Kehl and Bodersweier July 31

The Hotel Regent Contades seemed like an appropriate staging area for the most anticipated event of our trip, a visit to the ancestral home of my paternal ancestors to which we had been ceremoniously invited by Karl and Hannah Britz, as reported in the background introduction to this chronology.

Our hosts had sent instructions for travel by tram to Kehl, the small city opposite Strassbourg on the German side of the Rhine.


On the bridge, I recalled my grandmother’s tale of her husband Rudolph’s swim across the river to Strassbourg with my father on his back, much to her dismay.

We greeted the Britzes in the square at the front of the City Hall, to begin the day’s activities by meeting their son, Wolfram, the  Mayor.


He was particularly interested since Jan was presently on the City Council of San Luis Obispo and had served three terms as Mayor of our town of similar scale.

We were welcomed into his light and spacious office by Burgomeister Britz and seated around a conference table along with Mark Gregotsch, the Civic Information Officer, who, with our permission took notes and pictures.


I strained to speak German, which I’d used very little since College. At first the conversation flowed, driven by the multiple topics we found in common: balancing economic development with environmental concerns, and cultural heritage, which Jan shared since she had lived in Germany as a student for the year before we met.  After the first half hour, however, the talk reverted mostly to English, which Wolfram and Karl, spoke with ease.


Wolfram showed us the City Council meeting room which accommodated 32 elected members, rather than the five in San Luis Obispo. He and Jan discussed comparative government structures and election strategies, to which he was a newcomer having run for the first time recently after a career as  emergency room nurse.  On the way out he presented her with a City pin.


Karl introduced the town tour with a sheaf of documents, including a map of the dozens of places with monuments marking the horrors inflicted upon its Jewish citizens during the Holocaust.


Wolfram drove the four of us elders from one area to another, and wherever he got out of the car, was greeted warmly by passers-by, often with specific concerns that wanted his attention.

First stop was at a plaque by the central square


“In memory of the former Jewish community of Kehl.  On this corner of School and Armory Street since 1889 stood the Synagogue. It was destroyed on January 1 1938. The Jewish citizens were deported and most of them were murdered. The memory of that sacrifice is warning and command to protect the worth of people.”

Karl pointed out  numerous “Stolpersteine,” i.e.”stumbling stones,” embedded in the pavements –part of a project initiated in 1992 by a German artist to preserve memories of individuals the Nazis tried to eradicate, and supported since then by locals at tens of thousands of locations.


Based on their ongoing archival research, and using fragmentary genealogical information we had earlier sent,


Karl and Hanna generated a family tree showing the descendants of my great grandparents who were among the victims:


and led us to the addresses where they had lived:


Catalogued here


During his career as elementary school teacher, Karl had organized students to create their own memorials, this one naming the concentration camp in France where local residents were shipped:


This part of the visit concluded with lunch at a dockside restaurant run by Wolfram’s friends, fondly remembered as his campaign headquarters.  I especially enjoyed the spaetzle,  homemade noodles I loved eating as a child, the thick batter flicked by my grandmother with a knife off a special cutting board into a big pot of boiling water.

She was born in 1878 in the  rural village of Bodersweier located several miles from Kehl, her family’s home at least as far back as the 1730’s. Having moved to the city of Stuttgart with her husband and son after the first world war and then fled in 1938 to New York where she worked as a seamstress for upper crust clients on the east side, she referred to her birthplace with amused contempt, as the boonies. But it was also the home of her adored parents, Marx and Roos Wertheimer, whose portraits were displayed prominently in her small living room in Manhattan and now hang on the wall next my study in San Luis Obispo



Bodersweier is still the home of the Britzes.  After lunch, the Mayor returned to City Hall and they drove us there down a country road eager to show us around.

First the immaculate cemetery, with its side-by-side monuments to the Nazi soldiers killed during World War II and the murdered village residents.

Although Jews and non-Jews in Bodersweier got along harmoniously before that time, my ancestors for centuries were interred at a separate regional Jewish cemetery too far to reach that day.

Karl drove us through the village’s short narrow streets lined with ancient Bauwerk houses, preserved not to promote tourism but because they remained solid, now upgraded with internet wiring and solar panels.


As we admired this one, he brought out a photocopy of the land registry record from 1877 showing its transfer of ownership to my great, great grandmother, Gittel Wertheimer, upon the death of her husband.


Appearing at the bottom row center of this 1908 photo passed to me by my father (pictured as a one- year old held by his mother on the far left), Gittel has remained a family legend among her many  descendants.


From childhood, I remember the story repeated that in old age while at work in the street, she’d bend down and spread her wide skirt to go pee.

More of her story was preserved in the genealogical book completed in 1977 by another of her grandchildren, my grandmother’s cousin, Martha Wertheimer Landmann:


Nearby, Karl showed us a beauty shop window in which he’d persuaded the owner to hang a flyer about the former Bodersweier synagogue at that location alongside the glamour poster.


Taking us into their lovely modern home and urging us to stay for afternoon tea and stories about other returning descendants they’d welcomed, Jan and I just didnt feel up to it, loaded with the day’s experiences and lacking our naps. We’d hoped they could join us for lunch the next day in Strasbourg, but that couldnt work for them. Nevertheless we remained in email contact, exchanging news and more documents, among which were newspaper stories originating from the Kehl Civic Information Office.

2023-08-03-badische_zeitung - Besuch2023-08-03 Kehler Zeitung

The disproportionate publicity confirmed my impression that our visit was more than a personal and local event, but part of the long-term German initiative of reconciliation requiring the nation to face the painful facts of what their forbears had done, make manyfold efforts at restitution, and invite reconnection with those whose heritage was lost.


I’m writing this account of a day almost three months ago, which provided some glimmers of redemption from human viciousness through conscience and compassion. The events in Israel during the last three weeks dim those glimmers.  If the Jews were  innocent victims of Nazi evil, the evil inflicted upon their descendants recently by horrendous terrorist attacks is at least partially shared by the recent regime’s policies regarding Palestinians and its ongoing ruthless reprisals.

P.P.S. February 5 2024

We heard today from Karl and Hanna who sent a link to the new Stolperstein Guide Entry they created for Joseph Wertheimer, 1858-1940, using the multigenerational family picture we provided at their request. The link, providing some details of his life and his tragic end, appears below.


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