Bernhard Gradwohl was born in Hörstein in 1859 as the second child to his parents Mathes and Bluemchen Gradwohl. Similarly to his brothers he engaged in trade and according to the records was a merchant. Again, similarly to his other siblings he was married in Hörstein, on June 3, 1886, to Mathilde Bornheimer from Miltenberg, Bavaria (a town close to Hörstein), who was six years older than him. After they got married, they moved to Frankfurt, where he eventually opened a “Kaffee, Oel und Kolonialwaren” shop – a type of an all-purpose shop, where one can buy imported foodstuff (not fresh) but also pots and pans, brooms, etc. The first address (1896) of Bernhard’s shop was 6, Broenner St. par terre (ground floor). The place was enlarged in 1900 to include the first floor and then again in 1905, when the Hinterhaus (the back house) was added. Initially he had a business partner – Ernst Ascher, and the business was registered as “Gradwohl & Ascher”. Since 1900 the business was registered on his name only. In 1913 the business moved to Seume St. 3, and remained there for over 25 years – until Bernhard’s death.
Why did Bernhard leave Hörstein, his ancestral home town and move to the big city? Was he adventurous? Did his marriage with Mathilde Bornheimer provide him with funds to engage in this venture? At any rate, it is a clear breakup with his family’s tradition and despite the fact that Frankfurt is not so far away, he had to adapt to a very different way of life in the big city.
Frankfurt was a major commercial center and Jews lived and were active in the city’s commercial life for many centuries. The story of the Jewish community there is one of prosperity and success on the one hand and of deprivations, atrocities, massacres and expulsions on the other. The Jewish Ghetto (“Judengasse”), a location that was the only place where Jews could live for centuries, was a narrow street, where just a few hundred persons lived initially; eventually it housed 3000 persons in very congested conditions. Given the fact that houses were wooden, they would easily burn or set on fire by outsiders, which actually happened several times. Yet this is the location from where the famous Rothschild banking dynasty emerged, and where important Jewish thinkers such as Abraham Geiger, who developed Reform Judaism and Samson Raphael Hirsch, who established Neo-Orthodoxy, lived and practiced.
The latter part of the 19th century, the time Bernhard Gradwohl came to Frankfurt, was an era of prosperity and relative stability under a unified Germany within the Prussian Empire. Jews, now emancipated, were relatively prosperous and were able to reside in different parts of the city. Bernhard chose to reside and have his business in the East End (“Ostende”) – the Orthodox community, where many Jewish institutions existed. Although he changed addresses several times, he never left that community.
Bernhard and Mathilde’s marriage was childless and lasted only 3 years. Mathilde died in 1889 at the age of 36 of blood poisoning. She is buried at the Rat Beil Jewish Orthodox cemetery in Frankfurt.
Two years after his first wife’s death, Bernhard married Cornelia (Knendel) Wurzmann from Fuerth, Bavaria (born 1866). The couple had two daughters: Betty, my grand-mother (born 1891) and Mathilde (born 1894, possibly named after his first wife).In later correspondence and titles for pictures she is called Hannah or Henny. Apparently, Mathilde was her official German name and Hannah – her Jewish name. It seems her family preferred to call her by the latter.