More than you might think...
By: Lauren Leiderman
March 10, 2023
I didn’t train to become an educator and historian of regional Jewish history. The fact that I am now working in the field (one which I truly enjoy doing every single day) is a bit of kismet actually; and that adventure, that wave that I am still riding, largely started in the old Jewish Cemetery on Biesnitzer Straße in Görlitz’s Südstadt Suburb.
The picture of baby Aidan is actually one of the very first photos I took of the cemetery on the anniversary of Yom Hashoah in 2020. The first Jewish descendant of Görlitz, whom I had managed to locate while in lockdown during the COVID-19 Pandemic, Judi had asked me to lay stones and light candles at her grandfather, Fritz’s grave. I remember walking through the gates with a sense of awe, a literal buzzing in my toes, as I looked at the massive and majestic yet overgrown sacred spot. My son Aidan and I were the only ones there. How could I have known then that this was the the beginning of an adventure, the dawn of so many discoveries, which are still continuing to this day.
Press the fast forward button to late February 2023.
So, a few weeks ago, my appendix decided to literally say “addios amigo”, and after an emergency operation, I found myself in the hospital: in recovery from infection and surgery. On Day #4 of being in the same room and slowly weening off of pain medication, I decided the time was right to do some exploring for information packages I am making for students participating in Project Mitzvah: Chapter 1 in June. Ever since that first visit to the Jewish Cemetery, way back in Spring of 2020, there was one gravesite that always left me curious.
This grave site is HUGE, and it actually took me a few visits to it to find the name of whom this grave belonged to: Arthur Moser (1856-1913).
The Moser family’s grave site is stunningly beautiful. It is around 4 meters long (that’s about 13 feet for my Americans out there) by two and half meters wide (6 & 1/2 feet). It features beautiful benches for sitting, a fountain like feature in the middle, and what is in my opinion, the most beautiful Magen David in the cemetery. And over the years through multiple clean up efforts, tours with students, my own private trips to the cemetery: I was drawn time and time again.
So a few months ago in prep for Project Mitzvah, I decided to take a stab at tracking who Arthur Moser was. I already had some ideas about what had happened to the family because of what wasn’t there: more people. When I work with students and adults in the Görlitz Jewish Cemetery, I tell them to pay special attention to empty spaces. Pay attention to what is not there. When there is only one name on such a beautiful and grand tombstone, my first question is always: where are the other names and why are they not here? For this particular cemetery normally the answer comes in one of two answers: either the people whose names are missing survived the Holocaust or they were murdered during it. So let’s talk about Arthur Moser….
SALOMON "SALLY" HEYMANN
Arthur Moser was born on September 9, 1856, in Königsberg (today Kaliningrad, Russia)- it’s important to remember that before 1945, Germany was a MUCH larger country before losing territory after the Second World War. He came to Görlitz to marry a young lady named Fanny Levin. Finding Fanny was key for the discoveries to come.
Fanny Levin was born on May 2, 1865, in Stolp (today Slupsk, Poland)- notable not the closest city to Görlitz. So a first question for me, was how did both of these people come to be in Görlitz, when they were originally from cities that were pretty far away? Fanny came from a large family. She was one of seven children. It might be because of this reason, that Fanny was sent to Görlitz to live with her father’s sister, Helene Levin. Fanny’s father and aunt also came from a large family of children. But I wasn’t looking so much into them just yet…I was more interested in learning who Helene and her husband Salomon “Sally” Heymann was- and boy did things begin to get interesting.
Salomon “Sally” and Helene Heymann owned two factories in a smaller city called Ostritz- it is about a 20-minute drive south of Görlitz. My boss Felix had actually told me a few months before he was curious to find out more about Ostritz’s Jewish history, and here I had found something big in that direction. In 1862, the Jewish manufacturer Leopold Heymann founded a silk weaving mill in Görlitz. When the Zittau-Görlitz railroad line was completed in 1875, Leopold Heymann took advantage of the rising industrial location and bought the land to build a brand new silk weaving mill in Ostritz at Bahnhofstraße 39. The factory in Ostritz officially started operations on September 25, 1886. It was soon expanded under the management of his son (and Fanny’s uncle) Sally, who added departments for dyeing the fabrics produced. In 1890 he took over responsibility for the company and ran it from then on under the name of under the name “S. Heymann Seidenweberei”.
Nevertheless, Sally and Helene officially remained residents of Görlitz, where they lived with their “adopted daughter” Fanny Levin. According to the Jewish Community of Görlitz’s official records, Fanny was adopted by Sally and Helene. The three lived in a gorgeous villa located at Blumenstraße 30. When Fanny married Arthur Moser on February 21, 1886, the two also lived in this beautiful villa where they grew a family of four children together!
The silk weaving mill “S. Heymann” had in the meantime developed into the second largest industrial enterprise in Ostritz. According to Rolle, in 1898 the company employed 485 people: 110 men, 350 women and 25 young people. The working hours were from 7 o’clock in the morning to 7 o’clock in the evening, the hourly wage was 15-20 pfennigs. Among the employees were many Germans from the border and Czechs from the interior of the neighboring Kingdom of Bohemia. On the occasion of the company’s 25th anniversary in 1911, the employees who had been with the company since the first day were honored. As the owners of the company, Sally and Helene Heymann were aware of their responsibility for the community of the town of Ostritz and they greatly supported Ostritz through numerous charitable projects. When he died on May 11, 1911, the Oberlausitzer Rundschau reported: “Early yesterday morning, the following died in Görlitz in the 76th year of his life after a long illness Mr. Kommerzienrat Sally Heymann, the owner of the local silk weaving mill. … If one remembers the industrial development of our town, the name of Heymann will always be mentioned in the first place as well as the personal charity of the deceased will be remembered by many in our town. in our town will ensure lasting remembrance.” The staff wrote in the obituary: “He was always a faithful employer to us and his ever proven benevolence will ensure his lasting memory.” Helene continued to run the mill until her own death in 1917. Upon Helene’s death, it was revealed that Sally and Helene had created an endowment to protect the livelihoods of their employments through their retirement.
What a power couple!!!
BUT WHAT HAPPENED TO FANNY & ARTHUR?
From what I could find about Arthur, he supported Sally in managing the family’s many businesses. Arthur had a photography hobby, and traveled Europe on holiday with his camera. His name and photos were mentioned/featured in several hobby photography journals from the turn of the century. Who knew that was a thing?? To me, the most interesting mention of his photography work came from a journal in 1896; one of Arthur’s photos published after a trip to Rome. He had photographed The Arch of Titus– in which Roman soldiers are featured carrying away the sacred Menorah from Jerusalem. Arthur passed away on February 25, 1913 at the age of 56 years old- just two years after Sally passed away. After the deaths of Sally, Arthur, and Helene, Fanny Levin Moser moved first to Berlin. When the Nazis rose to power, Fanny fled to Ermelo in the Netherlands, where she thought she would be safe. After the Nazis invaded The Netherlands, Fanny was deported to Sobibór near Lublin where she was murdered on May 21, 1943. Two of Fanny and Arthur’s children survived the Holocaust: Eva and Chana. Their other two children, Heinz and Rose were murdered in concentration camps.
SO WAIT A SECOND...HOW DOES THIS RELATE TO ALEXANDRIA, LOUISIANA?
Now that is a GOOD question. Let’s go back to that night in my hospital room recovering from appendix surgery. As I was searching for more information about Sally and Helene’s factory in Ostritz, I came across a very interesting obituary from 1908 for a Mr. Hermann Levin. And take a read below:
So for those of you who can’t read German….you CAN read the “Alexandria, Lo.” part right? Well I legitimately thought I might be high on pain meds when I read that. This man was from WHERE???? So I immediately started searching more for Hermann Levin. Hermann was Helene Levin’s brother (Remember: Helene is Fanny’s aunt/adopted mother, Sally’s wife, and Arthur Moser’s mother-in-law). As I was searching through online newspaper archives, I found another word that immediately popped out to me: “The Daily Town Talk”. Now for those of you not in Alexandria, Louisiana, that name means nothing. But for those of you reading this from “Alec”, you know what that is- it is our town’s major newspaper, and apparently a really old one at that. I have to give their archivists a huge shout out, because there are literally hundreds of years worth of Daily Town Talk editions for an eager historian like me to find. When I searched Hermann Levin specifically in the archives of the Daily Town Talk, hundreds of results popped up alongside another name: Julius Levin– another one of Helene Levin’s brothers. Here is what I learned:
The Levin Family & Alexandria, Louisiana
In 1853, Julius Levin was born in 1833 in Rügenwalde, Prussia (today Darłowo, Poland). He was the oldest born of seven children. At only 20 years of age, Julius left his family and motherland for the unknown in a small town on the east bank of the Red River: Alexandria, Louisiana. Alexandria had only been chartered as a city in 1823, and the “city” that Julius arrived into was not the town I grew up in. Julius Levin would go on to have a huge impact on the city of Alexandria, and expanding the infrastructure that can still be seen today in the city.
After having served in the Confederate Army, Julius opened successful mercantile and lumber businesses. Levin also served on the city council and as president of the school board for several years, becoming one of Alexandria’s most well-respected and progressive citizens. Julius Levin was also one of the founding members of the Jewish community in Alexandria, where he served as the president of the “Congregation Gemiluth Chassodim” off and on from 1861 – 1906. This congregation still exists today!
When business was booming for Julius after the American Civil War, his brother Hermann Levin decided to leave Germany to join his brother in Alexandria in 1876. Hermann had a successful cigar store “Levin’s Smoke House” at 1112 Second Street in addition to other business ventures including a bar called “The Tasting Room”. Though Hermann never married, Julius did. He and his wife Justine had five children and many grandchildren.
Julius never forgot his German roots, and US entry immigration documents show us that he, Justine, and Hermann would return to Germany to visit family. These visits were even announced in the Daily Town Talk- specifically mentioning the family returning to Görlitz to see Helene Heymann (Julius and Hermann’s sister). In fact the Daily Town Talk has quite a few mentions of Görlitz in relation to the Levin family. At the Julius’ granddaughter, Bertha Goldenberg’s wedding, the Daily Town Talk reported: The bride “was handsomely gowned on this occasion in an imported gown, a present from her aunt, Mr. Julius Levin’s sister in Goerlitz, Germany.” Her dress and veil had come from Sally and Helene’s factory in Ostritz!
Julius and Justine Levin had an extravagant villa located at the corner of Fifth and Johnston Streets. In an article from September 1909 in the Daily Town Talk, a reporter covered the Levin family’s Sukkot celebrations with beautiful descriptions of both the rituals and the Levin family’s home. Julius and Hermann were founding patrons of Alexandria’s first “opera house”. Another connection to my home town that I had no idea about (which is funny considering I left Alexandria to learn the art of Opera singing in Boston). Hermann Levin died returning from a trip to visit Helene in Görlitz in 1908. At the time of Julius Levin’s death in 1910, a group of African Americans in Alexandria published a letter in the Alexandria Daily Town Talk that eulogised Levin as a “true friend of our race as well as to humanity.” Another obituary states: “Mr. Levin has been identified with many of the most important movements for the upbuilding of Alexandria. He was one of the most charitable and highly esteemed men in the city.”
-FAST FORWARD BACK TO 2023-
So in my hospital bed, once again I was left stunned, surprised, and a little freak out by the coincidence-of-it-all. This gravesite. This mysterious, large gravesite that had caught my attention all those year ago, that inspired the logo for a huge restoration project I am now leading in the Görlitz Jewish Cemetery- it connected me back to my own roots in that small little town on the banks of the Red River in Central Louisiana. My first visit back to the cemetery post surgery, I had a bit of trouble to find the grave of Sally and Helene Heymann…their grave site wasn’t where it was supposed to be according to my resources.
And then I realised that there was a place on the Moser family grave site with a very large plaque missing. This is normal to see sadly in the Görlitz Jewish Cemetery. Almost all metals of value were stolen first by the Nazis and then by the Communists. I realised- that this beautiful grave site that had literally pulled me to it since beginning this work- that is where they are. And even though there names had disappeared, now at least SOMEONE remembers them. Says their names. Remembers their story.
Jewish people believe that one is only truly dead when their name is forgotten. So I guess, the pull to this spot in the cemetery was the universe reaching out to make sure that this didn’t happen with the Heymann family and also by extension, the Levin Family back home in Louisiana.
Coincidence, divine guidance….I really don’t have the answer for that. What I can say, is that the Görlitz Jewish Cemetery, this sacred little spot, will never cease to amaze me. And I am truly so excited to help uncover more of its secrets with the help of more people to remember the names.
Click the Project Mitzvah Logo to learn more about Project Mitzvah: Chapter 1
Wow wow. Lauren what an amazing story. You seem to find so many fascinating stories that only a historian like you can do. Your have the interest and the ability to go down the rabbit hole and come out with some of the most remarkable and astonishing information. I can’t wait to see how your hometown responds. And the newspaper as well. Love you ! 😘❣️
Thanks bonus mom! And to think you helped start it all <3
Isn’t it amazing what you find when browsing the web,
I found my paternal grandfathers name and telephone number from Bernstadt Obershleisien, now Beiroutow Poland. Who would have known his phone number was 76.
Just an amazing story of how we find links in strange unrelated places
Isn’t it Richard? That is super cool!! We also have a Bernstadt near Görlitz 🙂