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AM: And your family had been in Germany for many hundreds of years, about 300, I think is what I recall.

EH: My father’s side lived in a small village in upper Bavaria for 350 years or so. So a small, little farming village, about 30 Jewish families and 30 gentile families, non-Jewish families. They got along quite well. Of course, the Jewish families couldn’t own land so they were primarily dealers in livestock, which was my grandfather’s occupation. And there was a Jewish cemetery. Interesting part about that area was why the Jews even got there. And this was at the time when the German feudal system was under pressure by the Holy Roman Empire to disband, and there was a local baron with a castle up on the hill and he had decided that the best way to safeguard his fiefdom was to bring in Jews. Why bring in Jews? Because they had connections all over the world, could help finance his needs. So there were two small, little villages around the bottom of the castle hill that were entirely Jewish, or predominantly Jewish. And we had a Jewish cemetery that served those two communities dating back 350 years or so. And the reason we know is because my cousin did gravestone rubbings and we found the names.

AM: And then how would you describe Mainz during the ’30s in terms of its Jewish population?

EH: We had basically three synagogues. I attended the “new” synagogue, the less Orthodox synagogue. The reason it was less Orthodox is because we had an organ and that distinguished us from the Orthodox synagogue which was in the heart of the town and had been established many, many years before that did not allow an organ. And in addition to that, we had in the old ghetto area a Polish synagogue that was also very Orthodox. And as a child we used to visit all the synagogues, and it was interesting to see the different methods or modes of worship in each of those different synagogues.

AM: And did Jews in Mainz live in Jewish enclaves?

EH: Not especially. There were certain areas that were more heavily populated by Jews, naturally around the synagogues, you know, but they lived freely throughout the entire city of Mainz.


Photo credits: David Seide

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