Where did we come from?
After the destruction of the second temple
in Jerusalem in the year 70 B.C., the Jews who were living in Palestine were dispersed by
Titus and many of them ended up in Rome. Then, some years later, as Caesar conquered
Gaulle (France) and the western part of Germany, the Jews followed the Roman armies and
settled in the areas which were being conquered. The ones who settled down in Germany
prospered and were substantial in building up commerce and industry. By the year 1000,
about 200 Jewish communities were in existence in western Germany, one of them in the city
of Frankfurt at the river Main. These Jewish communities kept growing until the time of
the crusades, which started in 1096, and continued for about 200 years. Many of the
communities were annihilated.
About the year 1340, King Casimir the Great
of Poland (1309 to 1370), anxious to turn his agricultural and backward nation into an
industrial and commercial one, encouraged the Jews who were being persecuted in Germany to
come to Poland and help him in developing this country. Many were happy to come and escape
from Germany. The Jews brought along the German language as it was spoken at this time,
"Alt Hoch Deutsch," and continued the use of this language, which today is
called Yiddish. It is still being used by some of the old generation, but it is written in
Hebrew characters, with some Hebrew words mixed in.
These Jews, as well as the ones in other
central European countries, are known today as "Ashkenazy," which means
"German" in Hebrew. Their rites are somewhat different from those of the
Sephardic (Spanish) or Falasha (Ethiopian) Jews.
Over the years, conditions in Poland
deteriorated badly. As the country was being developed, envy and suspicion of their Jewish
fellow citizens caused a tremendous amount of suppression. Whereas in the 14th and 15
century Jews were welcomed into all trades and professions, they now started to be
severely limited and oppressed. This got even worse since a large part of what had been
Poland was being annexed by Russia. Beginning with the second half of the 19th century,
many Jews in Poland made every effort to leave this country - emigrating either to the New
World, the U.S.A., as did a number of Max Seeman's sisters in the early 20th century, or
to the central European countries, largely Germany and Austria. Thus, Max Seeman with his
family moved to Vienna in 1914.
Unfortunately, few records were kept; and
with the constant moves from town to town due to the constant persecution, it was not
possible to reconstruct to any extent the history of the Seeman family. We have no
knowledge whatsoever of the fates of previous generations, even our knowledge of Relly's
grandparents is very sketchy. None of Relly's cousins has any information beyond what is
In Frankfurt, after the Jewish community had
been completely obliterated during a crusade in 1348, it was re-established, and by 1365 a
viable community of about 20 families was in existence again. This community continued to
grow and prosper for almost 600 years, even if at times under difficult conditions. It
always was under the protection of the Holy Roman Emperor in Vienna. The Ghetto was
established in 1462. In the beginning it was very comfortable, containing, in addition to
the homes of its citizens, a synagogue, a dance hall, two hotels, two restaurants, as well
as public baths and wells.
To better understand the history, it should
be mentioned that the city of Frankfurt was not part of any of the German states, but was
a "Freie Reichstadt," namely, an independent state of its own, subject only to
the directives of the far away Holy Roman Emperor in Vienna until 1871, when the city was
conquered by Prussia.
Admission of outsiders to the Ghetto was
severely restricted, and only relatively few from other communities were allowed to move
in and stay there permanently. They had to be highly recommended, be prosperous and
learned. In times of war, even during the 30-year war, the Ghetto was left completely
The only exception occurred in 1614 when a
dissatisfied pastry baker by the name of Vincent Fettmilch with a group of his followers
invaded the Ghetto and pillaged same. The Jews were driven out of the city and deprived of
their property, although none were hurt. When word of this occurrence reached Emperor
Matthias in Vienna, he sent his troops to Frankfurt, had Fettmilch hanged and quartered.
The city of Frankfurt was fined 175.919.- guilders to repair the damage done to the Jewish
homes, and the members of the Jewish community were escorted back into Frankfurt by the
army in a festive parade. Ever since, the anniversary of this event was celebrated by the
community as a second Purim holiday, namely "Vincent Purim." From this day on,
the gates to the Ghetto showed the imperial crest and the inscription: "Protected by
his Imperial Majesty and his empire."
The community was governed by its own
elected council, which was not subject to the city administration, but only to the Emperor
in Vienna to whom very heavy taxes had to be paid. The Jewish community organized and
supported its own social institutions, like hospitals, old age homes, orphanages, etc.,
and levied a 10% tax on all residents to support those who were very poor. There were also
a number of schools, although they limited themselves to the teaching of religious
subjects only. Only in 1804 was the first school of higher learning founded by Siegmund
Geisenheimer, who was the brother of Walter Natts grandmothers grandfather.
There were many restrictions on the daily
activities of the members of the communities; in the later years they could only earn
their livelihood by lending money and trading in used garments and other used goods. While
in the beginning they were able to engage in all crafts and wholesale commerce, these
privileges were taken away over the centuries.
The number of marriages permitted was
restricted to 15 per year, only two of which were allowed to be to outsiders who did not
live in the Ghetto.
As time went on, conditions kept getting
more difficult. The very small area, a narrow street less than ½ mile long, had to
accommodate as many as 625 families as well as their places of business.
The protection this community enjoyed for
about 500 years was almost unique in Europe.
The drawings following this page will give
an idea what the Ghetto looked like.
In 1810 the Jews were permitted to move out
of the Ghetto to reside anywhere in the city. The restrictions limiting their professions
were lifted at the same time.
All the ancestors on my mother Clara
Natts side lived in the Ghetto. Other than their names and time of death, not much
is known about them until about 2 to 300 years ago, since most of the information came
from their tombstones. Whatever information we know is shown on pages 96 to 113 together
with their portraits where available.