
  22. after written information submitted by Gretel Fischer-Becker, Pachten return
  23. see Herrmann 1974, P. 295 return
  24. see Knopp 1975, P. 151 return
  25. see Dillingen parish archives, Vol. II, Nr 19. return
  26. see Population register of the Dillingen community. return
  27. see Colesie 1983, P. 180. return

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