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My Grandmother Pauline

My Grandmother Pauline Lennhoff-Löwenhardt with her nine sons who fought in World War I

My father is just left of the top and my Uncle Adolf is at the top. Both Herman and Adolf and another brother wear the Iron Cross buttonhole ribbon which signifies heroic action in the war.

I wrote an article, “Family Stories of Long Ago” which appeared in the April-May issue of Bookwomen. The article is posted on my website. In it I describe my immersion in 2016 reading about the Holocaust. Until then, I had consciously avoided anything related to it. I didn’t read any of the copious literature about it, or see films depicting it. But I couldn’t avoid thinking about it once I realized that many of my father’s family—my aunts, uncles, and cousins—were murdered in Auschwitz and other death camps. I learned their stories over the last twenty years during visits with my Dutch cousins as we traveled to sites relevant to their stories. Thoughts about my relatives’ fate during World War II had haunted me as a child and into my adult years. Now I wanted to know more as I delved into reading books about those dark years.

My grandmother Pauline’s face looks out from the page on which the article appears. The editor had found her photo in the family gallery of my website, I want to write about her in this blog entry. To me, she is a remarkable woman who lived a very long life in spite of great difficulties and hardships. However, I can’t help but wonder about her relationship with my father and her other children. She died in Dortmund, Germany in 1933, at the age of 87. So she did not have to experience the horrors of what many of her sons and their families went through.

We know that she was born one of a set of twins, in Plettenberg, Germany, October 16, 1847. She and her twin sister named Bertha were the first born daughters of Issac Lennhofff and Friederike Lennenberg. By 1858, the family had grown to include six children, three girls and three boys.

Pauline’s father, Issac, played a distinguished role in the Plettenberg synagogue because he was a Kohen. The term “Kohen” refers to a priest of direct patrilineal descent from Aaron, brother of Moses. His grave site was discovered by my cousin, John Löwenhardt in the Netherlands. He visited the small Jewish cemetery in Plettenberg and found his gravestone there. The German text on his stone reads, “Here rests in the peace of God ISAK LENNHOFF, born in November 1817, died 1 March 1863, Rest gently and without worries, until the morning of resurrection.”

From this we can surmise that Pauline’s mother became a widow when her youngest child was just six years old. Pauline and her twin sister, Bertha, would have been sixteen years old and thus of an age to help with caring for the younger children and carrying out household duties.

Eleven years later, Pauline married Levi Löwenhardt on September 3,1872. Over the next twenty years she bore twelve children—nine boys and three girls. The family lived in Oberhemer, a small town near Dortmund. However, something happened to Levi around 1900, when Pauline’s youngest son, Herman (my father), was about seven years old. The town records of Oberhemer show her listed as a widow in 1903, and she moved back to Plettenberg at that time. The travails she experienced as a teenager were now being repeated in her own life as a mother with many children and no husband to help.

Records show that Herman, born 1892, and the next two older brothers, born 1887 and 1889, were admitted to Paderborn Jewish Orphanage. Herman went there in 1900 at age seven, and earlier, his two brothers, Julius and Siegmund had also been sent there. The children could stay there until age fourteen; however, they may have had some continued support in finding places to live and work.

It is difficult to imagine what Pauline’s life was like with continued child-bearing over almost two decades and then to lose her husband while still caring for young children. In the mid 1800s homes lacked many conveniences we take for granted today, such as indoor plumbing and electricity.

The three youngest boys, though not technically orphans, were taken from home and placed in the Paderborn Jewish Orphanage. When they left the orphanage, they did not return to Oberhemer, but went to other towns. My father, Hermann, left Paderborn at age 14 and went to Stadhagen. Pauline’s older children would have been old enough to assist her. Presumably, some were working and able to help financially and in other ways.

Before I learned anything about the life of my father’s family, I remember asking him what he remembered about his childhood. This would have been when I was first married and caring for my young children. He lived with us and though I asked the question many times and in different ways, he always answered the same way: “I was the youngest of twelve children and was raised in an orphanage.” That was all he would say about his childhood. It didn't matter that the photo collage of Pauline and her nine sons in their military uniforms show her to be well into her seventh or eighth decade. This was a picture I was familiar with from childhood on and only one of the many mysteries that perplexed me. Only much later would I finally understand why he went to an orphanage even though his mother was alive.

Later, Pauline moved to Dortmund, where many of her sons and daughters lived. In 1917 a Dortmund newspaper proclaimed her a “heroine-mother” because all nine sons had fought in World War I. The German emperor awarded her 200 Deutsche Mark, the currency of Germany at that time.

According to research done by my cousin, John Löwenhardt, on the size of German families before the 1870s, Jewish and non-Jewish families in Oberhemer had on average two to five children. But after the German unification in 1870, family size in the region became much larger. Levi and Pauline shared the top position in the small community of Oberhemer with the Baruch Blumenthal family, who also had twelve children.

Pauline’s grave in the Jewish cemetery of Dortmund-Wambel was discovered in 2010 by Magdalena Strugholz, one of a small group of volunteers researching our family history as well as others. Such research, done by German citizens, is done to assist in the placing of brass engraved stones in front of houses of those who were taken by the Nazis to death camps. The Stolpersteine,, commemorate the lives of those murdered in the Holocaust.

I tell the story of my memorable visit to Dortmund in 2011 in one of the final chapters of my memoir. Pauline’s grave stone is shattered in places with bullet and shell holes from the war. Though the day was cold and rainy, I wanted to hold tightly to that moment. It was my first time to set foot in Germany, the country my parents had come from, and now I walked with my cousin Louise in a small Jewish cemetery where my grandmother Pauline is buried. The writing on her stone is still visible.

Witwe—Pauline Loewenhardt, geboren 16 Oktober, 1847 und gestorben 3, Kann,1933. Kann see in Freiheit ruhen.

In English it reads: Widow—Pauline Loewenhardt, Born October 16,1847 and died May 3,1933. May she rest in freedom

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