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Chapter 5  

Ach Du Lieber: Memories of My Father

 

     My father, Herman Josef Loewenhardt, was 29 years old when he arrived in the USA on 12 September 1921. He was the youngest of the twelve Löwenhardt children from Oberhemer, Germany, and the second and last to arrive in the US. His sister Johanna had arrived with her husband and two children in August 1910. She was the ninth child and third daughter of Pauline and Levi. She helped my father find his first job at the May Company, a department store in Toledo, Ohio.

     Herman was born into the German Jewish family of Levi Löwenhardt (1840-1900?) and Pauline Lennhoff (1847-1933) of Oberhemer. His father, Levi was one of three sons of Salomon Loewenhardt (1792-1864) and Mina Sternberg (1806-1897) all of Oberhemer. Levi fought in the Austro-Prussian War (June-July 1866) and was awarded a medal from the VII Army Corps. Six years later, Levi married Pauline Lennhoff from Plettenburg and together they had twelve children between 1873 and 1892.  At the time of Herman’s birth, Pauline was 45 years old and Levi was 52 years old. She lived to be 85.

     Herman had a difficult childhood, spending his years from age seven to fourteen in the Jewish Orphanage of Westfalia and Rhineland in Paderborn. Two of his older brothers, Julius and Siegmund, also spent time at the orphanage. The three boys were the youngest of the twelve Loewenhardt children. Their mother, Pauline, had been bearing children for 19 years would have been in her early 50s when the three youngest boys were school age. Life in the orphanage must have been difficult for children separated from their families, but there were some positive attributes. Since the Loewenhardt boys were not orphans in the strict sense of the word, the orphanage may have served as an educational institution as well. Jewish families in Paderborn often invited the children to parties and took them on trips to the countryside. Each pupil had a garden plot of one square meter in size for which he or she was responsible. The orphanage had its own stables and milk cows*

     We don’t know what happened to break the family apart, but from what can be gathered, something happened to Levi around 1900 that led to his death. Pauline and her remaining children left their home in Oberhemer in 1903 and traveled to Plettenburg, the town of her birth. By this time, Pauline was designated as widow in the town records. This means that Levi died sometime between 1899 and 1903, possibly in Marsberg. Since 1816, Marsberg was home to the Westfalian Provincial Institution for the insane and is to this day the home of a major hospital for psychiatric patients.

     We know about Herman and his brothers in the orphanage because of  research done by my Dutch cousin, John Lowenhardt. John visited Germany in 2012, and discovered a book written by historian Margit Naarmann about the Jewish families of Paderborn during the Nazi reign of terror. Listed in the appendix were the names of all the children of the Jewish orphanage in Paderborn. Included in that list were the names of my father and two of his older brothers. The older brothers, Julius and Siegmund entered the orphanage in January 1899 at ages eleven and nine. Herman came one year later on April 3, 1900. He was seven years old and stayed in the orphanage until age 14. He left on April 29, 1907, for Stadhagen, a town in northern Germany. He may have been learning a trade as most of the pupils did, and the orphanage continued to provide them with financial support.

     Seven years later, World War I broke out and Herman and his eight brothers were all drafted into the army. My Dad fought at the Russian front and elsewhere and was wounded a total of four times. He and all of his brothers survived though he suffered all his life from the effects of mustard gas poisoning. He probably also suffered from PTSD though it was not recognized at that time. During my childhood and later when he lived with me and my family, he would suffer from nightmares and wake the household with his screams. An archivist of Hemer, Dad’s hometown, discovered a newspaper article (Hemersche Zeitung: July 11,1916) that listed all nine of the the Loewenhardt brothers and where each one served during the war. Herman was “marksman in a mountain machine gun unit in Serbia and twice wounded.”

     My father remained a quiet, stern, figure during my childhood. He was a  thin, pleasant looking man about 5 feet 7 inches tall. He had brown wavy hair and a hooked roman nose gave him a distinguished look. He suffered a broken nose in World  War I and it was never set properly. In spite of this he was a handsome man. It was difficult to really know him though as a child I only knew what he did and how it affected me. He was very focused on taking care of his family and did his best to create a loving home for our family in spite of his painful childhood in the orphanage, and the effects of the first world war in which he fought. Most of the time, I felt secure, loved and cared for during my childhood years in spite of the numerous difficulties our family encountered and my own fears during the war. In later years when he lived with me and my family after my marriage, he was much more approachable. However much I tried to get him to talk about his family, he never talked about his childhood in Germany except to say that he was the youngest of a large family and was raised in an orphanage.

     Now I think of all that he had to bear during the years leading up to the WWII. He hid his Jewish background from his family, yet it seems that he had some connections with his family in Germany and later the Netherlands, if only through his sister. How tormented and agonized he must have been to learn about the terrible fates of his brothers, their wives and children and grandchildren in the Holocaust.

     He was a quiet, peaceful man who disliked noise and confusion. I have inherited many of his traits. I like to have things peaceful and avoid conflict when possible. He did have a sense of humor and a hearty laugh. His gray-green eyes sparkled and he laughed at the humorous antics of his grandchildren. He was a genuinely good man, devoted to my mother and to his children and never thought of himself first. I remember him as a cheerful optimist but critical of people who advocated policies that he thought were wrong. For example, he spoke harshly about Margaret Sanger, who was in the news because she promoted birth control. Of course this was contrary to his Catholic beliefs. I wonder now, how many children they would have had if they had married when both he and my mother were younger.