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Virtual Jewish World: Beckum, Germany

Beckum is a town in the northern part of Germany that was chartered in the early 13th century. The earliest information on Jews in the area dates back to the period following the Thiry Years' War in the mid-17th century.

- History of the Jewish Community
- The Holocaust

History of the Jewish Community

The earliest reliable information on the number and the living conditions of the Jews in the town of Beckum is from the period following the 30-year war. The German Reich of those days was fragmented into mini-states and consisted of more than 300 Länder. Like everywhere else in those days, also here in Beckum the Jews existed under the immediate protection of the prevailing sovereign. In exchange for specified taxes, they were accorded security and certain privileges that had to be reaffirmed whenever a new sovereign was installed. Jews living under the protection of a ruling sovereign were called “protected Jews.”   

Protection Letters of the Archbishop of Cologne as well as of Archchancellor Maximilian Heinrich of the Holy Roman Empire who also served as the Bishop of Münster, recorded the number of “protected Jews” in Beckum as three in December 1683, which is the same as under his successor, Bishop Friedrich Christian in the year 1699. The old privileges were regularly renewed. In Beckum as well as in the entire Münster region the Jews coexisted in peace with the rest of the population. Nothing is known here of any serious outbreaks of intolerance, similar to the ones that in those days frequently occurred in other regions. The decrees of the Münster diocese solemnly pledged safety and justice for the Jews of Münster.

Evidently, a Jewish community as such did not exist in those days. Only after the middle of the 18th Century could one speak of such a Jewish community. In 1743, six Jewish families resided here. In an old community book it was tersely recorded that in that same year, with great sacrifice and under difficult conditions, the construction of the first prayer house was completed. It was situated on the Nordstrasse, on the site of the present synagogue. Shortly after that, however, the number of Jewish families again dropped to five.

We learn that in the year 1767 eight Jewish families resided here. At that same time, the first mention appeared of the (subsequently well-known) family name Windmüller in an extractus protocolli dated 27 October 1767. This is especially noteworthy since other Jews at that time did not yet have family names.

The turn of the century became an epoch of historic development, with an abundance of new ideas, hopes and ambitions. Moses Mendelsohn, the Descartes of the Jews, opened new avenues for German Jewry, that finally also penetrated into the remoter regions. It is evident that the influence of this philosopher from Berlin, also reached Beckum. The desire for spiritual learning and cultural activity within the community prompted the appointment of religious leaders, rabbis, and skilled religious officials. The first groping attempts were made at educating the young generation in Jewish subjects according to pedagogic principles. Those were first attempts, because Jewish schooling was still in its early stages, and there was not yet any systematic training of teachers and educators. It was thanks to the energetic efforts of Rabbi Sutro of the Münster region that the religious affairs of the Beckum community became supervised, and compulsive religious education was initiated. He made sure that the Jewish youngsters of Beckum would have competent teachers. 

The emancipation of Prussia’s Jews in 1812, inaugurated a fundamental change in the situation. The Jews of Beckum, however, were to benefit from the efforts of Baron vom Stein, only several years later. That was because in those days while Prussian statesmen prepared wars of liberation, Westphalia was was subject to the powerful regime of the Corsican conqueror. Thus the Jewish citizens of our town were to enjoy equal rights only after the collapse of the Napoleonic rule. In the year 1821 followed the official introduction of family names.

The gradual development of the private Jewish elementary school in Beckum began in the thirties of the previous century. It evolved from the former school for religious subjects. The first Jewish elementary school teacher assumed his duties for general subjects in 1835. The number of pupils and Jewish citizens of Beckum is shown in the following table:

Year    Jewish citizens       Pupils

1828            79                21*

1830            79                18*

1835            72                14

1840            68                12

1845            73                ?       

1850            89                7

1855            87                13

(*)  Religious instruction only.

The school premises were located in the synagogue building. After 1844, that same building also included the residence of the teacher. Meanwhile the community house became inadequate and a new building was being considered. At a school review by a government official from Münster in 1863, the construction changes were being examined more closely. There was the additional consideration that the Beckum Jewish community meanwhile had grown, by the addition of the communities of Lippborg, Liesborn and Herzfeld. The construction of the new community building took place in 1867. The synagogue as well as the official premises were thus considerably enlarged. Today [1924] the building has been in existence for more than half a century.

The Gemeindehaus, Nordstrasse 8 in 1920s

The school was considerably improved. It was directed by dedicated teachers that were moved by the idea to create an ambitious new generation. The longest tenure at our community was that of the teacher Osterman who served an uninterrupted twenty year (from 1878 to 1897). Only the onset of illness forced him to leave his position. To this day, he is a beloved citizen of our town. His successors at the management of the Jewish school made efforts to change its status to public. With the support of the authorities, and after unanimous decision of the town council, the plan was realized in 1911. On 1 July of that year, the first Jewish teacher was sworn in. This public school existed for eight years. After that, it continued to function as a private school. 

During the last years of the existence of the Jewish community in Beckum, the following men held the position of Teacher and Cantor: Sally Grunewald, Burghardt Löwenstern, Adolf Tint, Willy Katz, Jacob Raphael (1924 to 1937), and finally Moritz Fuld of Butzbach.

The First World War had left its traces in our local Jewish community. Two of its members did not return from the battlefield:

          Teacher Burghardt Löwenstern, born 28 March 1887 in Corbach, killed in action: 14 March 1915 in France

          Julius Heine, born 12 March 1895 in Beckum, killed in action: 19 May 1916 in France

There was a memorial plaque in the synagogue in honour of these war victims. Their names are also inscribed in the war memorial of the town of Beckum.

In 1924 there were 104 Jews in Beckum. By September 1937 only 32 remained.

The cemetery of the Jewish congregation is approximately 300 years old. It is known that the cemetery was leased for the first 150 years and only then was purchased by the Jewish congregation. Around 1900 Isaac Falk - then president of the congregation - planted two rows of Elm trees on the cemetery, much against the opposition of the other two communal leaders, resulting in some discord.

The oldest resident of Beckum and probably the oldest man in Prussia was the “Schutzjude” Isaac Falk, born in Freckenhorst in 1765. He died in Beckum in 1874 and is buried on the Jewish cemetery in Beckum.

A church record dated 18 November 1769, of the Christian community in Beckum reports the baptism of the Jew Abraham Dorenbach from Holland.

The largest cement works in Beckum, “Phoenix,” belonged to the children of Samuel Stein, known as “Schmudel,” until their emigration in the fall of 1936. Samuel Stein had built “Schmudelsdorf” (Village of “Schmudel”). The cement works “Phoenix” on Strombergerstreet in Beckum, were under the direction of Ernst Stein, Beckum, who later lived in Berlin. In 1936 the family emigrated to the United States via Belgium and the Argentine.  After the Holocaust the Stein family again came into possession of “Phoenix.” 

The Holocaust in Beckum

The terror against Jews and their businesses started early in Beckum. Posters appeared: Die Juden sind unser Unglück! (The Jews are our Misfortune). SA-men in their brown uniforms marched through the streets singing their vulgar songs: Wenn das Judenblut vom Messer spritzt, geht’s uns noch mal so gut!  (We shall rejoice when Jewish blood will squirt from the knife…)  It is understandable that under such circumstances most Jews did not venture out into the streets. Even the children were harassed.

Die SA marschiert ... Photo taken 1936 at Oststrasse, corner Ostwall.

Shortly after 1933, three Beckum Jews, unable to face the increasing hatred, chose to put an end to their lives. They were Albert Falk, Albert Stein and Kurt Windmüller.

At several places in Beckum posters appeared with anti-Jewish messages. Some local citizens, among them the old Salomon Windmüller, ventured to remove them.  According to a newspaper report, three citizens mentioned by name, one of them a clergyman, (“opponents of the National-Socialist movement and government”) were each sentenced to three weeks imprisonment. The 73-year-old Jew Salomon Windmüller was sentenced to six weeks. The report stated that the verdict had made it abundantly clear that the National-Socialist state would not be intimidated by anybody, not even by the catholic clergy, and that in future all subversive activities would be severely punished. 

Where the Nazis failed to find support, they spread fear. The residents of Beckum could see how their Jewish fellow citizens were being harassed and how their livelihoods were destroyed. They became concerned for their own safety. Those of them who continued to associate with Jews, were mocked with Judenfreund (Jew lover). Very few dared to visit Jewish families to render them comfort. Here the name of Mrs Hilde Wieler, Südstrasse, deserves mention.

Shortly before the Kristallnacht the Terhoch family left Beckum for Wiesbaden. In Beckum the Kristallnacht began late in the evening of 9 November 1938, at about 10:30 pm. It started at the lower end of the Nordstrasse, where the Synagogue and the school were demolished, as well as the apartment of the teacher. Windows and doors were smashed. SA and SS-men, most of them not in uniform, entered the building. Everything inside the building was smashed and thrown out into the street. The old teacher Fuld and his wife were beaten and chased into the street.  Then also the Synagogue was devastated. They did not even relent before the Thora scrolls…

The mob proceeded to the house of Falk where the 81-year-old Alex Falk still lived. Here too, windows and doors were smashed. They entered the apartment. On seeing the destruction, Alex Falk in his nightgown fled in distress to the entrance of the room of a young Christian woman who was managing the nearby “Hill” grocery store. The fanatic mob caught up with him and beat him relentlessly. When they left, the old man was dying. He was taken to Münster that same night, where he died. Also Regina Nordheim, Alex Falk’s housekeeper, was being mistreated. 

Some residents, terrified and helpless, watched the ongoing madness from their windows. Also in the old house of the Löhnberg family the mob wrought destruction. The two old ladies Elfriede Lebenberg and Rieka Löhnberg who lived alone in their house, were chased into the street only scantily dressed. Harassed by the mob they wandered around aimlessly, crying and wailing…

The house of L. Stein, Senior, opposite the Marienplatz on the Nordstrasse, was similarly devastated.  

73-year-old Josef Stein was beaten badly at his Oststrasse home, after he had refused to hand over his valuables. He received treatment that same night, at the Beckum Hospital. Later, Josef Stein managed to leave Germany to join his son Dr Carl Stein in Palestine, where he died. Years later, in January 1968, the grandson of Carl Stein, Amnon Paz was one of the victims of the tragic loss of the Israeli submarine “Dakar.” There is a plaque in Amnon Paz’s memory, on Carl and Edith Stein’s tombstone here in Haifa.  And only a few steps from their grave, is the grave of my own parents Jacob (Jack) and Lilly Raphael.

The steadfast Philipp Windmüller managed to escape with his family to a nearby barn, from their home at Weststrasse 32. The following morning the Jews were ordered to clear up the rubble in front of their homes. Their fellow-residents were able to observe the extent of the devastation. In front of the Synagogue they could watch Erich Stein chipping off, with hammer and chisel, the Hebrew lettering above the entrance to the Community Building on the Nordstrasse: 

        For mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people  (Isaiah, 56, 7) 

That same morning the young woman who lived in the Falk house, was led through the town carrying a board: Ich deutsche Frau habe mich mit einem Juden eingelassen!  (I, a German woman, have let myself become entangled with a Jew.) 

The events  had a sequel:  There was an attempt to take legal action against  Ortsgruppenleiter (local party chief) Hugo Scheifhaken. However, on that same day, by order from highest authority, all investigations by the public prosecutor were transferred to the Gestapo, and thus called off. This also applied to the investigation into the circumstances of the death of Alex Falk. 

Julius Rose managed to leave for England, and Moritz Fuld and his wife went to the USA. The last to leave Beckum was Philipp Windmüller with his wife and their two sons.  They went to the USA, via Russia and China

At that time, Louis Rose was only rarely seen in town. It was a ghostly sight to watch him walk the streets in his long coat on which the yellow star had been stitched. He tried to cover it with his briefcase, and wore the Iron Cross…He lived in the empty Synagogue building, until 1942. Then they too were sent to a concentration camp and to their death. That was to become the finale of the long established Jewish Community in Beckum. 

Sources: Article originally published in Beckum Shtetlinks webpage and reprinted with permission from the author and from JewishGen Shtetlinks. Photos also courtesy of the author and reprinted with permission.

This section is based on the Chapter (pages 77 to 79) by Jacob Raphael: Die Synagogengemeinde  (The Jewish Community) that was included in a festive volume published in 1924 on the occasion of the 700th Anniversary of the town of Beckum. Also included are parts of THE HISTORY OF THE JEWISH CONGREGATION OF BECKUM that appeared in the “Windmueller Family Chronicle” (pages 233 to 234).