The family of Sigmund Dottenheimer

Translation by Joana Brooks and Lesley Loy

Heinrich Dottenheimer
Heinrich Dottenheimer

The merchant and wine merchant Heinrich Dottenheimer, born on November 15th, 1855 in Markt Berolzheim, was the son of master tailor Joel Dottenheimer and his wife Dina, née Fellheimer.

As a young adult, he moved to Gunzenhausen and opened a wholesale wine and spirits store in 1883. So he must have come here around this time as well. In the same year he married Ida Asyl, born March 19, 1861 in Cronheim as the daughter of Bernhard Asyl and Amalia, née Heymann. However, he only received citizenship on December 29, 1897.

House No. 10 on Nürnberger Strasse is mentioned as the first address for their business.

In 1900 he had his own commercial building built on the corner of Burgstallstrasse and Bühringerstrasse. Many older Gunzenhausen citizens still remember the 'immensely large wine shop' of the Dottenheimer family at Burgstallstraße 1.

                                  Advert and shop sign

In addition, Heinrich Dottenheimer had a building built in 1906 with a 5m deep cellar as a wine store. Today it has the number 1a, the deep basement is still there.

(today)    Burgstallstrasse 1a
(today) Burgstallstrasse 1a

Heinrich and his wife Ida, *05.11.1883 as daughter of Bernhard and Amalia Asyl in Cronheim,  had five children, but only two lived to adulthood.

Hermann *26.01.1885 in Gunzenhausen, +19.02.1885

Frieda *10.07.1886 in Gunzenhausen

Sigmund *18.10.1887 in Gunzenhausen

Louis *28.01.1889 in Gunzenhausen +19.08.1889

Max *06.08.1893 +16.10.1893

Mother Ida died 13.01.1907. Later Frieda and Sigmund continued to run the business, together with their spouses: Sigmund became the proprietor in 1912.  

Frieda Dottenheimer and her husband Max Strauss built their own house at Bismarckstraße 27, where they continued to run a wine wholesale business.

Frieda und Sigmund Dottenheimer © Stadtarchiv Gunzenhausen

In 1913, Sigmund Dottenheimer married a woman from the Franconian wine region. It is Frieda Reinhardt from Gerolzhofen, born on July 10, 1886 as the daughter of Meier Reinhardt and his wife Emilie, née Schloß. When she gets married, her parents give her a precious Torah shield to take with her into the marriage. It is made available to the synagogue in Gunzenhausen, where it serves to adorn the Torah.

They had four children

Joel Fredi * 31.10.1913
Kurt Moses * 05.10.1915
Irene * 25.10.1920
Werner Hermann * 14.09.1923

Fredi und Kurt Dottenheimer © Stadtarchiv Gunzenhausen

Irene und Werner Dottenheimer © Stadtarchiv Gunzenhausen

The oldest son, Joel ‘Fredi’, moved to Augsburg in 1929.  As at this time there were no signs of anti-Semitism, we can only suppose that he moved for business reasons.  In 1930 the ground floor was rented out to a dentist.  The dentist, Karl Liebl, opened his practice there and it was continued by Reinhard Carben of Markt Berolzheim as of 01.09.1937.

In the interim years the Dottenheimer family suffered discrimination and business boycott, and Sigmund Dottenheimer and Max Straus closed their business in 1933.  Sigmund Dottenheimer made two requests to the Gunzenhausen Town Council for permission to run a wine bar on Jewish holidays and to open a coffee business in his former offices.  He based this on his financial difficulties.  The Council rejected these requests on 17. October 1934, claiming that from a public point of view there was no need for them.

Wilhelm Lux, a Gunzenhausen journalist and contemporary witness reported at length on this in magazine 44/1988 of "Alt Gunzenhausen" where he recognized in this "the complete brutality of the new rulers towards the Jewish population…" "One can only argue that pure malice was behind these harsh words and the intention to humiliate the Jewish population even further. According to Wilhelm Lux, the Jewish Dottenheimer family "belonged to the most respected within the Jewish community and enjoyed a considerable reputation amongst the non-Jewish population".

Heinrich Dottenheimer registered his address in Munich on 28.11.1938.
Sigmund Dottenheimer and his son Kurt were deported to the Dachau concentration camp on 1.12.1938, but were later released.

According to Sigmund Dottenheimer's granddaughter, Faye Dottheim Brooks, who now lives in New York, her grandmother was forced to sell the house at this time to the "Großdeutsche Reich" for 910 RM. They in turn disposed of it in 1944 to the NSDAP and it later became property of the town. On his release from the Dachau concentration camp Sigmund Dottenheimer and his family left Gunzenhausen and moved to Frankfurt/Main.  All their children accompanied them, except Joel Fredi.

However shortly afterwards they must have lost track of each other, as Mrs Dottheim Brooks writes that her grandparents thought that their daughter Irene wanted to leave Germany.  They then sent a trunk of household articles to Rotterdam but this was destroyed in a bombing raid.  The tragic part of this story is that the 18 year old girl had already been in a concentration camp for some time, where is unknown, but she was declared dead in 1945.

Gunzenhausen with class teacher Arnold Kurzmann, school year 1927/28
Gunzenhausen with class teacher Arnold Kurzmann, school year 1927/28; Fredi Dottenheimer 1st row, 3rd on the left. Source Frieda Schmidt Gunzenhausen, STAGUN, publishing rights protected

Only Joel Fredi, the eldest son, was able to leave Germany in time.

on the emigration ship
(2nd from the right) on the emigration ship Source Faye Dottenheim Brooks, New York

His daughter wrote to us:
"With regards to his travels, his passport is stamped Augsburg on May 21, 1937, Hamburg on May 25, 1937 and Southampton, England on May 28, 1937. He arrived in the United States sometime in 1937 and settled in St. Louis, Missouri."

This young man is the only survivor of the whole Dottenheimer family.

  • Heinrich Dottenheimer perished in the Theresienstadt concentration camp, aged 88.
  • Sigmund Dottenheimer and his wife Frieda disappeared in the Auschwitz camp
  • Werner Hermann Dottenheimer died aged 19 in the Majdanek camp
  • Kurt and Irene Dottenheimer were declared dead as of 1945 as no one knew where they perished

The large business premises in the Burgstallstrasse were used by the women's division of the NS during the war. The dentist's practice was closed from 1940 to 1945 as R. Carben was called up for army service.

His son, Rainer Carben, reported :
On 01.09 1937 my father sub rented the practice and living areas on the ground floor of the Dottenheimer's house. He married my mother Frieda Faulstich in May 1940 and I was born in February 1941. My father was called up for army service in 1940. After the eviction of the Dottenheimer family, an NSDAP organization moved into all the rooms on the ground floor. My mother, her sister "Bobby" and I carried on living in the flat on the ground floor of Burgstallstrasse 1. In 1945 the house, including all the furniture, was occupied for a short time by the US army and during this period we lived with our grandmother in the Brunnengasse. Afterwards we lived on the ground floor of Burgstallstrasse 1 until 1956. My father came back from captivity in autumn 1945 and opened his practice again. As of 1945 the premises were first owned by a Jewish organization and then became the property of the Free State of Bavaria. In 1956 my father bought the outbuildings and wine cellar from the State and converted them into the house at Burgstallstrasse 1a.
According to my father, one night a member of the Dottenheimer family asked my father for shelter from the Nazis and he gave it to him, on the ground floor. So members of the Dottenheimer family must still have been living on the upper floor of the house after 1937. Probably this incident took place on "Reichskristallnacht" in 1938. After the war the town rented the house out to nine tenants, mainly refugees, who had to live in a very small space.

Frieda Wiedmann (circa 1980)
Frieda Wiedmann (circa 1980)

It was only in 1956, ten years after the end of the war, that it became known in Gunzenhausen that Fred Dottenheimer had survived. He wrote to Miss Frieda Wiedmann, the family's seamstress before the war. He had learned from Lehmanns (Burgstallstrasse 7) that Frieda Wiedmann had been given a suitcase by his parents to keep for them. And this lady really did send a case with cutlery and table linen to Fred in St Louis in 1956. She had kept it for eighteen years, since the family's departure in 1938.

In 1956 Reinhard Carben bought the former wine store and converted it into a residential house and practice - today it is Burgstallstrasse 1a. Karl Marschall's family bought the large corner house in that same year and installed a hairdressing salon there. Karl Marschall had opened a hairdresser's in the Spitalstrasse already in 1925 and then transferred it to the Bahnhofstrasse in 1930. In 1983, following Karl Marschall's death, his son Werner Marschall and wife Margot took over the house at Burgstallstrasse 1. It remains a significant spot in the town up until today.

Joel Fredi Dottenheimer's daughter, Faye Dottheim-Brooks, visited Gunzenhausen with her family in March 2001.

She wrote to us about her reasons:
"In August my brother received a letter from the Director of the Franken Jewish Museum that they have in their collection an item of property stolen from my grandfather during Kristallnacht and they are searching for direct descendants of Sigmund Dottenheimer. The item is a torah breastplate."

The Dottenheimer family's descendants live today in New York and after their trip to Germany they told us that they had left the object on long-term loan with the Franconian Jewish Museum in Fürth. It remained there until 20 February 2003.  In future it will be exhibited at least for some time in the Gunzenhausen town museum.  The Dottheim-Brooks family was here for the presentation of the torah breastplate in the Gunzenhausen town museum on 14 March 2004.

David Brooks, Faye Dottheim-Brooks and their daughters Kara and Joana
David Brooks, Faye Dottheim-Brooks and their daughters Kara and Joanna in front of the family's torah plate in the Gunzenhausen museum © Franz Müller
Foto: Jüdisches Museum Franken
Breastplate © Jewish Museum Fürth

We were able to see the 300 year old plate when we visited the museum.  Sigmund Dottenheimer had made it available to the Gunzenhausen Synagogue over quite a long time as ornamentation for the torah.   Mr Purin explained to us the whole adventure of this precious ritual object, the value of which is estimated by experts to be equal to the cost of a family house.  Some ten years earlier a man had appeared at the Fürth town archives and handed over, amongst other things, two torah plates.  He had received them from his father-in-law, who had been given them.

Dottheim-Brooks family in Gunzenhausen with Mayor Gerhard Trautner.
Dottheim-Brooks family in Gunzenhausen with Mayor Gerhard Trautner.

The family decided to place a stone in the Jewish Cemetery in Gunzenhausen, commemorating all their lost relatives. We exchange e-mails with the two daughters, Joana and Kara, and this is very interesting as we have a lot of questions for them. The one condition that the Dottheim-Brooks family made for this loan touched us deeply:

The youngest daughter Kara celebrated her Bat Mitzvah in New York on 22.02.2003. She was called to the torah, to be a daughter of the Jewish laws - comparable to confirmation in the catholic and protestant churches. Dr Bernhard Purin brought the torah plate to New York for this celebration. For the first time since the holocaust, it served its true purpose in a synagogue, namely to adorn the torah roll.

A Hebrew text is read out during the Bat Mizvah. Each week of the year has its specific segment, as the whole torah should be read out within the year. So Kara knew which chapter she would be reading : it was the story of the golden calf. She had to practice for a whole year.

Kara reads the Hebrew text from the torah roll.
Kara reads the Hebrew text from the torah roll. In front lies the torah cloak and the family's 300 year old torah plate.
Joana (front row in the middle) in our classroom

Kara's sister Joana spent July 2002 and 2003 here in Gunzenhausen and came to lessons in our class. We really liked her. She spent her free afternoons with the other pupils.  The aim of the trip was to improve her German.  We visited the Jewish cemetery in Bechhofen with her and found it a great shame that she had to leave after four weeks. But she returned in the following years, her sister Kara too. Now she speaks our language perfectly and has married a German man, Markus Klostermeyer from Bavaria.

Memorial plaque in the cemetery

In 2008 the Dottheim family mounted a memorial plaque in the Jewish cemetery of Gunzenhausen to commemorate the dead of their ancestors.

Faye, David, Markus and Joana in front of the memorial plaque © Franz Müller