Outside the city of Alzenau, on a small hill lies the Jewish cemetery of Hörstein. That cemetery was founded in 1812 by Michel Gradwohl, the great-grandfather of my great-grandfather. He is also buried there, and so is his wife, his children and grandchildren and their families. The cemetery was operative until 1938, when the last Jews who lived in Hörstein were forced to leave their homes and move to Frankfurt before their deportation a few years later. I consider Hörstein as the location where the Gradwohl family established its roots in the 18th and 19th century, before it was dispersed by volition or by force in the 20th century.
The town of Hörstein is situated in the part of northern Bavaria called Lower Franconia, very close to the border with the federal state of Hesse. It takes about 30 minutes to get there from Frankfurt by car or train. In 1975 as a result of administrative reforms, Hörstein became a part of the adjacent bigger city of Alzenau. The city, with a population of about 20,000 inhabitants, lies in an area dominated by rolling picturesque hills, meadows and rivers, surrounded by forests and vineyards. It has a long tradition of wine-making, especially white wines. It is nowadays a tourist attraction with paths for hiking and the Spessart Nature Park.
Alzenau prides itself in its flourishing economy and quality of life: There are several high-tech industries in town, a large number of educational institutions and a high-level hospital. The city has several old churches as well as an impressive 16th century medieval castle, which is used nowadays for concerts and other cultural events. The city was not bombarded during World War II, so many of the old buildings (including the former Gradwohls’ residences) are still intact.
It is difficult to trace the origins of the Jewish presence in Hörstein; it is speculated that Jews lived there in the 14th century. The known Gradwohl family history in Hörstein dates back to the 18th century. Official records have it that in 1789 there were 70 Jews living in town, among them 17 so called “Schutzjuden” (protected Jews), that were granted permission from the local ruler to settle in the area. The City Registration List of 1817 contains 35 names of Jewish family heads with their new family names, which Jews in Germany had to adopt in order to be registered by the authorities. This measure was a result of the Napoleonic policy of Jewish emancipation, which spread across Europe after his conquests and started a process by which Jews were treated according to the laws of the country of their residence. The prominent families of the Hörstein Jewish community in the early 19th century were the Rothschilds, the Gradwohls and the Hamburgers. We do not know when the first Gradwohl came to Hörstein and from where. According to one source the family origins are in the Alsace-Loraine region; indeed, the name Gradwohl appears in genealogical documents in Strasbourg and the region but I was unable to find a direct link to the Gradwohls in Hörstein.
Michel was born, apparently in Hörstein, in 1755 to his father David Gradwohl; The data on David is less conclusive but it seems that he was born around 1725 (place of birth unknown) and had two more sons, Isaak and Simon, and a daughter Raich (Reichel, Raya, Raik), born around 1760.
Michel married Gertraud Jossel, born in Schluechtern in 1757. They had three sons – Jacob, Herz and Lazarus and two daughters – Bella (Belle, Beile, Bila) and Merle. In an official Hörstein document from 1825, three (male) members of the Gradwohl family are mentioned: Michel, Jacob and Herz. They were all depicted as merchants of diverse goods.
Michel Gradwohl died in Hörstein at the age of 87 in 1842. On his tombstone, it is clearly stated that he established the Jewish cemetery ((“מקים בית העולם”. His wife died some 21 years before him (1821).
Michel’s son Jacob Gradwohl was born in 1781. He is depicted on his tombstone as “teacher” (להרר in Hebrew letters, which means “teacher” in German). He married twice during his life-time: The first marriage was to Roeschen Strauss, with whom he had three daughters: Fromet (born 1821), Haenle (born 1823) and Muendel (born 1825). His second marriage was to Jette Loewenstein (no date). Jacob had four children from his second wife: Regine (born 1830), Mathes (Matthaeus, Matthias) (born 1833), David (born 1836, died at the age of 2) and Emanuel (born 1839). Jacob died that year – some 3 years before his father Michel.
Jacob’s son Mathes married Bluemchen Weil (born 1832), the daughter of Raphael Weil – a grocer. The records show that the Rabbi at their wedding was Mr. Adler and the two witnesses were Löw Grünbaum, soap boiler, and the father of the bride.
Mathes was born into a well-developed Jewish community, which had all the core institutions necessary for leading a traditional Jewish life. All of the community members were part of the religious Orthodox life style. The community had a synagogue, built around 1817, a cemetery built (by Michel) in 1812, a Mikveh (ritual bath) and a school. There was a rabbi and a religion teacher who also performed the duties of a shochet (ritual slaughterer). The first teacher of the Jewish school, Israel Wahler, held his position for 48 years (!)
The Jewish community was apparently well integrated in town as the following story suggests: In the many vineyards of Hörstein, just before the grapes are ripe and ready to be harvested, birds come and nibble on them. In order to protect the grapes, the town organized the residents on duty to chase the birds away by the use of noise-makers. Mathes (as well as other Jewish residents) was listed on such a list, although they obviously did not own the vineyards.
The couple Mathes (Matityahu in Hebrew) and Bluemchen Gradwohl had altogether 7 children, all born in Hörstein. They were: Jakob, the first-born (named after his grand-father), born 1857; Bernhard, born 1859 – my great-grandfather; Gretchen, born 1861; Goetz (Gustav), born 1863; Barbara (Babette), born 1865; Raphael, born 1867 and Leopold, born 1872. Interestingly, the first 6 children were born within one decade (1857-1867), in roughly similar intervals between births. Bluemchen died in 1886 (1888?); Mathes died in 1891.
Mathes was a baker and had a shop. We know that because of an ad he published in the “Bayerischen Israelitischen Gemeindezeitung” of Nov. 22, 1865 in which he was looking for an apprentice in his bakery in Hörstein.
Except for his brother Emmanuel, who went to the US at a very young age and lived in Baltimore, Mathes’ generation was the last one in which the Gradwohls clung to their ancestral community (Hörstein). The next generation saw a gradual break in this pattern, whereby some of the Gradwohl family members left their home-town for better opportunities elsewhere. This obviously coincided with the development of modern industry and commerce as well as the development of cities in the middle of the 19th century. We have the following information on five of Mathes’ children:
Gretchen lived in Hörstein all her life and died there in 1928. The inscription on her tombstone reads that she died “as a virgin” (never married).
Bernhard and his brother Goetz left Hörstein went to Frankfurt in the late 1880’s. Bernhard’s story is told in detail (see below). Goetz died in Frankfurt in 1939.
Barbara married Daniel (Gedalia Ben Rafael) Rothschild (born 1859 in Hörstein). They had a son, Manfred, born in Hörstein (1900). The family lived there until Daniel’s death in 1934. At that point, Barbara left Hörstein and went to Aschaffenburg, to live with her son Manfred.
Finally, Raphael was a merchant in Hörstein. In 1899, he married Regina Rothschild (born in Hörstein in 1873). This was the second wedding that year between a Gradwohl and a Rothschild in Hörstein (after his sister Barbara). The couple had two children, both born in Hörstein: Betty (born 1900) and Max (born 1901). Max studied medicine and became a family doctor in Hörstein (see box). In 1938 both Betty and Max, who were already married and had children of their own, were able to immigrate to the US. Their parents, Regina and Raphael Gradwohl, decided to stay in Germany. On Nov. 4th 1938, in line with the Nuremberg laws, their house and other property was “sold” and they had to move to Frankfurt. They first lived in Musikantenweg 11, and later in Windeck St. where a large number of Jewish families resided in very congested conditions. They were later deported to Theresienstadt and killed there: Raphael on Nov. 4, 1942 and Regina on Feb. 27, 1944.