During the 19th Century, Osterholz and Scharmbeck became significant Jewish strongholds within the Elbe-Weser triangle. At the beginning of the 20th century, members of the community included merchants, doctors, decorated war veterans and even local historians, respected by many in the town. The story of their humiliation, expulsion and almost total annihilation between 1933 and 1945 is a lesson in human weakness, tolerance and moral courage.
most injustice begins on a small scale – which one can combat with courage and conviction
Roman Herzog (former German president) May 1997
A case in point being the fate and conduct of Wilhelm Aron, the only Jew who returned back to his home town after these events.
The first recorded Jew in Scharmbeck was Levi Hertz who in 1732 received a Geleitbrief (literally a safe-conduct letter, entitling him to protection in the community). In 1756 or 1757 he purchased a 150 m² plot of land on the road between Lintel and Penningbütel to be used as a Jewish graveyard (source: Obenaus). According to other sources (Staatsarchiv Stade), in 1731 Levi Herz and Moses Hein (in Osterholz) as well as Cahn Meyer and David Meyer (in Scharmbeck) received “Schutzbriefe” (letters of protection) from the local community.
The Jewish community in Osterholz and Scharmbeck was officially established on 1st December 1768. It was comprised of 4 families with 18 individuals as well as a servant and four maids. The families of Levi Hertz (from 1735, according to the city chronicle), Philipp Moses (from 1753), as well as Leffmann Moses Meyer (from 1758) lived in Scharmbeck. The family of Salomon Levi (from 1761) lived in Osterholz.
In 1772 the Davidsohn family founded a textile and clothing shop on the Obernstrasse (subsequently renamed Poststrasse). The family probably officially adopted their surname sometime between 1803 and 1813, when they were obliged to do so during the French occupation. In 1780 Jakob Nachmann also received a “letter of protection” with authority to set up an abattoir in the Heidkamp area. He had previously worked for Moses Hein in Scharmbeck for three years (source: Menkhoff). In 1796, the “protection” previously afforded to Levi Lefmann was transferred to Heine Lefmann Goldberg of Scharmbeck. (source: Lower Saxony State archives)
Up until 1875, the local Jewish community grew steadily, then accounting for 3% of the local population, higher than anywhere in the world today, other than Israel. This growth occurred for a number of reasons:
Up until the mid 19th century, Jews were prevented from working in many professions. They were however allowed to work as both textile merchants and butchers. The region was particularly known for its textile industry as well as its excellent livestock and cattle. Up until the late 19th century, the draper’s guild as well as the autumn cattle market (dating back to 1748) were well known beyond the local region. Additionally, after 1849, quite some Jews settled from neighbouring Bremen as a result of anti-Semitic attitudes there.
In 1803, during the French occupation by Napoleonic troops, many of the Jews became responsible for supplying food. These included: Hyam Marks from Bremerlehe, Jakob Lachmann, Levi Lefmann, Lüder Hartmann (Koppelstrasse) as well as Oppenheimer (later Markus Kayser). Between 1804 and 1809, the Jewish community employed Benjamin Jacob as school teacher, choirmaster and ritual slaughterer; he lived in the synagogue. In 1811 Salomon Meyer received a “Schutzbrief” (so called “letter of protection”) from Regional Mayor Eickenrodt. By 1815 the local community was comprised of seven families – almost 50 individuals. Meyer Aaron was both community leader and school teacher. He was succeeded by Nathan Cohen in 1824, whose title was Jewish community superintendent for the Duchy of Bremen and Weser district (source: Menkhoff).
By 1829, 101 Jews from 12 families lived in Osterholz and Scharmbeck. The following lived in Scharmbeck: Abraham Heidemann, Hein Lefmann Goldberg, Salomon Meyer, the widow of Meyer Aron Aronsohn, Nachman Jakob Kugelmann, Isaac David Davidsohn, David Weinberg and Jeckel Jacob. The following lived in Osterholz: Nathan Cohen, Moses David Davidsohn, Levi Weinberg and Moritz Cohen. (source: Menkhoff)
The synagogue and school building was built in 1830 on Teichstrasse. The front part of the building was the school and kitchen, the rear part the synagogue, with just 12 prayer seats. The upstairs of the building contained the gallery for the women with no seats as well as an apartment where the teacher lived. In 1830, the 3rd Jewish district of the Elbe-Weser headquartered in Rotenburg dissolved and amalgamated with the 2nd district headquartered in Osterholz, grouping together Ottersberg, Lilienthal, Osterholz and Ritterhude. (source: Obenaus) Moses Davidsohn became the district director, succeeded by Heidemann, from Osterholz. (source: Menkhoff) In 1841, Salomon Goldberg from Scharmbeck received his Schutzbrief (letter of protection). (source: Lower Saxony State Archives)
By 1844 there were 210 Jewish families registered within the province Stade, 33 of these did not have a “Schutzbrief”. The Scharmbeck community included Salomon Meyer, Meyer Aaron Aaronsohn’s widow, Nachmann Jacob Kugelmann, Isaak David Davidsohn, David Weinberg, Jeckel Jacob, Abraham Heidemann and Hein Lefmann Goldberg. The Osterholz community included Nathan Cohen, Moritz Cohen, Moses David Davidsohn as well as Levi Weinberg, additionally Philipp Samson Feist from Sandbeck. After July 1847, Jews in the Kingdom of Hannover were no longer required to pay protection tax and purchase a “Schutzbrief”. (source: Menkhoff)
The following is a copy of a financial statement prepared in 1876, by the Synagogue, indicating financial contributions to be made by members in 1877, depending on financial circumstances:
(equivalent amount in 2008 ca. € 640)
|J. Gotthelf (Scharmbeck)
A. Goldschmidt (Scharmbeck)
S. Feist (Scharmbeck)
J. D. Davidsohn (Scharmbeck)
S. Heidemann (Osterholz)
|90.00||D. Weinberg (Scharmbeck)
L. Feist (Scharmbeck)
J. Davidsohn (Osterholz)
|60.00||P. S. Feist (Scharmbeck)
J. A. Heidemann (Scharmbeck)
|35.00||M. Cohen (Osterholz)
A. Cohen (Osterholz)
|30.00||J. Cohen (Ritterhude)|
|20.00||E. Ries (Scharmbeck)
A. Bähr Scharmbeck)
A. Löwenbach (Scharmbeck)
S. Cohen (Scharmbeck)
L. Weinberg (Osterholz)
|17.50||M. Meyer (Worpswede(?))|
|15.00||W. Cohen (Scharmbeck)|
|13.00||S. Simonsohn (Osterholz)
L. Simonsohn (Osterholz)
A. Rosbach (Osterholz)
|10.00||M. Abraham (Worpswede)
J. Gunst (?) (Ritterhude)
A. Cohen (Ritterhude)
|9.00||N. Simon (Ritterhude)|
In 1881, businessman Eduard Davidsohn, of No. 159 Poststrasse, later No. 4 Poststrasse, won the title of “Scharmbecker Schützen-Vizekönig” (runner-up in the Scharmbeck shooting competition). Between 1893 and 1915 he was chosen to be senior Alderman on at least 4 occasions. (source: Menkhoff)
During WW1, two members of the Jewish community died in combat, including Ludwig Aron (b. 19.8.1892, d. 7.5.1915), elder brother of Wilhelm Aron.
Dr. Richard Cohen attended the Jewish elementary school on the Bahnhofstrasse, high school in Bremen, then studied medicine in Berlin, where he received his doctorate. In 1899 he took over the practise of the late Dr Neander in Scharmbeck at what was to become 5 Marktstrasse. Richard was very much orientated towards supporting the German “Fatherland”. He volunteered in WW1 and served as a medical officer on the French front. Awarded the Iron Cross, 1st class in 1917, he served as “Bürgervorsteher”, a civic Superintendant. In 1919 he was elected to the local council with the most votes. In 1920, the councilors selected him as Speaker.
Leopold „Leo“ Löwenstein was the cantor and full-time teacher of the Jewish community. In 1910, he was one of the founding members of the Progressive Peoples Party of Osterholz -Scharmbeck. From 1915, he served as a soldier during WW1. Besides his position as head of the Jewish community, during the 1920’s, Löwenstein was also a well respected citizen within the wider community. He was secretary of the Bürgerverein (civic association), and also author of several local history articles published in the Heimatbote (Homeland Messenger), a supplement distributed with the local Osterholzer Kreisblatt newspaper.
The Dark Years
Moritz Meibergen (1875-1933), of 90 Bahnhofstrasse, was the first Nazi victim in Osterholz-Scharmbeck. He died the day after his 58th birthday, after having been abused by the Nazi’s in Ahlhorn. He is buried in the Jewish cemetery.
During 1934, the isolation and exclusion of Jews from normal life significantly increased throughout the country. “Stürmerkästen” were installed in every town. These were used to dispense a weekly anti-Semitic newspaper called “Der Stürmer”. Owners and customers of Jewish businesses were faced with increasing repression. Boycott posters were put up in front of stores, shop windows were defaced and smashed, and customers entering and leaving the shops were photographed. The pictures, together with details including names and addresses were put into the “Stürmerkästen” to notify the locals.
In autumn 1934, the “Nordwestdeutsche Landzeitug”, a local newspaper, published leaflets, put up in local shops, calling for a boycott of Jewish businesses. On 27th November, John Davidsohn, aged 30, son of the owner of the department store on the Poststrasse, removed some of them and was beaten up by a mob of 40 to 50 men. He was put into „protective custody“ and taken to Berlin. With assistance from his father’s Bremen lawyer as well as the Centralverein deutscher Staatsbürger jüdischen Glaubens (CV) (Central Association of German Citizens of the Jewish Faith), he was released on 15th December. (source: Obenaus)
In 1935, there were also reported incidences where members of the Christian faith refused to sell everyday items to the Jewish inhabitants. (source: Wildt M: Geschichte des Nationalsozialismus, 2008)
„Jews are not wanted here
A noteworthy example of this is provided in our very own Osterholz-Scharmbeck: For several days, with one exception, shops and tradesmen’s outlets have been displaying signs stating that “Jews are not wanted here”. A few of the shopkeepers and tradesmen who, up until now, had had reservations about putting up the posters, have now become more prudent….Rejoice and thanks to our team spirit.…. whoever buys from a Jew is a traitor!“ (translation of an article in the Osterholzer Kreisblatt of Aug 21st 1935, cited from Chronik von Osterholz-Scharmbeck Bd. II, R. Meenkhoff, 2009)
On 1.10.1937, as a result of the boycott of Jewish businesses, the Heidemann clothes store, in existence for 86 years, was taken over or “put into Aryan hands”, henceforth known as Firma Chr. Essen. In 1938, the saw mill and chair factory owned by S Feist was taken over by businessman Heinrich Kramer of Oberneuland. In 1938 Jewish doctor, Dr Richard Cohen (of 5 Marktstrasse), was forbidden from practising his profession. He died mentally broken and destitute on 8th April in Bremen. (source: Menkhoff)
In 1938, with support from the mayor and the local Nazi party, teacher and local historian Johann Segelken, published the first edition of his book “Heimatbuch” about the local community. Mention of Jews was relegated to the appendix and the contents highly insulting (see extracts).
The school chronicles written by Leo Löwenstein end in 1938 with a final remark that there were still 31 members of the community. On account of the additional charges and heavy supplemental taxes, the synagogue could not continue. Only 6 children attended religious classes (Ruth and Cläre Meyer, Sonja, Erika and Jacob Ratusch as well as Inge Cohen). As a result of the forced sale of the synagogue, Löwenstein lost his flat, after 45 years of community service and was forced to move in with relatives in Paderborn. On 16.1.1944 Löwenstein was murdered in Theresienstadt.
On the so called Kristallnacht of 9th November 1938, SA men forced their way into Jewish homes, beat up male residents injuring many severely. Alfred, Flora and Henny Cohen were driven into the basement of their house at 47 Bremer Strasse (west of the railway crossing) where glass jars were being thrown and smashed around them. In 2001 Annelie Müller and Otto Arnholt (were living in the “Judenhaus” at 20 Börderstrasse on the Kristallnacht) could still remember the names of the SA men taking part. (source: Beer)
At the end of 1938, immediately after the November pogroms, restrictions tightened considerably for Jews, throughout the country. These included curfews, travel restrictions as well as restrictions on purchases. Jews could not drive cars, were not allowed out between 9pm and 5am (8pm and 6pm in winter) and were only able to buy from certain shops and at specific times. In Osterholz-Scharmbeck, these shops were Pape (19 Kirchenstrasse) for groceries, Seedorf (23 Koppelstrasse) for meats and Habekost (117 Bahnhofstrasse) and later Minkwitz (51 Bremer Strasse) for bakery products.
According to the „Police ordinance regarding the identifying of Jews“ which came into effect on 1st September 1941 there were then 7 Jewish inhabitants: brothers Moritz and Wilhelm Aron, the family of Alfred and Flora Cohen with daughter Henny as well as the couple Hugo and Selma Meyer-Rosenoff. There were 13 Jews from Osterholz-Scharmbeck amongst 570 deported by train on 18th Novermber 1941 to the Minsk ghetto (Belarus) via Bremen and Hamburg:
Henny Cohen, Hohetorstraße
Clara Cohen, Lindenstraße
Hanni Meyer, geb. Cohen, Lindenstraße
Ilse and Toni Davidsohn, Bahnhofstraße
Ernst Davidsohn, Poststraße
Irma, Betty and Iwan Heidemann, Findorffstraße
Cläre, Ruth, Selma and Hugo Meyer-Rosenhoff, Bördestraße
None of them survived.
Flora and Alfred Cohen were the last members of the once numerous Cohen family left in Osterholz. They first moved to Bremen on 21.3.1942 and were later deported to Theresienstadt via Hannover. Alfred died in the camp in August 1942. Flora survived and was freed on 8th May 1945. She returned to her sister-in-law Frieda (widow of Dr Richard Cohen) and immigrated to Brazil, where her son Fritz lived. She died in 1955.
As of 30th March 1942, all Jewish homes had to been clearly identified. This only effected one residence, that of Moritz and Wilhelm Aron, the last 2 remaining Jews. On 23.7.1942 Moritz was deported to Theresienstadt and subsequently to Auschwitz, where he died. source: Menkhoff
Only Wilhelm Aron and his children Annelie and Wilhelm (Willi) returned to Osterholz-Scharmbeck. For many years Wilhelm Sr was actively involved in the SPD (Social Democratic Party), the trade union, fire brigade, AOK (local health service/insurance), the local council as well as the VSK (local sports association). He worked until 1960, as director of the trade union office in the building which was previously the synagogue, on the Bahnhofstrasse. Many admired his positive tolerant and forward looking attitude despite the terrible past.
The public treatment of the Jewish population, even decades later, still posed uncomfortable questions. One of various sources (such as the german Wikipedia article Geschichte von Osterholz-Scharmbeck, see section “Arbeitslosigkeit und Nationalsozialismus”) refers to the sensitivities of relatives of former Nazis, still living in the town today. For example, in 1963, a proposition to name a sports hall in honour of concentration camp survivor, Wilhelm Aron was refused but the following year, Jew baiter and ex Nazi party sympathiser Johann Segelken (see above, remarks in his 1938 book), was awarded the Bundesverdienstkreuz (Federal Order of Merit). In 1967, Herr Gottschalk, director of the local district (OKD), wrote to Dr Zvi Asaria, Rabbi of Lower Saxony, advising him that the same Johann Segelken was a valuable source of information regarding the fate of Jews in the region and that he knew all about the subject. (source: letter from the OKD to the Chief Rabbi 26.1.1967, citation Murken)