Jüdische Pflege- geschichte

Jewish Nursing History

Biographien und Institutionen in Frankfurt am Main

Rahel Seckbach - Foto

„Skills, Devotion and Great Kindness of Heart” – Rahel (Spiero) Seckbach, Matron of Gumpertz´ Infirmary

The predecessor: Matron Thekla (Mandel) Isaacsohn
The “Hausstandsbuch” [record kept by the local police stations that listed Frankfurt´s residents sorted by street and house number] for 62-64 Röderbergweg (main location of Gumpertz´ infirmary) has not been found yet so that, correspondingly, there is not much data available for the nursing staff and other employees in the home like the nurse Paula Ring and the domestic servant Rachel Kaplan. However, additional information can be gained from the “Hausstandsbücher” of the hospital of the Jewish community (on Gagernstrasse) and the Jewish nurse association (on Bornheimer Landwehr) as well as the accountability reports (cp. e.g. Jewish nurse association Ffm 1920) and the annual reports (cp. Steppe 1997: 330-333) of the nurse association. From such archival sources we have found the names of the two Gumpertz´ matrons: Thekla Mandel (from 1893/94 until 1907) and Rahel Spiero (from 1907 until 1941). Like other Jewish women across the entire empire, they traveled with high motivation to the Jewish nursing metropolis of Frankfurt am Main, in order to receive professional training with a future.
Matron Thekla Mandel (later married Isaacsohn), the predecessor of Rahel Spiero, was born in Lippstadt, Westphalia, on July 22, 1867. As the co-foundress of the association for Jewish nurses of Frankfurt am Main that had been founded in 1893, she was well acquainted with Dr. Alfred Günzburg, senior doctor of Gumpertz´ infirmary and fellow campaigner for professional and distinguished Jewish nursing. Around 1894 she started to build up nursing at the former site of the infirmary, at 75 Ostendstrasse, but retired from nurse service in 1907 due to her marriage. Later she returned to the nursing profession and acted as the head of a convalesent home for Jewish women in Baden-Baden founded by Mathilde von Rothschild. Thekla Isaacsohn was among the victims whose deportation to the camp Gurs in the south of France was disguised as the “expulsion” of Jews from Baden and Saarland-Palatinate on October 22, 1940. There she died over 70 years of age on May 3, 1941.

Family Background

Map: Prostken (Ermland-Masuren), Birth region of Rahel Seckbach) / Map of Poland: Wojwodschaft Ermland-Masuren.
Prostken (Ermland-Masuren), Birth region of Rahel Seckbach) / Map of Poland: Wojwodschaft Ermland-Masuren

Frankfurt´s Jewish nurse association sent Rahel Spiero (later married Seckbach) to Gumpertz´ infirmary in 1907as successor for matron Thekla:; she wasin her earlier 30’s and an experienced nurse, having worked at hospital for seven years after completing her training and had offered private care in Frankfurt and Hamburg. She came from East Prussia (cp. with regard to the local history Brocke et al. (Hg.) 2000): She was born in Prostken (today´s Prostki, Poland) near the former German-Russian boarder on October 23, 1876 and belonged to the far-flung Spiero family group (also: Spiro, Spira, Shapiro, Schapira, obviously named after the Upper-Rhine city Speyer, Latin: Spira) with respected rabbis and scholars. In addition to her brother Oskar L. Spiero she had three younger sisters: Minna (Wilhelmine) Spiero (born in 1878), Rosa (Rosalie) Spiero (born in 1885), senior nurse at the hospital of the Jewish Frankfurt am Main community, and Ida Spiero (born in 1886), a professional teacher. They remained unmarried, probably because of the lack of suitable Jewish candidates for marriage. Rahel also married late in life. She was the only one who had a Jewish name (after the biblical matriarch Rachel) while the given names of her siblings already reflect the progressive acculturation of the German-Jewish minority to the majority of the Prussian-dominated society. Like other matrons (e.g. Julie Glaser) Rahel as the oldest of several siblings was early in charge of her family and thus trained her organizational skills which benefited her nursing career.

Matron at Gumpertz´ Infirmary
Only one year after Rahel had joined Gumpertz´ Infirmary, the board was very pleased: “To everyone´s satisfaction, the new matron, sister Rahel, has become accustomed to her new, broad and responsible field of duties. We sincerely thank her for the loving way in which she fulfills her duties” (Gumpertz´ infirmary 1909: 5). Rahel was in charge of the newly erected large villa of the Minka von Goldschmidt-Rothschild Foundation (front house, initially 60 beds) as well as the older rear building (about 20 beds) at 62-64 Röderbergweg. Furthermore, she sustained the operation of care services at Gumpertz´ military hospital for wounded soldiers in the front house during World War I and was cooperated closely with the administrator Hermann Seckbach. For eleven years they worked side by side at the same place for the weakest in society and proved themselves as indispensable supports of the nursing home, before they became a couple through coping with war nursing. Matron Rahel Spiero was already 42 years old whe she married Hermann Seckbach in March 7th, 1919 – to the great joy of the complete infirmary. Their daughter Ruth Rosalie was born on December 15, 1919.
Before she got married, Rahel Seckbach was a member of the association for Jewish nurses of Frankfurt am Main, which had sent her as matron to Gumpertz´ infirmary. A corresponding contract between the association and the infirmary existed. Although the statutes did not contain any associated regulations, Rahel left the association after almost 20 years of service and apparently followed an unwritten law:
“Sister Rahel has […] took up the matron job at Gumpertz´ infirmary in 1907. In this difficult job at the head of a large establishment with quite difficult tasks she earned the high recognition and deep appreciation of the administration, physicians and patients through her performance of leadership in administration and nursing with skill, a sense of duty and great kindness of heart., thereby earning great merit. In December 1918, she decided to leave our association in order to enter into marriage” (association for Jewish nurses Ffm 1920: 60 et seq. [emphasis in original]). The infirmary did not ask the association for a successor to the married matron, but “dispensed with renewing its contract with us and engaged the proven employee as administrator by itself” (ibid page 70). Rahel Seckbach continued to stay in this official position – rather unusual for married nurses of her time.: “The wife of the administrator assisted as the infirmary´s matron in operations. She still holds this position in both houses (Cohn-Neßler 1920, page 174).
Stress and exhaustion in long-term care workers looking after incurable and severely disabled (cp. e.g. Lubkin 2002; Schmidt 2004) patients were issues which were less discussed than they are today. However, it can be assumed that matron Rahel, who married into the Seckbach family which wasknown for its piousness (cp. Klamroth 2006) and who herself had grown up with close ties to the traditional East European Judaism, “where the spirit of the Jewish doctrine fills people completely” (Seckbach 1918: 19), drew her motivation and energy to help from the healing powers of Jewish social ethics. Bikkur Cholim (hospital visit, nursing) and Gemilut Chasadim (charity, solidarity) were religious duties (Mitzvah), without “forgetting” oneself: “Operating in the service of charity is one of the highest ideals of Judaism”, wrote Hermann Seckbach, who was also an author.(1918b: 403).

Probation in the Nazi era
For more than three decades “Sister Rahel”, as she was respectfully and lovingly called, designed and mastered the care at the main location at 62-64 Röderbergweg as matron: initially in both houses, since the late 1920s after the renting of the front house to the City of Frankfurt, only in the smaller “rear building”. Right after the NS-seizure of power in 1933, she got “well-known” national socialists who quartered in the “front house” as unpleasant neighbors. Matron Rahel’s sisters Minna and Ida Spiero also found accommodation in the „rear building“ (now under the address ‚Danziger Platz 15‘) and probably supported her in her nursing tasks, which had been made more difficult by NS-reprisals (cp. ISG Ffm: “Hausstandsbücher” [records kept by the local police stations that listed Frankfurt´s residents sorted by street and house number] 36 Gagernstrasse: Sign. 687 (part 2)).
Rahel´s husband Hermann Seckbach lost his job for life as administrator by the de facto dissolution of Gumpertz´ infirmary. After the November pogrom he was probably – like many other male Jewish fellow sufferers – temporarily held in a concentration camp. On March 7, 1939, he fled to England. Their daughter Ruth Seckbach had either left Nazi Germany before or accompanied her father into exile where she later worked as a teacher. She put her experiences as an “enemy alien” in England during the Second Wald War in writing (cp. http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/webarchive/, also see https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/38179/page/433, calls on October 24, 2017).

Photo of Matron Rahel Seckbach, November 19th, 1940.
Photo of Matron Rahel Seckbach, November 19th, 1940
© Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv Wiesbaden (Hesse / Germany)

It was probably planned that Rahel Seckbach should follow her family, which adverse circumstances, especially the beginning of the war in September 1939, prevented. After the house at 15 Danziger Platz had been forcibly evicted on April 7, 1942, Rahel accompanied about 40 residents of Gumpertz´ infirmary to her former workplace, which was then the last Jewish hospital on Gagernstrasse in Frankfurt. There she provided hospice care, since many of her patients succumbed to the stresses and strains of the forced location change. Rahel´s sister and colleague Rosa Spiero, a longtime head nurse in hospital, fled to New York just in time on March 24, 1941; she, worked there as a nurse into old age.

Imprisonment in Concentration Camp and Rescue

Seckbach, Rahel / Death announcement.
Seckbach, Rahel / Death announcement
Aufbau 15 (16.09.1949) 37, S. 30

On August 18, 1942, Rahel Seckbach was deported along with her sisters Minna and Ida Spiero to Theresienstadt ghetto and transit camp. Some of her patients like Siegmund Keller as well as many other nurses, residents and patients (cp. the article to Karl Falkenstein) from the destroyed Jewish care institutions in Frankfurt were on the same transport. Matron Rahel was imprisoned in Theresienstadt for almost 2 ½ years. Her unflagging concern for the needy kept her alive. In 1944, her youngest sister Ida Spiero was deported from Theresienstadt to Auschwitz, where she was very likely murdered.
Rahel Seckbach and her sister Minna Spiero were rescued unexpectedly (see USHMM Database): On February 5, 1945, they got away in an emergency transport which had been permitted by Himmler for tactical reasons from Theresienstadt to Switzerland (St. Gallen). It was the only one, since Hitler himself forbade further transports (see Adler 2012; Flügge 2004). After recovering to some extent, Rahel could finally leave together with Minna to oin her husband and daughter in England. She remained weakened due to her imprisonment, but still spent four years with her husband in exile. Rahel Seckbach died in Manchester at age 72 on September 4, 1949. A former fellow inmate, Dr. Leoplod Neuhaus, who was the first rabbi of Frankfurt´s Jewish post-war community who emigrated to Detroit in 1946, published an emotional obituary: “What this wonderful woman as the long-standing head of Frankfurt´s Jewish infirmary has achieved is known to all Frankfurt people [of the Jewish community, B.S.]. She has cared for the poorest of the poor and the helpless residents of the infirmary, who had been bed-ridden for years, in a way that she can be called an angel in human form. […] It reached the point that she even wrested respect from the ogres of the Gestapo. And when she, despite all, had to leave the infirmary with the Gestapo, she went with her patients to Theresienstadt concentration camp and worked there for them for almost three years as devotedly as she did before in better times. The little room on Jägerstrasse in Theresienstadt was “crowded” by people from morning to night […], and the ghetto praised her performance, the work of “Sister Rahel” “ (Neuhaus 1949).

Birgit Seemann, 2013, updated 2018
(Translated by Yvonne Ford)

Unpublished sources

ISG Ffm: Institut für Stadtgeschichte Frankfurt am Main:

Hausstandsbücher Gagernstraße 36: Sign. 686 (Teil 1); Sign. 687 (Teil 2)

Hausstandsbuch Bornheimer Landwehr 85: Sign. 655


StAFreiburg: Landesarchiv Baden-Württemberg: Abteilung Staatsarchiv Freiburg

Bestand F 196/1 Nr. 5886: Personalakte (Entschädigungsakte) Isaacsohn, Thekla

Selected literature

Adler, H.[ans] G.[ünther] 2012: Theresienstadt. 1941–1945. Das Antlitz einer Zwangsgemeinschaft. Mit e. Nachw. v. Jeremy Adler. 2. Aufl. Reprint d. Ausg. Tübingen 1960, 2. Aufl. Darmstadt.

Brocke, Michael [u.a.] (Hg.) 2000: Zur Geschichte und Kultur der Juden in Ost- und Westpreußen. Hildesheim [u.a.].

Cohn-Neßler, Fanny 1920: Das Frankfurter Siechenhaus. Die Minka-von-Goldschmidt-Rothschild-Stiftung. In: Allgemeine Zeitung des Judentums 1920, H. 16 (16.04.1920), S. 174-175. Digitale Ausg.: http://www.compactmemory.de.

Flügge, Manfred 2004: Rettung ohne Retter oder: ein Zug aus Theresienstadt. München.

GumpSiechenhaus 1909: Sechzehnter Rechenschaftsbericht des Vereins „Gumpertz`sches Siechenhaus“ in Frankfurt a.M. für das Jahr 1908. Frankfurt/M.: Slobotzky.

GumpSiechenhaus 1913ff.: Rechenschaftsbericht des Vereins „Gumpertz`sches Siechenhaus“ und der „Minka von Goldschmidt-Rothschild-Stiftung“. Frankfurt/M.: Slobotzky, 1913ff. Online-Ausg.: Frankfurt/M.: Univ.-Bibliothek Frankfurt/M., 2011: http://nbn-resolving.de/urn:nbn:de:hebis:30:1-306391.

Jüdischer Schwesternverein Ffm 1920: Verein für jüdische Krankenpflegerinnen zu Frankfurt a.M.: Rechenschaftsbericht 1913 bis 1919. Frankfurt/M.

Kingreen, Monica (Hg.) 1999: „Nach der Kristallnacht“. Jüdisches Leben und antijüdische Politik in Frankfurt am Main 1938-1945 Frankfurt/M., New York., S. 119-155.

Klamroth, Sabine 2006: Die Mayers – die Halberstadts – die Bachs – die Seckbachs. In: dies.: „Erst wenn der Mond bei Seckbachs steht“. Juden im alten Halberstadt. Halle, S. 122-133.

Lubkin, Ilene Morof 2002: Chronisch Kranksein. Implikationen und Interventionen für Pflege- und Gesundheitsberufe. Unter Mitarb. v. Pamala D. Larsen. Aus d. Amerikan. v. Silvia Mecke. Bearb. v. Rudolf Müller. Dt.-sprach. Ausg. hg. v. Regina Lorenz-Krause u. Hanne Niemann. Bern [u.a.].

Neuhaus, Leopold 1949: [Nachruf auf Rahel Seckbach]. In: Aufbau 15 (23.09.1949) 38, S. 41 [siehe auch Todesanzeige in: Aufbau 15 (16.09.1949) 37, S. 30].

Schmidt, Brinja 2015: Burnout in der Pflege. Risikofaktoren – Hintergründe – Selbsteinschätzung. 2., erw. u. überarb. Aufl. Stuttgart.

Seckbach, Hermann 1918: Das Glück im Hause des Leids. Skizzen aus einem Krankenhaus und Lazarett in der Kriegszeit. Frankfurt/M. = Kriegsschrift der Agudas Jisroel Jugendorganisation; 4.

Seemann, Birgit 2014: „Glück im Hause des Leids“. Jüdische Pflegegeschichte am Beispiel des Gumpertz’schen Siechenhauses (1888-1941) in Frankfurt/Main. In: Geschichte der Pflege. Das Journal für historische Forschung der Pflege- und Gesundheitsberufe 3 (2014) 2, S. 38-50

Seemann, Birgit 2017: Judentum und Pflege: Zur Sozialgeschichte des orthodox-jüdischen Gumpertz’schen Siechenhauses in Frankfurt am Main (1888–1941). In: Nolte, Karin/ Vanja, Christina/ Bruns, Florian/ Dross, Fritz (Hg.): Geschichte der Pflege im Krankenhaus. Historia Hospitalium. Jahrbuch der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Krankenhausgeschichte, Band 30. Berlin, S. 13-40

Seemann, Birgit 2018: Seckbach (geborene Spiero), Rahel Sara (1876–1949). In: Kolling, Hubert (Hg.): Biographisches Lexikon zur Pflegegeschichte. Band 8. Nidda, S. 258- 262

Steppe, Hilde 1997: „… den Kranken zum Troste und dem Judenthum zur Ehre …“. Zur Geschichte der jüdischen Krankenpflege in Deutschland. Frankfurt/M.

Selection of internet sources (24.10.2017)

JM Ffm: Jüdisches Museum und Museum Judengasse Frankfurt am Main (mit der internen biographischen Datenbank der Gedenkstätte Neuer Börneplatz): http://www.juedischesmuseum.de.

Theresienstädter Initiative: Institut Terezínské iniciativy: Datenbank der Holocaust-Opfer: http://www.holocaust.cz/en/database-of-victims/

USHMM Database: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum: Holocaust Survivors and Victims Database: https://www.ushmm.org/remember/the-holocaust-survivors-and-victims-resource-center

Julie Glaser (1878 – 1941 deported)

Matron of the hospital of the Jewish Frankfurt am Main community

…for the comfort of the sick and to the glory of Judaism…”

– as long-standing matron of Frankfurt´s Jewish hospital on Gagernstrasse Julie Glaser matched her action to the mission statement of Jewish nursing (cf. Feldmann 1901).

This article is the first biographical report about Julie Glaser; it is to be continued.


Julie Glaser was born in the Bavarian-Franconian diocesan city of Würzburg on October 7th, 1878 (1877 according to Strätz 1989, page 193). She was part of the Jewish minority, but also influenced by the Catholic milieu in which she grew up.
Both of her parents came from lower and middle Franconian Judaism of Bavaria. The father Max (Marx) Glaser, a tradesman, was born in Thüngen on April 4th, 1844. Due to the high percentage of Jews in its population, the small village in the Spessart region belonged to the so-called “Jewish villages”: The biggest Jewish synagogue community of today´s Main-Spessart district lived and worked in Thüngen until its extermination in 1942. Max Glaser moved with his parents, Babette Glaser née Amson and the tradesman Jakob Glaser, to Würzburg, got the right of domicile in 1874 and the rights of citizenship in 1892. He ran a wine wholesale business for many years and was last the owner of a real estate agency. Being resident at former Haugerring 14 (today about Haugerring 7) he died in Würzburg on 3rd or 4th July, 1909 (Strätz 1989, page 193).
Julie Glaser´s mother Rosa Glaser née Regensburger was born in Feuchtwangen on March 13th, 1851. Since the 13th century Jews were residents of the middle Franconian small town, among them ancestors of the well-known writer Lion Feuchtwanger. Later, Rosa Glaser lived together with her parents, Clara Regensburger née Cohn and the leather trader Nathan Regensburger, in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, which also has a rich Jewish history. There she married Max Glaser in 1874 and moved with him to Würzburg. Beyond this, it is only known of Julie Glaser´s mother, widow since 1909, that she either moved away or died in 1930 (Strätz 1989, page 193).

Family history

Julie Glaser was the third child and the first daughter of Rosa and Max Glaser. She had two older and four younger siblings. The eldest brother, Adolf Glaser, was born in Würzburg on 12th March 12th, 1875. After having completed his medical studies he started to practice as a physician in Mannheim and as a ship´s doctor. He died in Straßburg (Elsass, France) on July 10th, 1914. Julie Glaser´s younger brother Jakob Glaser was born in Würzburg on October 16th, 1881. He already died presumably in Neuendettelsau (Middle Franconia, Bavaria) in October 1900.

Leo Glaser
A distinguished career was made by Julie Glaser´s second brother, the chemist, pharmacist, businessman and politician Dr. phil. Leo Glaser, born in Würzburg on May 28th, 1876. After having completed his studies in Würzburg, he earned his doctorate in 1901 under Prof. Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen, discoverer of X-rays and first Nobel Prize winner for physics. Leo Glaser combined scientific skills with entrepreneurial cleverness. Soon it took him from Bavaria to today´s Bad Doberan near Rostock (Mecklenburg-West Pomerania): There the entrepreneur, newspaper publisher and retired city councilor Reinhold Rudloff transferred the professional management of Haliflor-Company GmbH, a “thriving chemical factory for perfumeries and cosmetics” (Palme 2002, page 147), to him. When Reinhold Rudloff died in 1904, Leo Glaser became facility manager and by marriage with the daughter Elsa Bitt née Rudloff (1873-1947) also officially his successor in the company in 1906. Elsa Glaser brought two daughters into the marriage: the later well-known Rostock painter Kate Diehn-Bitt (1900-1978) and her older sister Annemarie. Leo Glaser and she had a daughter, Lili, (born on November 29th, 1910 in Doberan), who was Julie Glaser´s niece. Leo Glaser increased the know-how of Haliflor (to which also belonged a Cognac store) and continued to build up the international business relationships. He officiated as president of the Mecklenburg Chamber of Commerce in Rostock from 1924 to 1928; the Rostock university appointed him as an honorary member. Also politically engaged, Leo Glaser was one of the co-founders of the German Democratic Party in Mecklenburg in 1919. His various merits were forgotten in the Nazi era (cf. the informative dissertation Leimkugel 1999 on the lives of further chemists and pharmacists who were persecuted under anti-Semitic measures.) In 1938 Julie Glaser´s brother was temporarily imprisoned; his company fell into the hands of the Nazis. From 1935 until the end of the war in 1945 the Glaser couple lived in very humble circumstances, isolated from its non-Jewish relatives and friends, even from Elsa Glaser´s daughters Annemarie and Käthe in order not to endanger them. Leo Glaser could only escape the deportations since his non-Jewish wife stood by him. His as “half-Jewish” persecuted daughter Lili Hahn née Glaser emigrated, together with her husband, to the USA in 1941. Her non-Jewish half-sister, the artist Käthe Diehn-Bitt, recorded the humiliations, threats and destructions of the Nazi era in impressive “concentration camp pictures” (see Palme 2002). After the end of the war, the Soviet authorities appointed Leo Glaser to head the Finance Office, but at the same time he helped to build up the Liberal Democratic Party of Germany (LDPD ) in Mecklenburg. Since he did not see any democratic future in the Soviet Occupation Zone, Leo Glaser gave up the office as councilor for finances which he had taken as a member of the LDPD in 1946. After his wife´s death, he emigrated in 1947 to live with his daughter Lili in New York, where he died on 27th or 28th June 1950. Lili Hahn, née Glaser, from a solid middle class home, earned her living in exile temporarily as a dental assistant. She was the last surviving member of the Glaser family.

Emma, Cilli and Ida Glaser
Julie Glaser shared a particularly close relationship with her younger sisters Emma and Cilli Glaser. Contrary to the conservative marriage and maternity model which dominated until the 1960´s, all three remained unmarried and worked in professions: Julie Glaser became a nurse. Emma Glaser, born on September 10th, 1880, practiced as a dentist (dentist without any university exam, with state training course and health insurance license) in Würzburg. Cilli Glaser, born on February 11th, 1883, was a qualified secretary and worked as an employee with the Christian Würzburg Luitpold Hospital as well as a private secretary. She went to Munich in 1934. The youngest of the four sisters, Ida Glaser, born on September 25th, 1884, was employed as an accountant and a bank clerk. There were also close connections with her: Like Julie Glaser, Ida Glaser did war service as a nurse during the First World War; since 1927 she also lived in Frankfurt am Main. Her niece Lili Hahn assumed that she also remained unmarried und died prior to the deportations.

The way to becoming a matron

In her childhood and adolescence Julie Glaser was already formed and biographically prepared for a leading position in nursing management or as a hospital matron. She did not grow up in the lower middle class like most of the persons who performed nursing, but came from the middle class. The experiences she had had as a member of the long-discriminated Jewish minority intensified her efforts to achieve something really great. The two older brothers studied and all four sisters learned a profession, which could not be taken for granted by women in the German Empire. By caring for four younger siblings, including the apparently ailing young brother, who died early, Julie Glaser developed her sense of responsibility and organizational talent.

Julie Glaser did not participate in any training on the job at a Christian hospital, but went to Frankfurt am Main, where an association for Jewish nurses had been founded in 1893, the first in the German Empire. A baptism, which would have made the admission to a Catholic or Protestant nurse association possible, was out of the question for her. The reason why Julie Glaser did only a shortened nurse training at the hospital of the Jewish community on Königswarterstrasse 26 (“Königswarter Hospital”) in 1900 (cp. Steppe 1997, page 227), is unknown. After that she continued to work at the hospital as well as in nursing. In 1911 Julie Glaser rose to be the matron of the Straßburg Jewish hospital in Alsace (today´s Clinique Adassa, Alsace / France), whose nursing service was provided by the Frankfurt association of Jewish nurses. Certainly, she had contact with her eldest brother, the ship´s doctor Adolf Glaser, who died in Straßburg at just 39 years in 1914.

War nursing
At the beginning of the First World War in August 1914 patients left the Straßburg Jewish hospital for fear of occupation by French troops. However, Julie Glaser and her team of nurses – Blondine Brück, Jenny Cahn, Gertrud Glaser, Ricka Levy, Bella Peritz and Rahel (Recha) Wieseneck – made themselves immediately available to the military authorities for the care of the wounded. As a military hospital matron, Julie Glaser changed from the Jewish hospital to the fortress hospital XXIIB, a former Lyceum, from where she organized war nursing: “This military hospital in Straßburg will soon become the main prison hospital for wounded from France, Russia, Italy, Romania, England and America und remained until November 1918” (Steppe 1997, page 217). About this Julie Glaser noted: “We worked, operated and dressed feverishly; on the average we had four to five hours sleep. […] While dressing in the operating room you could do the most interesting studies of people […] (quoted from statements of accounts 1920, page 39). In November 1918 she returned together with her loyal colleagues to Frankfurt´s Jewish hospital.

About 1925 Julie Glaser followed the retired Minna Hirsch as matron of the hospital of the Frankfurt Jewish community (Wolff 2001, page 100); her colleague Sara Adelsheimer became matron of the sisterhood of the Frankfurt association for Jewish nurses. After Sara Adelsheimer had emigrated during the Nazi-era, Julie Glaser also directed the nursing home as matron. At Frankfurt´s Jewish hospital she was one of the longest-serving nurses. Also due to her leading position and the resulting influence she had on nursing, her biography and the institutional history of the hospital are closely linked; she did not live to see its forced closing by the National Socialists. Two years before Julie Glaser had been recognized in the Jewish Bulletin on the occasion of her 40th anniversary of service as follows: “On August 15th, 1900, “Nurse Julie” started to serve as a nurse; for many years she has now been the honorable matron Julie Sara [sic!] Glaser of the hospital of the Jewish community and matron of the nurses home from which she once came as a young nurse herself. She has been serving for 40 years now, and this for many years in leading and executive positions. She has introduced innumerable young nurses in the nursing home to their duties and skills and guided them to the same high and serious attitude towards the profession that lives within her.” (Wertheimer 1940). The article is from the Frankfurt Jewish educationalist and author Dr. Martha Wertheimer (born 1890); she was deported to the Sobibor death camp in 1942.

NS period and deportation

The anti-Semitic persecution during the NS period increasingly threatened Emma Glaser´s existence as a freelance dentist in Würzburg. In 1934 she left her native town and moved to Julie Glaser to Frankfurt, whose job was initially secured. It is still unknown when Cilli Glaser, who had probably been ousted from a non-Jewish post, arrived in Frankfurt. She found a job as an office worker at Frankfurt´s Jewish hospital. The three sisters were reunited and could stand by each other; none of them emigrated. In 1941 – the year of their deportation – Julie, Emma and Cilli Glaser lived at Gärtnerweg 55. According to the transport list of the Gestapo area Frankfurt am Main they were deported to the Litzmannstadt ghetto (Lodz, Poland). Julie Glaser´s colleagues, as well as Ilse Frohmann, were transported together with them. In the hell of Lodz their traces of life get lost; maybe the three sisters went on their final journey to an extermination camp together. Apart from them, 16 further relatives of the Glaser family were murdered (Palme 2002, page 186 Fn 100). At the time of their deportation Julie Glaser was 63, Emma Glaser 61 and Cilli Glaser 58 years old. They are among the victims of the Shoah who left no direct descendants and are now forgotten.

Judaism and memory work in Würzburg At least since the 12th century Jews had been living in Würzburg. A Jewish community, rich in tradition, had emerged out of which came personalities such as Rabbi Seligmann Bär Bamberger (great grandfather of the social philosopher Erich Fromm), the psychoanalyst William G. Niederland, the lyricist Yehuda Amichai or the young poetess Marianne Dora Rein. After the Shoah a diversely active Jewish synagogue community could develop in Julie Glaser´s native town again. It was brought into being by 21 surviving returnees from Theresienstadt and 38 displaced persons from other European countries. Thanks to the Jewish migration from Eastern Europe in the 1990s it now consists of about 1,100 members (as of 2008). In 1970 the new Würzburg synagogue was opened. Another milestone was the inauguration of the modern community and culture center “Shalom Europe ” on October 23rd, 2006 (1. Cheschwan 5767). The website www.shalomeuropa.de of the Würzburg Jewish community and Lower Franconia provides detailed information about Würzburg Jewish history.

Memory work is also done by the project Biographische Datenbank Jüdisches Unterfranken, the memorial initiative “stumbling blocks ”, the “registered association for Christian-Jewish cooperation in Würzburg and Lower Franconia ” as well as by the journalist Roland Flade in the journalistic field. Much information with regard to Jewish Würzburg people were collected in a two-volume biographical handbook of the Würzburg city archives (cf. Strätz 1989). That was how a lot could be found out about Julie Glaser and her family history.

Birgit Seemann, 2010, updated 2018
(Translated by Yvonne Ford)


Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv Wiesbaden: Entschädigungsakte Abt. 518 Nr. 8914

References [24.10.2017]

Alicke, Klaus-Dieter 2008: Lexikon der jüdischen Gemeinden im deutschen Sprachraum. 3 Bde [Bd. 3 mit Würzburg] Gütersloh

Andernacht, Dietrich/ Sterling, Eleonore (Bearb.) 1963: Dokumente zur Geschichte der Frankfurter Juden 1933–1945. Hg. von d. Kommission zur Erforschung der Geschichte der Frankfurter Juden. Frankfurt/M.

Daxelmüller, Christoph/ Flade, Roland 2005: Ruth hat auf einer schwarzen Flöte gespielt. Geschichte, Alltag und Kultur der Juden in Würzburg. Hg. v. Klaus M. Höynck. Würzburg

Feldmann, Gustav 1901: Jüdische Krankenpflegerinnen. Kassel

Kingreen, Monica 1999: Gewaltsam verschleppt aus Frankfurt. Die Deportationen der Juden in den Jahren 1941-1945. In: dies. (Hg.): „Nach der Kristallnacht“. Jüdisches Leben und antijüdische Politik in Frankfurt am Main 1938 – 1945. Frankfurt/M., S. 357-402

Leimkugel, Frank 1999: Wege jüdischer Apotheker. Emanzipation, Emigration, Restitution. Die Geschichte deutscher und österreichisch-ungarischer Pharmazeuten. 2., erw. Aufl. Eschborn

Löw, Andrea 2006: Juden im Getto Litzmannstadt. Lebensbedingungen, Selbstwahrnehmung, Verhalten. Göttingen = Schriftenreihe zur Lodzer Getto-Chronik

Loewy, Hanno/ Schoenberner, Gerhard (Red.) 1990: Das Getto in Lodz. 1940 – 1944. [Ausstellungskatalog in Zusammenarbeit mit der Gedenkstätte Yad Vashem.] Hg.: Jüdisches Museum der Stadt Frankfurt am Main. Wien

Palme, Peter 2002: Kate Diehn-Bitt. 1900-1978. Leben und Werk. Berlin

Seemann, Birgit 2018: Glaser, Julie (1878–1941). In: Kolling, Hubert (Hg.): Biographisches Lexikon zur Pflegegeschichte. Band 8. Nidda, S. 80-82

Steppe, Hilde 1997: „… den Kranken zum Troste und dem Judenthum zur Ehre …“. Zur Geschichte der jüdischen Krankenpflege in Deutschland. Frankfurt/M.

Strätz, Reiner 1989: Biographisches Handbuch Würzburger Juden. 1900 – 1945. Mit einer wissenschaftlichen Einleitung von Herbert A. Strauss. Würzburg, 2 Teilbände

Verein für jüdische Krankenpflegerinnen zu Frankfurt am Main 1920: Rechenschaftsbericht für die Jahre 1913 bis 1919. Frankfurt/M. (zitiert als Rechenschaftsbericht).

Wertheimer, Martha 1940: 40 Jahre Krankenschwester. In: Jüdisches Nachrichtenblatt. Ausg. Berlin, 1940, Nr. 66 (16.08.1940), S. 4, Sp. c, online abrufbar unter: http://www.digitalisiertedrucke.de/record/84252

Wolff, Horst-Peter (Hg.) 2001: Biographisches Lexikon zur Pflegegeschichte. Who was who in nursing history. Bd. 2. Unter Mitarb. v. Gabriele Dorffner [u.a.]. München

 Internet sources [24.07.2017]

Biographische Datenbank Jüdisches Unterfranken: https://juedisches-unterfranken.de/
Bundesarchiv Koblenz: Online-Gedenkbuch: Opfer der Verfolgung der Juden unter der nationalsozialistischen Gewaltherrschaft in Deutschland 1933 – 1945: www.bundesarchiv.de/gedenkbuch/directory.html
Clinique Adassa (Israelitisches Krankenhaus Straßburg ): https://www.clinique-rhena.fr/fr (Rhéna Clinique de Strasbourg)

Gedenkstätte Yad Vashem, Jerusalem (Online-Datenbank): The Central Database of Shoah Victims´ Names: http://www.yadvashem.org/

Ghetto Lodz / Litzmannstadt: https://www.dhm.de/lemo/kapitel/zweiter-weltkrieg/holocaust/lodz

Israelitische Gemeinde Würzburg: www.shalomeuropa.de

Leo Glaser: www.juden-in-rostock.de

Museum Judengasse Frankfurt am Main: Datenbank Gedenkstätte Neuer Börneplatz: http://www.museumjudengasse.de/de/home/

„Stolpersteine“ (Gedenkinitiative): www.stolpersteine.com; www.stolpersteine-frankfurt.de; www.stolpersteine-wuerzburg.de

Feuchtwangen (Landkreis Ansbach) / Jüdische Geschichte / Betsaal/Synagoge: www.alemannia-judaica.de/feuchtwangen_synagoge.htm

Rothenburg ob der Tauber (Landkreis Ansbach) – Jüdische Geschichte im 19./20. Jahrhundert / Synagoge: www.alemannia-judaica.de/rothenburg_synagoge_n.htm

Thüngen (Markt Thüngen, Main-Spessart-Kreis) – Jüdische Geschichte / Synagoge: www.alemannia-judaica.de/thuengen_synagoge.htm

Gumpertz´ Infirmary: Biographical Directory

May the thought be comforting
that true happiness is not always the enjoyment of life,
but arises from sorrow.”

Hermann Seckbach (1918)

The diverse life stories out of Gumpertz´ infirmary (1888-1941), a Jewish nursing home for frail and terminally ill needy people in Frankfurt´s East End, would fill a comprehensive book. On behalf of all people involved, this article introduces the foundresses Betty Gumpertz and Minka von Goldschmidt-Rothschild, the founding physician Dr. med. Alfred Günzburg, the administrator and author Hermann Seckbach, the last president Dr. jur. Richard Merzbach, as well as “Gustchen” and Siegmund Keller, two dedicated residents. A separate article is devoted to the matron Rahel (Spiero) Seckbach.

Foundresses and Eponyms: Betty Gumpertz and Minka von Goldschmidt-Rothschild
It is known that the maiden name of Betty Gumpertz, the foundress and eponym of Gumpertz´ infirmary which existed from 1888 until 1941, was Cahn: In the former Jewish quarter (Frankfurt´s Jewish ghetto, 1462 – 1796) “there were several families named Cahn which were not related to each other. The oldest and most influential family named Cahn can be proven by [sic] their ancestral houses , especially by the house Pforte, where the family had lived since 1515. In this corner house as well as in the houses separated therefrom and the attached houses “Wedel”, “Green Door”, “Golden Pincer” and “Red Door” the descendants had been living for three centuries” (quoted by MJ Ffm, “Families” section). Betty Cahn married into the Gumpertz family, which immigrated from Emmerich to Frankfurt am Main in 1649 and took the name Gumpertz (also Gumpert, Gumperz): “Several of its members were in a close business relationship to the large royal courts of Prussia and Hanover, whereby the family acquired tremendous wealth. The family had lived in Frankfurt for several centuries and got involved among other things also with the welfare of the Jewish community” (quoted by ibid., also see Kasper-Holtkotte 2010). Betty Gumpertz continued the tradition and dedicated her dependent foundation, the association Gumpertz´ Infirmary, to two deceased relatives: her husband Leopold Gumpertz and their son Heinrich (Gump statute 1895, page 5). The association being in charge of the infirmary received, in addition to many small donations and voluntary activities, larger endowments from the two Frankfurt Jewish communities (cp. Gumpertz´ infirmary 1909: 10-23), for example, from Betty Gumpertz´ former peers Träutchen (Thekla) Höchberg and Raphael Ettlinger and from the siblings Hedwig Hausmann and Dr. med. Franz Hausmann.

Painting: Minka von Goldschmidt-Rothschild/ photograph of a painting (undated, about 1900).
Minka von Goldschmidt-Rothschild/ photograph of a painting (undated, about 1900)
Courtesy of the Leo Baeck Institute (Paul Arnsberg Collection)

In 1905, a financially strong patron appeared with the banker and founder family von Goldschmidt-Rothschild: To the memory of Minka von Goldschmidt-Rothschild (1857 – 1903), who died at the age of only 45, her mother Mathilde von Rothschild and the widower Max von Goldschmidt-Rothschild established an independent foundation, which was later supported by Minka´s five children Albert, Rudolf, Lili, Lucy and Erich as well as by their sister Adelheid de Rothschild, who lived in Paris. Minka (originally Minna Caroline, cp. Lenger 1994; also see Rothschild 1994) was the youngest of three daughters of Mathilde and Wilhelm Carl, who was Frankfurt´s last Rothschild banker and died in 1901. As a committed foundress – among other things she founded the still existing Rothschild´s Residential Home for Ladies for deprived female tenants – Minka possibly supported the Gumpertz´ care project in her lifetime. In 1907, the Minka von Goldschmidt-Rothschild Foundation, which was affiliated to the association Gumpertz´ Infirmary, erected a big modern building (“front house”) at 62-64 Röderbergweg which was why the home was also called “Rothschild´s infirmary”; along with another, smaller, later restored villa (“rear building”) it formed Gumpertz´ infirmary. In 1938, the Nazi rulers expelled the long-established family von Goldschmidt-Rothschild (cp. Heuberger (Hg.) 1994a and 1994b; Kasper-Holtkotte 2010; Liedtke 2006: 109 et seq.; also see Ferguson 2002) to Switzerland. Prior to that they lost all their Frankfurt estates (ISG Ffm: Collection History of People Page 2: Sign. S2/12.001). After the end of the NS-regime one of Minka´s granddaughters, Nadine von Mauthner, returned to her native city, where she concealed her origins for a long time (ibid., Sign. 18.335). Her father and Minka´s eldest son, the banker and diplomat Albert von Goldschmidt-Rothschild, committed suicide in 1941 and was buried in the exile grave of the Goldschmidt-Rothschild family in Lausanne (also cp. Lessing Grammar School 1998).

Dr. med. Alfred Günzburg: foundation physician and promoter of Jewish health car

He worked in a most unselfish and most sacrificial way for our home. The rapid blossoming of the home is due to his work. He made a special contribution to the sanitary and practical design of the magnificent building (“front house” of the infirmary, B.S.) of the Minka-von-Goldschmidt-Rothschild Foundation, which was erected under his insightful direction (Gumpertz´ infirmary 1909: 5).

That was how the association board of Gumpertz´ infirmary appreciated its leaving foundation physician, the internal medicine specialist Dr. med. Alfred Günzburg, who was born in Offenbach am Main on March 27, 1861. “Günzburg´s Reaction” (also “Günzburg-Reagent”, “Günzberg-Sample”) is named after him, which is a diagnostic procedure he developed for the detection of elevated levels of stomach acid. As of January 1, 1909 Dr. Günzberg gave up his job at the infirmary and switched to the internal medicine department of Frankfurt´s Jewish Community Hospital (on Königswarterstrasse) before leaving to the newly opened hospital of the Jewish community (on Gagernstrasse) in 1914, where he had been involved in the planning. He had already been working in the Königswart hospital for years where he had trained the first two Jewish nurses in Germany, Rosalie Jüttner from Poznan and Minna Hirsch from Halberstadt. He was very much interested in the professionalization and establishment of nursing as a Jewish female profession. Thus, he was the co-initiator of the association for Jewish nurses that was founded in Frankfurt am Main in 1893 and the co-organizer of the first assembly of delegates of German-Jewish training associations for nursing in 1904. At the end of 1935 the national socialists expelled the over 70-year-old Alfred Günzburg from Germany. He settled down in what was then Palestine, where his son, Dr. med. Ludwig Günzburg (born in Frankfurt am Main in 1895), previously a practitioner in Frankfurt and involved with the association of socialist physicians, had already fled in 1933. In 1945, Alfred Günzburg died at the age of 84 in Ramoth Hashavim near Tel Aviv, where his son managed a home of the Cupath Cholim for chronically ill people (cp. Günzburg 1946 [obituary]; Toren 2005). Ludwig Günzburg, who set up the first rehabilitation clinic in Israel, died in 1977 (cp. Drexler [et al.] 1990: 35).

In 1910, the practitioner Dr. med. Jakob Meyer became Alfred Günzburg´s successor as the senior physician of Gumpertz´ infirmary (cp. Kallmorgen 1936: 354 as well as Gumpertz´ infirmary 1913 et seqq.). At the time when Dr. Meyer was serving as a medical officer of the reserve, his representative Dr. med. Gustav Löffler (cp. Kallmorgen 1936: 341) temporarily managed the infirmary along with the military hospital (cp. Gumpertz´ infirmary 1913 et seqq.). Known by name are also the following physicians (ibid 1909: 5): the practical dentist Heinrich Borchard (cp. Kallmorgen 1936: 229), the pediatrician Dr. Max Plaut (ibid: 373), the surgeon Dr. Otto Rothschild (ibid: 390) and the ophthalmologist Dr. Michael Sachs (ibid: 393). The practitioner Dr. Hermann Schlesinger (ibid: 400) and the otologist Dr. Heinrich Seligmann (ibid: 411) also belonged to the older generation (1850’s) of physicians of the infirmary.

Photography of Richard Merzbach (undated, about 1900).
Photography of Richard Merzbach (undated, about 1900)
© Jüdisches Museum Frankfurt am Main

The last president: Dr. jur. Richard Merzbach
Following Ferdinand Gamburg, Charles L. Hallgarten and Julius Goldschmidt, the lawyer and notary Dr. jur. Richard Merzbach became the last president of the association Gumpertz´ Infirmary. He was born in Frankfurt am Main on October 26, 1873 (cp. Dölemeyer/Ladwig-Winters 2004: 174). In accordance with information which still needs to be verified (cp. http://www.geni.com/people/Richard-Joseph-Merzbach/6000000000158338859, all links in the article called on October 24, 2017) he was the son of Marie née Heim from Fürth and Emanuel Merzbach from Offenbach am Main and married to Trude (Gertrude) née Alexander from Königsberg in Prussia. Occasionally, Dr. Merzbach officiated as (liberal) president of the Jewish municipal council. He was particularly interested in the Jewish nursing institutions: In 1911, he was a member of the board of the Jewish health insurance for women and from (at least) 1917 of Gumpertz´ infirmary.
The files available from the Frankfurt am Main institute of urban history (e.g. ISG Ffm: magistrate records Sign. 8.957) document how uncompromisingly the lawyer defended the existence of the infirmary after the seizure of power by the Nazis in 1933. He could, however, not prevent the forced forced dissolution of the nursing home around 1939 and the transfer of its residents to Gumpertz´ last domicile at 15 Danziger Platz. Already in 1935, the NS-authorities had withdrawn notarial powers from Richard Merzbach. On December 1, 1938 he was banned from his profession as a lawyer and deleted from the directory of solicitors. In October 1938 the Merzbach couple fled to the USA.
Dr. Richard Merzbach died in Seatlle on August 22, 1945 followed by his wife Trude obviously only a few days later on August 25, 1945. Their daughters had fled from Nazi Germany already in 1933: Edith Alice Lobe worked in US-exile as a social worker (cp. obituary of Dave Birkland: http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/archive/?date=19930130&slug=1682755), Hilde Birnbaum (cp. obituary of Mary Spicuzza: http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/archive/?date=20030817&slug=birnbaumobit17m ) studied economic sciences and was married to Zygmunt William Birnbaum, a professor of mathematics. They were committed to a sophisticated social and health system and made their mark as civil-rights activists for social justice and women´s emancipation. Richard Merzbach would have surely been proud of the fighting spirit of his daughters.

The soul of the home: Hermann Seckbach, administrator and author
From 1904 until 1939 Hermann Seckbach was the administrator of Gumpertz´ infirmary. This employment was both profession and vocation for him at the same time. Reliable biographical data are difficult to determine, since Hermann Seckbach comes from a family which spread from Heddernheim (today a district of Frankfurt) and Frankfurt am Main to Halberstadt (Saxony-Anhalt) (cp. Klamroth 2006). The given male names “Lassar” (also Elzar, Lazar, Lazarus) and “Hermann” were common in his family. Maybe he was related to the architect Max Seckbach. During World War I Hermann Seckbach additionally managed the military hospital that had been set up inside Gumpertz´ infirmary. At the beginning of 1919 he married the matron Rahel Spiero, their daughter Ruth Rosalie was born in the same year. On the occasion of Hermann Seckbach´s 25th service anniversary, the newsletter of the Jewish community of Frankfurt am Main reported (magazine 4, December 1929: 154): “Along with his self-sacrificing, caring activities Mr Seckbach has made a special contribution to the founding institution’s synagogue which had been built only with support from foundations. Its artistic individuality causes a solemn mood to the residents and visitors.” In 1939, Hermann Seckbach was expelled from his position in life to English exile by national socialists.
The author Hermann Seckbach also dedicated his publications on Jewish and social topics (cp. Seckbach 1917, 1918a, 1918b, 1928, 1933), especially in economic times of need, to the public relations work of Gumpertz´ infirmary. In 1917 he informed “Frankfurt´s News” [Frankfurter Nachrichten] about the (official) 25th anniversary of the nursing home (1917). In 1918, he campaigned for better “Social Care for emotionally disturbed Jewish People with a Nervous Disorder!” in the magazine “In the German Empire” of the Central Association of German Citizens of Jewish Faith (1918b). A brief review published in the newsletter of the Jewish community of Frankfurt am Main (June 1928, magazine 10) made the following statement about his book “Sabbath Spirit. Stories and Sketches”: “The book has come from the intuitive world of traditional Judaism and can, although it does not raise any literary claims, be recommended all the more as reading for young people because the net profit is passed on to Gumpertz´ infirmary.” Hermann Seckbach did the same with his income from the following book “The Seder at Grüneburg Castle. Tales from the children´s corner” (1933). His probably most impressive publication is the writing “Happiness in the House of Sorrow. Sketches of a Clinic and Military Hospital in Wartime” published in 1918. He dedicated it to “His beloved brother Lassar Seckbach, Halberstadt” (1918a). In narrative miniatures Hermann Seckback erected a monument to the residents like the blind and paralyzed rabbi daughter Rosa Dobris (18-21).

Committed Residents: “Gustchen” and Siegmund Keller
Hermann Seckbach´s glimpse into the complex and very special inner world into a (in this case Jewish) home for chronically frail and incurably ill people reveals at the same time its advanced care concept: instead of incapacitating custody, the promotion of greatest possible independence. Each biography had its place in Gumpertz´ infirmary, and residents and nursing staff could learn from each other. One of his loving portraits Seckbach dedicated to a girl called “Gustchen” (probably “Auguste”, the family name has not been passed down) who was visually impaired due to a head tumor: “Surrounded by 60 other fellow sufferers she, the blind one, was a ray of hope. […] Up before six o´clock in order to bring the heavily suffering residents a hot morning draft quickly. Then going from room to room, singing a funny song in order to show everyone a service of love. […] No matter how much the nurses were working, Gustchen, the happy Gustchen, always had to be with them when it came to bedding the sick or to assisting a paralyzed person here and to bringing cooling to a feverish sufferer there” (Seckbach 1918a: 60).
Further information is obtained from a newspaper article written by the visitor Fanny Cohn-Neßler: “In the women´s division I recognized a 17-year old girl who had the size of a six-year old and the mind of a three-year old child. A big baby face, only bulging lips. Thick braid with a pink ribbon loop; a thick chubby hand was laughingly stretched out to me. She was happily eating her soup at the children´s table. The girl is from Moravia. Would be a “sight”. A handsome two-year old boy in a snow-white bed; his head pressed into the pillow with eyes closed. The nurse picks him up – the other half of his face is completely crooked. He cannot move. The child has no sensation, it takes food, that is all. […] I leave the much too sad cases unmentioned” (Cohn-Neßler 1920, page 174 et seq.)

The patients usually were of Jewish faith and all age groups. Most of them had never been able to learn a profession or to start a family. Among them were social pensioners and homeless people having been transferred by Frankfurt´s welfare office to Gumpertz´ infirmary. Senility, early dementia and strokes made great demands on nursing and medicine along with incurable ulcers, bone diseases and arthritis, multiple sclerosis and poliomyelitis causing permanent restrictions of movement ability. Often these patients were unwilling bed-wetters and have bowel control problems. They were among the “poorest of the poor” (quoted in advertisement in: The Israelite, No. 24, June 16, 1921, page 12). Many were from Frankfurt and the Hessian surrounding countryside, some were also from today´s Rhineland-Palatinate. The 20-year old Minna Kann (born in Lonndorf near Giessen in 1873) was admitted after her parents´ death. Leopoldine Karbe (born in Lich / Upper Hesse in 1851), admitted in 1908, died in the infirmary on December 14, 1922. The 70-year old Salomon Kahn (born in Steinfischbach / Taunus in 1849), a tradesman by profession, was also transferred to the infirmary by the welfare office of his hometown in 1919.
For reasons of cost Gumpertz´ infirmary had been increasingly serving as a nursing home since 1922. So died: “[…] the retired teacher Mr Gerson Mannheimer at the age of 64. Due to a treacherous suffering he had been accommodated in Gumpertz´ infirmary for four years […]. During his career he worked as a teacher in various municipalities such as Zwingenberg, Babenhausen and Rüsselsheim. […] About 20 years earlier he already needed to give up his profession. So he fought the fight now […]” (obituary in: The Israelite, March 14, 1929).
Also due to the NS-era Salomon Goldschmidt, the former board member of the Jewish municipality Hochstadt (Hanau district), died in the infirmary, too: “The deceased, who had relocated to Frankfurt two years ago, was a Yehudi [Jew, B.S.] of deep piety, who devotedly participated in many shiurim [religious instructions, B.S.] […]. The rabbis Wolpert and Korn as well as Hermann Seckbach additionally described his special attachment to “his” Kehillah [community, B.S.] Gumpertz […]” (obituary in: The Israelite, February 17, 1938).
What Hermann Seckbach described as the nursing concerns of Gumpertz´ infirmary was also true for the resident Siegmund Keller: “And the ill and sick patients, who were accommodated here, they soon did not longer feel their suffering, they became new humans, who played their part in solving the problems of life” (Seckbach 1918a: 9). He was born in the Rhine Hessian wine town Gimbsheim (cp. Jewish history: Alemannia Judaica: http://www.alemannia-judaica.de/gibsheim_synagoge.htm; Alicke 2008 vol. 1: 1472 et seq.) as the son of Henriette and David Keller on September 6, 1871. Due to his chronic disease Siegmund Keller remained single and did not have a profession. In 1898, Gumpertz´ infirmary became his home – for more than four decades! He particularly attended to its intellectual and cultural centerpiece, the home synagogue (cp. Gumpertz´ infirmary 1936: 14). He possibly assisted in the organization of the Sabbath and the Jewish ceremonies in the rooms of the bed-ridden residents.

Document: Keller, Siegmund / Death announcement, Ghetto at Theresienstadt, Aug. 29, 1942.
Keller, Siegmund / Death announcement, Ghetto at Theresienstadt, Aug. 29, 1942 © National Archives, Prague; Terezín Initiative Institute

Siegmund Keller could have also died in Gumpertz´ infirmary, but he was forcibly transferred to Frankfurt´s last Jewish hospital (on Gagernstrasse) when all residents of the home at 15 Danziger Platz were evicted by the Nazis on April 7, 1941. The eviction was a torture for the residents, and many of them died in hospital. On August 18, 1942 Siegmund Keller was deported to Theresienstadt together with other patients as well as the matron of Gumpertz´ infirmary, Rahel Seckbach, and other nursing staff. The weakened patient survived the transport as if by a miracle, but succumbed to the inhumane camp conditions after a few days on August 29, 1942. According to his obituary Siegmund Keller suffered from tuberculosis and bone tuberculosis. As the official cause of death “paralysis of the heart” was given (cp. Theresienstadt Initiative, data base).

The author thanks Mr Lenarz (deputy director of the Jewish Museum of Frankfurt am Main) for quickly sending two Richard-Merzbach-photographs and giving permission for their reproduction, Mr Simonson (Leo Baeck Institute) for the reproduction permission of the Minka-von-Goldschmidt photograph as well as Prof. Stascheit (head of the Frankfurt am Main University of Applied Sciences publisher) for important information regarding Alred and Ludwig Günzburg.

Birgit Seemann, 2013, updated 2018
(Translated by Yvonne Ford)

Unbpublished sources

ISG Ffm: Institut für Stadtgeschichte Frankfurt am Main:

Hausstandsbücher Gagernstraße 36: Sign. 686 (Teil 1); Sign. 687 (Teil 2)



Sammlung Personengeschichte S 2: Sign. 398: Goldschmidt, Julius

Sammlung Personengeschichte S 2: Sign. S2/12.001: Goldschmidt-Rothschild, Familie

Sammlung Personengeschichte S 2: Sign. 18.355: Mauthner, Nadine von

Stiftungsabteilung: Sign. 157: Verein Gumpertz´sches Siechenhaus

Stiftungsabteilung: Sign. 146: Minka von Goldschmidt-Rothschild-Stiftung (1939-1940)

Wohlfahrtsamt: Sign. 877 (1893–1928): Magistrat, Waisen- und Armen-Amt Frankfurt a.M.

Toren, Benjamin [Günzburg, Heiner] (2005): Die Familie Günzburg (Toren) von Frankfurt am Main. Unveröff. Ms. Privatarchiv Prof. Dr. Ulrich Stascheit, Frankfurt a.M.

Selected literature

Alicke, Klaus-Dieter 2008: Lexikon der jüdischen Gemeinden im deutschen Sprachraum. Gütersloh, 3 Bände.

Arnsberg, Paul 1983: Die Geschichte der Frankfurter Juden seit der Französischen Revolution. Darmstadt, 3 Bände.

Cohn-Neßler, Fanny 1920: Das Frankfurter Siechenhaus. Die Minka-von-Goldschmidt-Rothschild-Stiftung. In: Allgemeine Zeitung des Judentums 1920, H. 16 (16.04.1920), S. 174-175. Digitale Ausg.: http://sammlungen.ub.uni-frankfurt.de/judaica/.

Dölemeyer, Barbara/ Ladwig-Winters, Simone 2004: Kurzbiographien der Anwälte jüdischer Herkunft im Oberlandesgerichtsbezirk Frankfurt. In: 125 Jahre. Rechtsanwaltskammer Frankfurt am Main. Oberlandesgericht Frankfurt am Main. Rechtspflege. Ausstellung: Anwalt ohne Recht. Festveranstaltung 1.10.2004 Paulskirche Frankfurt am Main. Hg.: Rechtsanwaltskammer Frankfurt am Main, Oberlandesgericht Frankfurt am Main, S. 137-201

Dörken, Edith 2008: Hannah-Luise, Luise, Adele Hannah, Hannah Mathilde, Adelheid, Minna Caroline von Rothschild. Stifterinnen der Rothschildfamilie. „Gegen die Not und Bedrängnis der Mitmenschen“. In: dies.: Berühmte Frankfurter Frauen. Frankfurt/M., S. 78-89.

Drexler, Siegmund [u.a.] 1990: Ärztliches Schicksal unter der Verfolgung 1933–1945 in Frankfurt am Main und Offenbach. Eine Denkschrift. Erstellt im Auftr. der Landesärztekammer Hessen. 2. Aufl. Frankfurt/M.

Ferguson, Niall 2002: Die Geschichte der Rothschilds. Propheten des Geldes. Band II: 1848 – 1999. Stuttgart, München.

Günzburg, Alfred [Nachruf] (1946): M. R.: Alfred Günzburg. In: Aufbau 12 (1946) 2 (11.01.1946), S. 24, Spalte a, http://archive.org/stream/aufbau1219461946germ#page/n29/mode/1up.

GumpSiechenhaus 1909: Sechzehnter Rechenschaftsbericht des Vereins „Gumpertz`sches Siechenhaus“ in Frankfurt a.M. für das Jahr 1908. Frankfurt/M.: Slobotzky.

GumpSiechenhaus 1913ff.: Rechenschaftsbericht des Vereins „Gumpertz`sches Siechenhaus“ und der „Minka von Goldschmidt-Rothschild-Stiftung“. Frankfurt/M.: Slobotzky, 1913ff. Online-Ausg.:Frankfurt am Main : Univ.-Bibliothek, 2011: http://nbn-resolving.de/urn:nbn:de:hebis:30:1-306391.

GumpSiechenhaus 1936: Gumpertz´sches Siechenhaus. [Bericht von der Generalversammlung des Vereins.] In: Der Israelit, 20.05.1936, Nr. 21, S. 14f.: http://edocs.ub.uni-frankfurt.de/volltexte/2008/38052/original/Israelit_1936_21.pdf.

GumpStatut 1895: Revidirtes Statut für den Verein Gumpertz´sches Siechenhaus zu Frankfurt am Main. Frankfurt/M.: Druck v. Benno Schmidt, Stiftstraße 22. [ISG Ffm: Sammlung S3/N 5.150].

Heuberger, Georg (Hg.) 1994a: Die Rothschilds. Bd. 1: Eine europäische Familie. Sigmaringen.

Heuberger, Georg (Hg.) 1994b: Die Rothschilds. Bd. 2: Beiträge zur Geschichte einer europäischen Familie. Sigmaringen.

Kallmorgen, Wilhelm 1936: Siebenhundert Jahre Heilkunde in Frankfurt am Main. Frankfurt/M.

Kasper-Holtkotte, Cilli 2010: Die jüdische Gemeinde von Frankfurt/Main in der Frühen Neuzeit. Familien, Netzwerke und Konflikte eines jüdischen Zentrums. Berlin, New York.

Kingreen, Monica (Hg.) 1999: Zuflucht in Frankfurt. Zuzug hessischer Landjuden und städtische antijüdische Politik. In: dies. (Hg.): „Nach der Kristallnacht“. Jüdisches Leben und antijüdische Politik in Frankfurt am Main 1938 – 1945 Frankfurt/M., New York., S. 119-155.

Kirchheim, Simon [u.a.] 1904: Delegierten-Versammlung der Vereinigungen zur Ausbildung jüdischer Krankenpflegerinnen in Deutschland. Am 4. September 1904 zu Frankfurt a. M. im Schwesternheim Königswarterstraße 20. Frankfurt/M.

Klamroth, Sabine 2006: Die Mayers – die Halberstadts – die Bachs – die Seckbachs. In: dies.: „Erst wenn der Mond bei Seckbachs steht“. Juden im alten Halberstadt. Halle, S. 122-133 [siehe auch: http://www.juden-im-alten-halberstadt.de].

Lenger, Christine 1994: Der Name lebt weiter. Die Familie Goldschmidt-Rothschild. In: Heuberger (Hg.) 1994a: 190f. [mit Abb. v. Minka von Goldschmidt-Rothschild].

Liedtke, Rainer 2006: N M Rothschild & Sons. Kommunikationswege im europäischen Bankwesen im 19. Jahrhundert. Köln [u.a.].

Lessing Gymnasium 1998: Die jüdischen Schüler und Lehrer am Lessing Gymnasium 1897-1938. Dokumentation zur Ausstellung der Archiv-AG des Lessing Gymnasiums Frankfurt am Main Februar 1998. Frankfurt/M.

Rothschild, Miriam 1994: Die stillen Teilhaber der ersten europäischen Gemeinschaft. Gedanken über die Familie Rothschild II: Die Frauen. In: Heuberger (Hg.) 1994b, S. 159-170 [S. 166: Abb. von Minka von Goldschmidt-Rothschild mit ihrer Großmutter Mathilde von Rothschild].

Schiebler, Gerhard 1994: Stiftungen, Schenkungen, Organisationen und Vereine mit Kurzbiographien jüdischer Bürger. In: Lustiger, Arno (Hg.) 1994: Jüdische Stiftungen in Frankfurt am Main. Stiftungen, Schenkungen, Organisationen und Vereine mit Kurzbiographien jüdischer Bürger dargest. v. Gerhard Schiebler. Mit Beitr. v. Hans Achinger [u.a.]. Hg. i.A. der M.-J.-Kirchheim’schen Stiftung in Frankfurt am Main. 2. unveränd. Aufl. Sigmaringen 1994, S. 11-288.

Seckbach, Hermann 1917: Fünfundzwanzig Jahre Siechenhaus. Von Verwalter H. Seckbach. In: Frankfurter Nachrichten, 20.09.1917.

Seckbach, Hermann 1918a: Das Glück im Hause des Leids. Skizzen aus einem Krankenhaus und Lazarett in der Kriegszeit. Frankfurt/M. = Kriegsschrift der Agudas Jisroel Jugendorganisation; 4.

Seckbach, Hermann 1918b: Soziale Fürsorge für jüdische Nerven- und Gemütskranke! In: Im deutschen Reich. Zeitschrift des Centralvereins Deutscher Staatsbürger Jüdischen Glaubens, H. 10 (Okt. 1918), S. 403 (online: Univ.bibl. Frankfurt a.M.: Compact Memory: http://sammlungen.ub.uni-frankfurt.de/cm/periodical/pageview/2354746).

Seckbach, Hermann 1928: „Sabbatgeist“. Erzählungen und Skizzen. Frankfurt/M.: Sänger u. Friedberg.

Seckbach, Hermann 1933: Der Seder auf Schloß Grüneburg. Erzählungen aus der Kinderecke. Frankfurt/M.: Verlag des Israelit und Hermon.

Seemann, Birgit 2014: „Glück im Hause des Leids“. Jüdische Pflegegeschichte am Beispiel des Gumpertz’schen Siechenhauses (1888-1941) in Frankfurt/Main. In: Geschichte der Pflege. Das Journal für historische Forschung der Pflege- und Gesundheitsberufe 3 (2014) 2, S. 38-50

Selection of internet sources [24.10.2017]

Alemannia Judaica: Alemannia Judaica – Arbeitsgemeinschaft für die Erforschung der Geschichte der Juden im süddeutschen und angrenzenden Raum: http://www.alemannia-judaica.de.

ISG Ffm: Institut für Stadtgeschichte Frankfurt am Main (mit Datenbank): http://www.stadtgeschichte-ffm.de sowie http://www.ffmhist.de/

JM Ffm: Jüdisches Museum und Museum Judengasse Frankfurt am Main (mit der internen biographischen Datenbank der Gedenkstätte Neuer Börneplatz): http://www.juedischesmuseum.de.

MJ Ffm: Museum Judengasse Frankfurt am Main (Infobank): http://www.museumjudengasse.de/de/home/

Theresienstädter Initiative: Institut Terezínské iniciativy: Datenbank der Holocaust-Opfer: http://www.holocaust.cz/de/opferdatenbank/

Frankfurt´s Grave Stones as the last witnesses – the nurses Bertha Schönfeld and Thekla Dinkelspühler

Photography: Jewish cemetery, Eckenheimer Landstrasse, Passage from the entrance area to the cemetery.
Jewish cemetery, Eckenheimer Landstrasse, Passage from the entrance area to the cemetery
© Edgar Bönisch

About 800 grave stones in the newer cemetery of Frankfurt´s Jewish community on Eckenheimer Landstrasse are evidence of persons who were victims of anti-Semitic persecution, who escaped from Nazi persecution and deportation in the years 1938 to 1943 by suicide. They are impressive witnesses of these tragic historical events (http://www.jg-ffm.de/de/religioeses-leben/juedische-friedhoefe, call of all links on October 24, 2017). It was painstaking work for the chronicler and survivor of the Shoah Adolf Diamant (1924-2008) to collect their names (cp. Adolf Diamant 1983). Among them are also two nurses of the former Jewish hospital on Gagernstrasse: Bertha Schönfeld and Thekla Dinkelspühler, both born in Hesse. Where were they from, how did they live?

Sister Bertha Schönfeld (1883 Kesselbach/Rabenau – 1941 Frankfurt a.M.)

Photography: Sister Bertha Schoenfeld in the operating room of the hospial of the Jewish Community located at Gagernstrasse 36.
Sister Bertha Schoenfeld in the operating room of the hospial of the Jewish Community located at Gagernstrasse 36
Thea Levinsohn-Wolf, Stations of a Jewish nurse, Germany – Egypt – Israel, Frankfurt am Main, 1996, page 28

Sister Bertha came from the rural Jewish life in the middle of Hesse (north of Frankfurt am Main). Born on September 13, 1883 at 8:00 in her parents´ flat in the Kesselbach village (now part of Rabenau, Gießen District) she was, as it was customary in the country at that time, a “home birth“ (OuSt Rabenau). At this time about seven Jewish families (approx. 30 people) lived in Kesselbach who were members of the synagogue community in the larger neighboring village Londorf. The female Jewish citizens of Kesselbach were known for their special commitment to voluntary nursing. They cared for fellow believers in surrounding villages and possibly also Christian neighbours: “[…] Thus, local women met and established a female-Chebra, whose activity is focused on supporting needy people in case of illness and bereavements” (“Der Israelit” dated April 1, 1889, quoted by http://www.alemannia-judaica.de/londorf_synagoge.htm). Being usually excluded from manual and agricultural occupations, Kesselbach´s Jewish citizens mainly worked “as cattle dealers, butchers or retail merchants”; they all lived like their Christian neighbors “in humble circumstances” (quoted by ibid.). Bertha Schönfeld´s parents were:

  • Zimmel “gen. [named] Emilie” Schönfeld née Wallenstein (born on July 24, 1859) from Alten-Buseck (cp. http://www.alemannia-judicia.de/alten-buseck_synagoge.htm) in the Giessen district, daughter of the trader Abraham Wallenstein and Hannchen née Stern (OuSt Rabenau);
  • Simon Schönfeld (born on July 20, 1850) from Kesselbach, a merchant by profession, son of the trader Moses Schönfeld and Rebekka née Maas.

Bertha Schönfeld was the second-born of six children whose life data could be partly reconstructed:

  • Rebekka (Rebeka, Rivka) Fuld (November 1, 1881 Kesselbach – February 5, 1939 Frankfurt am Main), the oldest, who was the only one who had a Jewish first name;
  • Gertrud Schönfeld (May 21, 1886 Kesselbach – March 5, 1889 Kesselbach), deceased already as a toddler;
  • Adolph Friedrich Schönfeld (July 27, 1888 Kesselbach – December 17, 1915), the only brother, killed in the First World War;
  • Amalie Schönfeld (born on July 9, 1890 in Kesselbach);
  • Johanna Senger née Schönfeld (June 22, 1894 Kesselbach – [1942 deported]).

Bertha Schönfeld and her siblings probably went to the Jewish school in Londorf, where there was also a synagogue and the Jewish cemetery. There were not many job prospects for Jewish girls in the country nor suitable candidates for marriage either. As far as Bertha Schönfeld was concerned, she thought it important to be independent (cp. Levinsohn-Wolf 1996: 27). Having come of age at 21 years in September 1904, she left her home village and headed for Frankfurt am Main city in order to qualify as a nurse with the nationally respected Association for Jewish Nurses.

Stations of a Nurse: Private Care – Strasbourg Jewish Hospital – Surgical Nurse at the Jewish Hospital in Frankfurt am Main
At the beginning of her twenties Bertha Schönfeld started her training as an energetic young woman at the “old” hospital (“Königswart Hospital”) of the Jewish community of Frankfurt am Main as well as the nurses´ home of the Association for Jewish Nurses, first located on Königswarterstrasse (herein referred to as Frankfurt´s Jewish Nurses´ Association). ” Corresponding to her future profession she, like all candidates, had to prove a level of education, health condition and modest lifestyle in accordance with the guiding principles of the German Association from 1905 (quoted by Steppe 1997: 374). She successfully completed her training in 1906 and was subsequently obliged to carry out three years of service in accordance with the statutes of Frankfurt´s Jewish Nurses´ Association. Probably due to her independence, the association considered Bertha Schönfeld capable of doing home care: Nurses being deployed in private households had to comply with the instructions of the general practitioner. However, they were not part of any hospital hierarchy, but left on their own when making care decisions or handling patients and their relatives. This kind of work required essential “core qualifications” (see Palesch (Hg.) et al. 2012: 9) such as the ability to work independently as well as under pressure, organization skills, reliability and empathy. In addition to the actual nursing care, the nurse was quite often responsible for the complete housekeeping, including childcare, catering and laundry. For the protection of the nursing staff against constant availability and strain the Frankfurt´s Jewish Nurses´ Association set up its own rules which were supervised by the matron Minna Hirsch: The nurse being deployed in home care should “leave the house where she works for 1-2 hours per day in order to relax outside in the fresh air. The break shall be adapted to the health condition of the patient and also agreed with the treating physicians and the family” (quoted by Steppe 1997: 384). “In the interest of her own health” she was also strictly prohibited from “working two consecutive night shifts. The second night shift may only be worked with the consent of the matron or her deputy” (ibid.). In principle home care could also be offered in non-Jewish households, but especially Jewish households were interested in a Jewish nurse due to the guarantee of care meeting the expected ritual standards. In order to make sure her own religious life was not neglected, the nurse could ask the nurses´ association for an assistant.

In 1911 Bertha Schönfeld was facing a new professional challenge: Her place of work was transferred from Frankfurt to the Alsace region (administration district of the German Empire until 1918), where Frankfurt´s Jewish Nurses´ Association under the direction of Julie Glaser had taken on nursing tasks at the Strasbourg Jewish Hospital (Clinique Adassa). Sister Bertha returned even before the First World War, as the big hospital of the Jewish community in Frankfurt am Main on Gagernstrasse (herein referred to as Gagernstrasse Hospital), which had been newly opened in May 1914, needed qualified nursing staff. She lived in a new and modern Jewish nurses´ house on the adjacent Bornheimer Landwehr.

When a little later in August 1914 the battle of the nations of the First World War began, sister Bertha was initially not deployed in the military hospitals which had been set up in the general hospital and the nurses´ house. Instead, she cared for wounded soldiers together with the head nurse Ida (probably Ida Elise Holz) and another colleague (unknown by name) in the municipal military hospital called “East Hospital” (cp. accountability report 1920: 37, 63), where the three Jewish women worked together with mainly non-Jewish / Christian nurses and physicians.
In the middle of the war, on February 1, 1917, Bertha Schönfeld, now a surgical nurse of the surgical department of the Gagernstrasse Hospital, received the golden brooch of Frankfurt´s Association for Jewish Nurses (accountability report 1920: 62). In 1918 she certainly experienced the surrender of the Wilhelmine Empire, having been very confident of victory, like the majority of the German people, whether Jewish or non-Jewish, as disgrace. How might she have felt at the same time with the anti-Semitic hate campaigns depicting “the Jews” as well as “the leftists” as the persons responsible for the defeat, especially since her only brother Friedrich was among the 12,000 German-Jewish soldiers who were killed in total?
Probably for organizational reasons Bertha Schönfeld moved from the nurses´ house to the hospital on December 30, 1925 (ISG Ffm: HB 686: 56). She was keen and well-experienced, but considered to be difficult in personal contact. Did the unmarried, childless and over 40-year-old nurse see herself as a “late girl” and “old maid” as women were derogatorily called at that time? Was she ignored for upcoming promotions, e.g. to the head nurse? Due to missing published personal testimonies not much is known about the communication between the nursing staff and their medical superiors and with each other. Therefore, the information about the large-scale, internal operations of the Gagernstrasse Hospital provided by Thea Levinsohn-Wolf, a younger colleague of Bertha Schönfeld, in her auto-biography are even more valuabe. Like at any workplace, there were, in addition to team solidarity, also interpersonal conflicts. Sister Thea reports “Sister Bertha has dominated in the operating room of the surgery for many years. She kept her various respective assistants for one year at the very most. Evil tongues say she is terribly jealous of each young nurse, of her potential competence and a possibly growing fondness of the surgeon for her as an instrument nurse. The surgeons would not have dared to lift a finger without sister Bertha´s prior consent” (Levinsohn-Wolf 1996: 26 et seq.). Chief of surgery was Dr. Emil Altschüler, and his deputy was Dr. Fritz Katz. Together with her colleague Rosa Spiero (youngest sister of Rahel Seckbach, matron of Gumpertz´ infirmary) Bertha Schönfeld was not only responsible for the assistance during surgery, but also for the care of the complete surgical ward.

However, the head nurse was the slightly younger Rosa Spiero and thus she was Bertha Schönfeld´s direct superior and additionally an anesthetist nurse. Their professional paths had crossed a few times: They were of the same graduation year (1906) in the nurses´ house and had both worked at Strasbourg Jewish hospital before the First World War. They did not become friends. Thea Levinsohn-Wolf remembers: “[…] We young nurses had a lot of fun with these two fighting cocks, because they could shout quite loudly at each other which was entertaining and cleared the air” (ibid. 27). And she adds: “Both nurses had strong characters” (ibid.).

Nazi era

Photography: Grave of Bertha Schoenfeld and vicinity in the Jewish cemetery at Eckenheimer Landstrasse.
Grave of Bertha Schoenfeld and vicinity in the Jewish cemetery at Eckenheimer Landstrasse
© Birgit Seemann

Since February 3, 1934 Bertha Schönfeld was registered at 82 Waldschmidtstrasse (ISG Ffm: HB 686: 56).
Why she had been living outside of the hospital and nurses´ house for several years during the Nazi era is unknown. Did she, despite own health problems, provide private care again? Did she support any relatives? Perhaps she had already become a pensioner and moved into a flat of her own although she was entitled to a retirement residence in Frankfurt´s Jewish nurses´ house. Later, she lived on 27 Hanauer Landstrasse. When Bertha Schönfeld returned to the nurses´ house – possibly under the impression of the November pogrom and its aftermath – on December 5, 1938, she was registered in the files as “retired nurse” (ISG Ffm: HB 655: 59). Since January 1, 1939, she had to use the additional name “Sara” (men: “Israel”) in order to comply with the forced change of surnames and given names by the national socialists. On February 5, 1939 an ill personal stroke of fate afflicted her: Her older sister Rebekka Fuld committed suicide aged 57 in Frankfurt am Main (Yad Vashem: database, commemorative sheet). Bertha Schönfeld´s brother-in-law August Fuld (born in Wolfenhausen on January 11, 1982) – decorator, upholsterer and owner of the upholstery room “A. Fuld” which had been destroyed during the November pogrom in 1938 (Jewish museum Frankfurt am Main: internal database) – had returned from Buchenwald concentration camp before and fought his way through as an unskilled worker. On November 11, 1941 he was deported from Frankfurt to Minsk (Belarus) and declared dead later. Bertha´s youngest sister Johanna Singer – she had married and moved to Saxony-Anhalt – was displaced from Magdeburg along with Felix Senger (born on July 23, 1882 in Ueckermünde/Pomerania) and Friedrich Senger (born in Bernburg on July 14, 1925), probably her husband and son, to the Warsaw ghetto, where their traces disappeared.
On November 19, 1940 Bertha Schönfeld was expelled from her retirement residence by the national socialists´ forced eviction of the nurses´ house. She had to move talong with her female colleagues to Gagernstrasse Hospital (ISG Ffm: HB 655: 59). How the last months passed is unknown. However, in view of the high fluctuation of the medical and nursing staff by emigration (e.g. head nurse Rosa Spiero, her former opponent, on March 24, 1941) and the eviction of Jewish institutions on Röderbergweg (Gumpertz´ infirmary, Rothschild´s Hospital and Rothschild´s Children´s Hospital) in 1941 she understood that Gagernstrasse Hospital was also in dissolution. Frankfurt´s last remaining Jewish hospital, a refuge for sick, old and people seeking help due to anti-Semitic persecution, was completely crowded and misused as a NS-collection center prior to the deportations. On June 29, 1941 Bertha Schönfeld departed from life by poison (ISG Ffm: HB 687: 326) – aged 57 like her sister Rebekka. Thea Levinsohn-Wolf (1996: 27) writes: “Sister Bertha had decided to live her life in her own way and to end it, if necessary. She took her life in order not to have to endure the ignominy of deportation.”

The suicide of victims of persecution by the Nazi regime is differently interpreted in research (cp. e.g. Fischer (Hg.) 2007; Goeschel 2011): Was it an “act of desperation”, a last “emergency exit”, a deliberate “escape that can imply an active act of resistance” (Ohnhäuser 2010: 23)? For the Nazi perpetrators the suicide of a victim obviously was a kind of defeat, because the people concerned evaded their totalitarian control; “In the second half of the Nazi regime the rulers sought to have absolute control over the power of decision regarding life and death of their chosen opponents” (ibid.: 24). The catalogue of the German National Library in Leipzig lists two dissertations at the medical faculty of Wien University for 1942: “Suicide, with special consideration of the Jews” (Wolfgang Damus) and – in Nazi jargon – “Suicide among Jews and Jewish mongrels” (Hans Kallenbach).
Tim Ohnhäuser additionally points out in his study on Berlin´s internal specialist a.o. Prof. Dr. med. Arthur Nicolaier (born in 1862), who committed suicide in 1942, that he had long suffered the “social death” of the Jewish German people that had been determined selected by the Nazis, that of being excluded from everyday life. The second “social death” overtook Dr. Nicolaier after the Nazi era by “Forgetting as part of the extermination” (Ohnhäuser 2010: 31). For a long time hardly anyone remembered the discoverer of the tetanus pathogen who significantly contributed to the fight against tetanus.Also Bertha Schönefeld, whose nursing care benefited many Jewish and non-Jewish patients, is forgotten today. Like her sister Rebekka Fuld she was buried in the Jewish cemetery on Eckenheimer Landstrasse; the entry in the grave directory is “Berta Schonfeld”.

Sister Thekla Dinkelspühler (1901 [Bad] Homburg v.d.H. – 1942 Frankfurt a.M

Document: Thekla Dinkelspuehler Birth certificate.
Thekla Dinkelspuehler Birth certificate
© Stadtarchiv Bad Homburg vor der Höhe

Unlike Bertha Schönfeld, Thekla Dinkelspühler was not a nurse from vocation but from need: Aged 38 she started her career as a student nurse under the repressive conditions of the Nazi era at Gagernstrasse Hospital. While sister Bertha came from a little Hessian village and spoke “Frankfurt´s real dialect” (Levinsohn-Wolf 1996: 28), sister Thekla was influenced by the urban environment and had grown up in a medium-sized business household.
On June 4, 1904 Thekla Dinkelspühler was born together with her younger twin sister Luise (also Louise; documentary Louisa) in her parents´ flat at 34 Louisenstrasse in the South Hessian spa town Homburg vor der Höhe (Bad Homburg since 1912). They were the youngest daughters of the merchant Moritz Dinkelspühler (November 1, 1856 in Fürth – May 1, 1917 [Bad Homburg v.d.H.] and his wife Klara (Clara) née Eichenberg (October 20, 1867 Bad Homburg – May 30, 1934 [Bad Homburg v.d.H.]); the surname Dinkelspühler probably derived from the Bavarian-Central Franconian imperial city Dinkelsbühl. Thekla and Luise had three sister:

  • Minna (Mina) Dörnberg (July 9, 1888 Homburg v.d.H. – January 23, 1943 Theresienstadt Ghetto [suicide]) (also cp. Daume and others (Hg.) 2013, 413);
  • Hedwig Sandberg (1890 Homburg v.d.H. – 1940 or 1941);
  • Frieda Sandberg (October 11, 1892 Homburg vor der Höhe – [October 12, 1944 deported to Auschwitz]).

Her twin sister Luise Dinkelspühler could take refuge in the United States in April 1937. Until being dismissed due to Nazi policy, she had been employed as a clerk and stenographer in Bad Homburg and also worked in a “Zwieback” (rusk) factory in nearby Friedrichsdorf/Ts. In New York she took up a job as a nurse: in 1941 at hospital, in 1946 as a private nurse (Hessian State Archives).

Moritz Dinkelspühler had married into the manufactured goods business Lehmann & Eichenberg at 23 Louisenstrasse. He was a member of the respected Talmud-Thora-Club (cp. Grosche 1991: 29). After his death (1917) his widow Klara Dinkelspühler continued the business for textiles, fabrics, yarns and men´s underwear (ibid.: 44). She died in 1934. One year before, on April 1, she had experienced the state-organized Nazi boycott of Jewish companies. It still has to be checked in more detail whether the house at 23 Louisenstrasse was owned by a non-Jewish coal merchant before or after the “Aryanization”. In the 1930s Thekla Dinkelspühler lived with one of her sisters (probably Luise) on the second floor for rent (ibid: 79). Business and inheritance were gone, which was why her twin sister, the only survivor, fought for compensation (“reparations”) (Wiesbaden Household, Court and State Archives). When the November pogrom was taking place in Bad Homburg, in plain daylight in front of everyone, their flat was not spared. During a trial initiated after the war, a person involved reported: “I met the Dinkelspühler sisters on the first stairs leading to the top. Then I went up to the second floor […], where several people were busy with the demolition of the home furnishings. […] I want to state that I prevented one of the men from pocketing some pieces of toilet soap” (quoted by Grosche 1991: 79). Witnesses accused the NS perpetrator of “having been very much actively involved in the destruction of the home furnishings in the flat of the Dinkelspühler sisters”, where he even “intended to smash the bath” (hearing of offender, quoted by ibid.: 80).
On April 30, 1939 the Nazi regime abolished the rent control for all people it had classified as Jews. Also Thekla Dinkelspühler was threatened by compulsory admission to a ghetto house (“Jews House”). She possible tried to leave Nazi Germany in vain. She used the remaining options for action and left her native town to go to Frankfurt am Main. On August 14, 1939 Frankfurt´s Jewish Nurses´ Association accepted her as a student nurse (ISG Ffm: HB 655: 64). It is not known, whether she already had any care experience. Like Bertha Schönfeld, she lived in the nurse´ house and was also affected by the forced relocation to Gagernstrasse Hospital on November 19, 1940 (cp. ibid.), where she participated in the care of the sick and elderly, which was done under increasingly difficult conditions due to growing Nazi repressions. She was certainly informed about sister Bertha´s suicide in June 1941.

Photography: Thekla Dinkelspuehler's Grave.
Thekla Dinkelspuehler’s grave
© Birgit Seemann
Photography: Prayer plaque at the main entrance in the Jewish cemetery at Eckenheimer Landstrasse.
Prayer plaque at the main entrance in the Jewish cemetery at Eckenheimer Landstrasse
© Birgit Seemann

Thekla Dinkelspühler also committed suicide in Gagernstrasse Hospital on May 22, 1941 (ISG Ffm: HB 687, Page 48). She was only 40 years old. Just two days later another big deportation took place from Frankfurt to Poland, this time to Majdanek or to Izbica transit camp, from which no one returned. Unlike those murdered in the Shoah, sister Thekla got her own grave in the Jewish cemetery on Eckenheimer Landstrasse. Autobiographical sources like letters or diaries have not been passed down, neither by Bertha Schönfeld nor by Thekla Dinkelspühler. They are considered to be lost. Thus, this article can only be an approach to their biographies.

The author thanks Mrs Mira Schneider (Rabenau Regulatory Agency and Registrar´s Office), Dr. Krüger and Mr Mengl (city archive of Bad Homburg) as well as Dr. Siegbert Wolf (Frankfurt am Main Institute for City History) for their help and valuable information. Without Adolf Diamant´s, Thea Levinsohn-Wolf´s, Allan Hirsh´s or Hilde Steppe´s remembrance work, Bertha Schönfeld and Thekla Dinkelspühler would have been completely forgotten today.

Birgit Seemann, 2014, updated 2017

(Translated by Yvonne Ford)

Unpublished sources
ISG Ffm: Institut für Stadtgeschichte Frankfurt am Main Hausstandsbücher:

HB 655: Hausstandsbuch Bornheimer Landwehr 85 (Verein der jüdischen Krankenpflegerinnen zu Frankfurt a.M.), Sign. 655

HB 686: Hausstandsbücher Gagernstraße 36 (Krankenhaus der Israelitischen Gemeinde Frankfurt a.M.), Sign. 686, Teil 1

HB 687: Hausstandsbücher Gagernstraße 36 (Krankenhaus der Israelitischen Gemeinde Frankfurt a.M.), Sign. 687, Teil 2

 OuSt Rabenau: Ordnungs- und Standesamt Rabenau:

Personenstandsunterlagen Familie Schönfeld

 HHStA Wiesbaden: Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv Wiesbaden:

Entschädigungsakte Luise Dinkelspühler, Sign. 518/10299.

 StAHG: Stadtarchiv Bad Homburg, Personenstandsunterlagen:

Geburtsurkunde Nr. 129 Dinkelspühler, Thekla

Geburtsurkunde Nr. 130 Dinkelspühler, Louisa


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Alemannia Judaica (Kesselbach/ Rabenau): http://www.alemannia-judaica.de/londorf_synagoge.htm

Gedenkbuch BA Koblenz: Bundesarchiv Koblenz: Opfer der Verfolgung der Juden unter der nationalsozialistischen Gewaltherrschaft in Deutschland 1933-1945. Gedenkbuch: http://www.bundesarchiv.de/gedenkbuch/directory.html.de

Hirsh, Allan o.J.: Bamberger/Wassermann Family Tree [private genealogische Website]: http://www.ahirsh.com/pdfs/BAMBERGER-WASSERMANN_TREE.pdf

Jüdische Friedhöfe in Frankfurt: http://www.jg-ffm.de/de/religioeses-leben/juedische-friedhoefe

Jüdisches Museum Frankfurt am Main (mit interner Datenbank der aus Frankfurt Deportierten): http://www.juedischesmuseum.de

Spurensuche. Jüdische Friedhöfe in Deutschland. Eine Einführung für Lehrer und Schüler. Website des Salomon Ludwig Steinheim-Instituts für deutsch-jüdische Geschichte an der Universität Duisburg-Essen, Duisburg: http://spurensuche.steinheim-institut.org/index.html

Yad Vashem (Jerusalem): Zentrale Datenbank der Namen der Holocaustopfer: http://www.yadvashem.org/

“Descending from a famous family of scholars…”

Jewish nursing history and genealogy using the example of the nurse Johanna Sämann

Whose purpose and work was it?
His, who sent out the generations from the start.
I, the Lord, the first, and with the last, I am he.”
Isaiah, 41, 4

Title page: Title page of the periodical „Jüdische Familienforschung,“ (Jewish family research), special edition, Berlin 1936.
Title page of the periodical „Jüdische Familienforschung,“ (Jewish family research), special edition, Berlin 1936
© Jewish Museum, Berlin, Photo: Jens Ziehe

The foundations for the choice of a profession – sometimes even a vocation – is often laid in the parental home where first social learning processes generally take place.
Skills, deficits, the manner of dealing with demands and conflicts are in part passed on from generation to generation. For the socio-historical reappraisal of nursing, apart from the biographical research (cf. “Biographisches Lexikon zur Pflegegeschichte ”; Grypma 2008; Hanses/Richter 2009), historical family research (genealogy) is of the utmost importance. Research opportunities also open up especially for the Jewish part of German nursing history: Where did the Jewish nurses came from? How did they grow up? How did they live their Jewish identity? Which factors influenced their decision to enter the nursing profession? But also: What happened with the nurses´ families during the NS period? The investigations and reconstruction of Jewish nursing biographies face different challenges than that of Christian ones.

Grandchild of a Torah scholar: the nurse Johanna Sämann
The results of previous investigations into the history of nurses in German-Jewish hospitals reveal a relative homogeneity with regard to their social origin. In order to show some aspects clearly, a very well-researched family biography of the nurse Johanna Sämann is presented in the following.
On 25th February 1891 she was born as Johanna [Johanne] Levi in the village Altengronau (today´s district von Sinntal near Schlüchtern, Main-Kinzig-region) and maternally influenced by the Württembergian, paternally by the Hessian country Judaism. Both parents came from respected families: The mother, Mirjam (Mari) Levi née Sulzbacher, was a daughter of the rabbi David Sulzbacher from (Bad) Mergentheim, “who used to be well known as a famous scholar in the local area” (Israelite, volume 28, magazine no. 52 (07-JUL-1887), page [943]-944, Beil). Hirsch Sulzbacher, Johanna Sämann´s uncle, taught as a teacher in the south Hessian town Groß-Bieberau. When Mirjam Levi died short before her 80th birthday in 1930, the obituary stated: “With Mrs Levi we lost one of those wonderful Jewish female characters who have, unfortunately, become increasingly rare these days” (Israelite, volume 71, magazine no. 49 (4-DEC-1930), page 9). Johanna Sämann´s father, Raphael Levi, worked as a Torah scroll writer (Sofer), shohet (shochet) and administrator of the cemetery of the Hessian-Jewish community Altengronau for many years. He died in 1926 over 70 years of age and was also commemorated by the “Israelite”: “Descending from a famous family of scholars – even the grandfather of the deceased had done the divine work of writing Torah scrolls here – he was also a rare godly man and an artist in his field, to which eloquent witness is bore by the Torah scrolls written and tefelin produced by him” (Israelit, volume 67, magazine 24 (10-JUN-1926), page 7).
Apparently the Sulzbachers and Levis set a particular example of Jewish religiousness and learning, social justice (Zedakah) and charity (Gemilut Chassadim) to their environment. Having been established in her Jewish identity by her family biography already, Johanna Sämann met almost perfectly the criteria for the professional profile based on the nursing training designed by Dr. Gustav Feldmann and other protagonists (Feldmann 1901): between Jewish integration efforts and an often anti-Semitic environment, the Jewish nurse should – in addition to her professional and dedicated service at Jewish and non-Jewish patient beds – vouch for the positive values of Judaism.

Family biography and nursing profession
Johanna Sämann’s background is, also in other respects exemplary for the family biography of Jewish nurses. Many were drawn from country regions (cf. to country Judaism Richarz/Rürup 1997) to Jewish hospitals (Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Hamburg, Köln, Breslau et al.) for training reasons. Jewish family research is often combined with regional research, especially when “Jewish villages” (Jeggle 1999) with a high Jewish percentage of the population are concerned. The main difference of socialization experience between Christian and Jewish nurses was that the age-long existence of Jews as a vilified and always vulnerable minority with simultaneous anti-Jewish outbursts, pogroms and expulsions was embedded in family memory. Occupational bans had the effect that the Jewish nursing staff did not consist of farmers´, artisans´ or workers´ children, but almost solely of members of the social class of small merchants, cattle dealers, shopkeepers or, like Johanna Sämann, Torah scholars or village teachers. However, their economic situation was precarious: especially from the last third of the 19th century the Jewish communities declined rapidly, as young Jewish men sought their livelihood in the cities or emigrated to America. Like other country rabbis, Johanna Sämann´s grandfather David Sulzbacher had to close his Jeschiva (Talmud school for young Jewish men) and to support his family with commercial activities. Her father Raphael Levi, who was in charge of the small Jewish community of Altengronau, had to feed his wife and eight daughters of which Johanna was the second youngest. She needed to find a husband as breadwinner or to learn a profession – and chose nursing (like her sister Sara Levi). The chances of marriage for religious Jewish women had declined further, not only because of the emigration of young fellow believers, but also due to the increased number of marriages with Christian women in the course of the integration (assimilation). Later Johanna Sämann married Sigmund Sämann, a widower, who was many years older than she and a Jewish Nürnberg merchant..At the age of 33 years Johanna gave birth to her only son Gerhard (Skyte/Skyte 2006).
Her decision to enter the nursing profession also corresponded to contemporary attributions, seemingly natural feminine qualities such as “motherhood, caring, tenderness”, virtues of “sacrifice, hard work, patience” (Walter 1991, page 9), which did not allow profitable employment opportunities for women in the German Wilhelmine Empire in the first place. However, these gender stereotypes concerned nurses of all denominations. The question concerning both Jewish and Christian nurses of whether the familial sibling status influenced / influences careers in the nursing profession, remains speculative: Did Julie Glaser become matron at Frankfurt´s Jewish hospital, since she as the eldest of four sisters had developed leadership potential and, additionally, came from a distinguished middle-class family, whereas Johanna Sämann, of whom such a promotion to a leadership position is not known, as the second youngest of eight sisters, was more likely one of the supervised younger siblings? Did Erika Neugarten as a member of the ironing personnel, on the other hand, not do any nurse training at Frankfurt´s Jewish hospital, since she, unlike Julie Glaser and Johanna Sämann, could not prove to live a so-called well-ordered family life?

Review: Travel into the family past after the Shoah
Johanna Sämann, her husband and her minor son were among the exterminated people of the Shoah. Survivors and descendants often go on an arduous and painful search for murdered relatives and family branches. However, genealogical research can also release energy, when traces of the lives and merits of missing persons are discovered and appreciated. Both perspectives are combined by the life account of Thea Levinsohn-Wolf (1907 – 2005), one of the few published personal accounts of German-Jewish nurses. In the book she dedicated an emotional Kaddisch (Jewish prayer for deceased) to her parents, her sister, the little nephew and more than 50 other relatives in total, who were victims of the Shoah. She found solace in the memory of her ancestors, whose traces in the Rhineland she followed on a trip through Germany in 1991: “Das Oberland” as my parents called the Hunsrück (a region in Rhineland-Palatinate) was almost daily mentioned at my parental home. That was their home, where their birthplaces were, as it says a song, and also their fathers´, grandfathers´ and great grandfathers´ […]. (Levinsohn-Wolf 1996, page 150). Advanced in years, Thea Levinsohn-Wolf had “an emotional time when experiencing the scenery and visiting the places, whose names have been familiar to me since my childhood. I have come full circle.” (ebd. S. 157).

Birgit Seemann, 2011 (updated 2020)
(Translated by Yvonne Ford)


Biographisches Lexikon zur Pflegegeschichte = Who was who in nursing history. Bde. 1-3 hg. v. Horst-Peter Wolff. (Bd 1: Berlin, Wiesbaden 1997; Bd. 2-3: München 2001, 2004); Bde. 4-5 hg. v. Hubert Kolling. München 2008, 2011

Ellmann-Krüger, Angelika G. 2007: Bibliographie zur deutsch-jüdischen Familienforschung und zur neueren Regional- und Lokalgeschichte der Juden [Elektron. Ressource] = Bibliography on German-Jewish family research and on recent regional and local history of the Jews. Wiesbaden, 1 CD-ROM + Beil.

Grypma, Sonya J. 2008: Critical Issues in the Use of Biographic Methods in Nursing History. In: Lewenson, Sandra B./ Krohn Hermann, Eleanor (eds.): Capturing Nursing History. A Guide to Historical Methods in Research. New York, N.Y., S. 63-78

Hanses, Andreas/ Richter, Petra 2009: Biographieforschung. In: Darmann-Finck, Ingrid u.a. (Hg.): Fallrekonstruktives Lernen. Ein Beitrag zur Professionalisierung in den Berufsfeldern Pflege und Gesundheit. Frankfurt/M., S. 63-82

Israelit: Der Israelit. Ein Central-Organ für das orthodoxe Judentum. Online-Ausg.: Compact Memory – Internetarchiv jüdischer Periodika, http://www.compactmemory.de/.

XVIII. Jahresbericht für das Jahr 1917 sowie XX. Jahresbericht für das Jahr 1919 des Vereins für jüdische Krankenpflegerinnen E.V. zu Nürnberg. Nürnberg: J. Rosenfeld´s Druckerei

Jeggle, Utz 1999: Judendörfer in Württemberg. Erw. Neuaufl. Tübingen

Joergens, Bettina 2011: Jüdische Genealogie im Archiv, in der Forschung und digital. Quellenkunde und Erinnerung. Essen

Levinsohn-Wolf, Thea 1996: Stationen einer jüdischen Krankenschwester. Deutschland – Ägypten – Israel. Frankfurt/M.

Richarz, Monika/ Rürup, Reinhard (Hg.) 1997: Jüdisches Leben auf dem Lande. Studien zur deutsch-jüdischen Geschichte. Tübingen

Seemann, Birgit 2019: „Die jüdische Schwester ist längst heimisch geworden in unserer Stadt‟. Der Verein für jüdische Krankenpflegerinnen zu Nürnberg (1900–1938). In: Mitteilungen des Vereins für Geschichte der Stadt Nürnberg 106 (2019), S. 165-206

Skyte, Heinz/ Skyte Thea Ruth 2006: Our Family. Isaac of Sugenheim and his Descendants, http://www.rijo.homepage.t-online.de/pdf/en_de_ju_sky50132.pdf

Walter, Ilsemarie 1991: Krankenpflege als Beruf. Aspekte beruflicher Sozialisation und Identität dargestellt anhand einer empirischen Untersuchung. Wien u.a.

Internet Sources (sample)

Alemannia Judaica – Arbeitsgemeinschaft für die Erforschung der Geschichte der Juden im süddeutschen und angrenzenden Raum: www.alemannia-judaica.de

Avotaynu – Publisher of Works on Jewish Genealogy, Bergenfield, NJ: www.avotaynu.com

The Central Database of Shoah Victims‘ Names: www.yadvashem.org

Gesellschaft für Familienforschung in Franken e.V.: Die Judenmatrikel 1813-1861 für Mittelfranken (Staatsarchiv Nürnberg): www.gf-franken.de (Publikationen/ Digitale Quellen)

International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS): www.iajgs.org

JewishGen, New York: www.jewishgen.org/jgff

Joods Historisch Museum, Amsterdam: www.communityjoodsmonument.nl