The family of Salomon & Babette Gassenheimer is the second branch of the Gassenheimer family that we are able to document with some confidence. This family played a critical role in the Jewish communities of Bibra and Hildburghausen and also contributes to our understanding of the Jewish communities in Erfurt and Eschwege.
Salomon, b. 1840, was the younger brother of Samuel, b. 1837. When Samuel left Bibra in the early 1860s, Salomon remained in Bibra and continued the family business in the Bibra area; from 1868 on, he was also co-owner of the Firma Gassenheimer in Themar. In the mid-1860s, Salomon married Babette Wolfermann of Barchfeld. The couple were important in the Bibra Jewish community; in 1879, “S.” — probably Salomon — Gassenheimer, was leader of the Jewish congregation in Bibra.
Babette and Salomon had nine children, all born in Bibra between 1869 and 1885. In 1892, Salomon and Babette left Bibra for Hildburghausen. How many children made the move with them is unclear: certainly the first seven in birth order, but the dearth of information about Ricka Paula suggests that they may have died before the move.
In Hildburghausen, Salomon established an independent branch of the Gassenheimer agricultural machinery business. The local Themar newspaper announced the opening of the business.
Salomon Gassenheimer lived only six years after the move from Bibra; upon his death in August 1898, his eldest son, 25-year-old son Oskar carried on the business with his younger brothers, Louis and Josef. In 1911, Josef Gassenheimer, the youngest brother, left Hildburghausen for Erfurt where he set up a branch of the family business. He and his wife, Sidonia Fuld, had three children. By the First World War, therefore, S. Gassenheimer & Sohn was a major industrial enterprise complementing the activities of the family of Samuel Gassenheimer.
In 1927, Oskar Gassenheimer died; Louis continued the business with his wife, Helene, and his widowed sister-in-law, Clothilde Gassenheimer. The 1930 Erfurt Adressbuch entry identifies who was involved in the family business where.
The lives of the Gassenheimer families in Themar and Hildburghausen intersected frequently — the two towns are just 10.5 km apart, after all — and going to Hildburghausen, the much larger town, was an occasion. As well, there were links through marriage to another Themar family, that of Hugo and Klara Grünbaum. Their youngest daughter, Mira, married Arno Sommer, son of Hedwig Sommer (née Gassenheimer).
We know something but not a great deal about the other children of Salomon & Babette. The publication of two Gedenkbücher/Memorial Books of the Jewish Holocaust victims in Erfurt and Eschwege have provided new and important detail. We learn that Carl Gassenheimer, b. 1875, went to Eschwege in 1890 as an apprentice and later established a company, Firma Gassenheimer & Co. (Darmhandlung/sausage-casings) not agricultural machinery. It appears that he was in business with his brother-in-law, Jacob Steinhardt, husband of Carl’s younger sister Alma. Alma married Jacob Steinhardt in 1902 and two children, Lucie and Werner, grew up in Eschwege. Another sister, Rosalie, also lived in Eschwege, married to an Isidor Horwitz. Of the youngest sisters, Ricka, b. 1883, and Paula, b. 1885, we at present only know their names, birthplace & date.
The Nazi takeover of power in January 1933 probably prompted the same response from the Gassenheimer families as it did from most, if not all, German Jewish families: first, families focussed on securing the future of their children, and then they attended to their own futures. Securing the future meant leaving Germany, either for another country in Europe or outside of Europe altogether. Hedwig Sommer, née Gassenheimer, who was divorced from husband Jacob Sommer, left for Venice on 2 August 1936. We believe that her son Arno, daughter-in-law, Mira (née Grünbaum) and grandson went with her. Others went to Palestine — Grete Sommer — and South Africa — Werner Steinhardt and Erna Heinemann — and while we do not exact dates, they probably left before November 1938.
The 1938 Novemberpogrom made the Nazis’ intentions for German Jews crystal clear. We don’t yet know how many of the family members were arrested and hauled off to a concentration camp. We do know that one man, Josef Gassenheimer, did not survive ‘protective custody’ at Buchenwald; he was murdered in Buchenwald of 29 November 1938. Carl Gassenheimer was so brutalized in Buchenwald that he returned to Eschwege after four weeks barely alive. He died in July 1941 just 1½ months before the Nazi Regime made the decision to deport German Jews to the ‘east’ to die.
The Nazis ‘allowed’ German Jews to emigrate until October 1941, and more younger members of the family were successful: the family of Oskar and Clothilde’s daughter, Ilse, were all in the United States by March 1940. Manfred and Günther Gassenheimer, the sons of Louis and Helene, both escaped, Manfred to England and Günther to Shanghai.
Three of Salomon and Babette’s children — Louis Gassenheimer in Hildburghausen, Hedwig Sommer in Venice, and Alma Steinhardt in Eschwege — and three daughters-in-law — Helene (wife of Louis), Ida (widow of Jacob ), and Sidonia (widow of Josef) — were trapped in occupied Europe when Hitler decided to deport German Jews to the ‘east’ in order to be killed, by starvation, illness, work, or bullets. Of these six, one — Ida Gassenheimer in Berlin went underground — and five were deported. Sidonia Gassenheimer was deported in the 10 May 1942 transport to Belzyce Ghetto. Three — Louis Gassenheimer, his wife Helene, and his sister Alma Steinhardt — were deported on 19/20 September 1942 to Theresienstadt. Ten (10) other members of the Gassenheimer family were also deported to Theresienstadt, as was Jacob Sommer, Hedwig Sommer’s divorced husband.) Hedwig Sommer was rounded up in Venice Italy in 1943 and taken to Auschwitz to be murdered.
At the end of WWII, Ida and her sister-in-law, Helene, were alive. Helene, who survived Theresienstadt, travelled to the United States to join her sons Manfred and Günther in California. Ida, who survived four years in the underground, left Germany in 1947 for London to join her daughter, Käte Cohn (née Gassenheimer). Here she published a memoir, My underground life in Berlin 1941-1945, London: Wiener Library.
Of the grandchildren who may have been in occupied Europe in late 1941, we know the following: two of Hedwig Sommer’s children — Jenny and Ludwig — were deported in 1941 — Jenny in November from Frankfurt am Main to the Minsk Ghetto, and Ludwig in December from Hannover to the Riga Ghetto; both were murdered. Arno Sommer, his wife, Mira, and their son lived through the war/Holocaust in Italy and in 1948 travelled to the United States. We believe that Alice Krauss, Louis and Helene Gassenheimer’s daughter, was in Düsseldorf and that her mother initially went there before travelling on to the United States on 4 October 1949. Here Helene joined her two sons: Günther who had arrived in May 1947 from Shanghai and Manfred who travelled with his wife, Edel, from England to the States in June 1948. The whereabouts of Lucie Kleefeld, née Steinhardt, Alma’s daughter, are not clear but she was living in Paris in 1982 when she submitted a Page of Testimony to the Yad Vashem to honour her mother.