Memoirs of Doodooshaboo: Joseph Austrian in Bavaria 1833-1847

December 28, 2016

By Amorin Mello

This is the first installment of the Memoirs of Doodooshaboo series on Chequamegon History, as transcribed by us from the original handwritten memoir of Joseph Austrian at the Chicago History Museum.  This installment contains rare details about a Jewish community in Bavaria before other records were destroyed by Nazi Germany in later years.  Later installments describe Joseph Austrian’s experience with his Leopold and Austrian relations on Chequamegon Bay during 1851-1852 (Part 1 and Part 2).


Joseph Austrian’s
Autobiographical and Historical Sketches.

Dedicated to
My Wife and Members of my Family.

 

My Childhood Days. 1833.

Wittelshofen is a municipality in the district of Ansbach in Bavaria in Germany.”
Wikipedia.org

I was born September 15, 1833, in a small village called Wittelshofen (Mittel Franken, Bavaria), located at the foot of the Hesselberg, a mountain 1800 ft. high, and at the junction of two little rivers Wörnitz and Sulzach near Dinkelsbuehl, where the judiciary district court is located.

Hesselberg (689 m above sea level) is the highest point in Middle Franconia and the Franconian Jura and is situated 60 km south west of Nuremberg, Germany.”
Wikipedia.org

On the top of the said mountain, every year in June a fair, called “Hesselberger Messe,” was held which was the great attraction for all the people of the several villages located around the foot of the mountain.  To this it was customary to invite friends and relatives from far off places to attend, and it was generally very enjoyable barring the climb it meant to get up there, as it was too steep for vehicles to drive up there excepting from one direction where the road up was more gradual and which was used for the transportation of things for the fair.  Besides the many places where beer was sold and where the rural population had dances, and other amusements there was generally a circus and other shows there.  The view from the top of the mountain in clear weather was very fine and interesting.  I always looked forward impatiently to the time when this fair took place, and soon as I was old enough to take this long steep walk, I availed myself of the opportunity which I greatly enjoyed.

Wittelshofen

First Jewish presence: 17th century; peak Jewish population: 282 in 1809/10 (40.1% of the total population); Jewish population in 1933: 17″

~ Destroyed German Synagogues and Communities

The village of Wittelshofen had about 500 inhabitants of which about half consisted of Jews and the other half Protestants.

My father’s house was one of the largest and best in the place and stood opposite an old small castle, the grounds of which were surrounded by a stone wall about 10 feet high.  Our home was on a lane called “Schmalz-gasse” which in wet weather was very muddy.

Reb is a Yiddish title for Orthodox Jewish men.  Frohen is a German word for “happy”.

My father’s name was Abraham Isaac Oestreicher (Austrian), he was born in Wittelshofen and died there Sept 17, 1852 of apoplexy at the age of 75 yrs.  He was an only son and his father gave him what educational advantages could then be obtained and principally in “Hebrew” which gained for him the name title of “Reb” and he was known by the Jewish village people as “Reb Frohen”.  He had a large library of Hebrew books, they were of unusual size and some nearly a hundred years old.

Secondary sources about the 1855 Yom Kippur at La Pointe suggest that the Austrian family practiced Reform Judaism in later years.

My father was brought up strictly in the observance of the Jewish faith and adhered to its orthodox teachings very strongly.  He was an easy going man and known by all for his honest and upright character.  He dealt in live stock and had some good farm lands located around the outskirts of the place.

Malka is a Yiddish name that means “queen”.
“Here too, formerly a number of monuments were standing, which cost a great deal of money and at the same time furnishes further proof of the corruption of names. On one appeared the name of Falk Austrian, whilst along side of it stood an older tomb-stone for which the good German name of Oesterreicher had evidently been still considered good enough; the inscription there read:Malla, wife of Abraham Oesterreicher.”
~ Chicago, the Garden City. Its magnificent parks, boulevards and cemeteries. Together with other descriptive views and sketches by Andreas Simon, 1894, pg. 147

My mother’s name was Malka nee Heule, whose parents were considered wealthy, her father, [Hyrun?] Heule was known and respected all around for his charitable deeds, especially for what he did during the famine, caused by the crop failure in 1825, when he sent big wagon loads of flour and other suplies to the famine stricken district to feed the needy, thereby saving many from starvation.

My mother was an intelligent and determined woman, and took sole charge of the house hold and education of the children. She was born in Braunsback, Wurtenberg. She died at the age of 87 yrs in Chicago, Aug 6th, 1882.

Fürth (Yiddish: פיורדא‎, Fiurda) is a city located in northern Bavaria, Germany, in the administrative division of Middle Franconia. It is now contiguous with the larger city of Nuremberg, the centres of the two cities being only 7 km apart.”
~ Wikipedia.org

My father had three children by his first wife and ten by my mother, the eldest died when a baby the others were Falk, Marx, Julius, Babette, Ida, Fanny, Joseph, Minna, & Solomon. The latter being the youngest was my father’s pet. Falk, my oldest brother, was sent to a neighboring city for higher education, which afterwards secured for him a position as a clerk and traveling agent in the business of Wedels in Furth, a brother-in-law of my mother, where he earned a good salary.

Julius’ uncle Samuel N. Guttman lived with his children Henry and Babette in Feutchwangen.
Leather tanning and crafting is an ancient Jewish industry and trade.

My next brother Julius, was sent to Feuchtwangen to learn the tanning trade and afterwards travelled afoot for a couple of years or more working in a number of other cities at his trade, as it was there customary to perfect themselves in the trade, and later going clear to Paris, France, before returning home, a short time afterwards he emigrated to America to join our brother-in-law Lewis F. Leopold, who had located in business at Mackinaw, with branches in Wisconsin.

1844-julius-oestreicher-immigration

Julius Austrian (Oestreicher) immigrated with his sister Babette (wife of Louis Freudenthal Leopold) and brother-in-law Henry Freudenthal Leopold.
~ “New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1891,” image 19 of 895; NARA microfilm publication M237 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).

No other primary sources about brother Falk in America have been found yet.

My brother Falk went to California in 1846 via Panama.  At six years of age I entered school. I remember well when my mother took me on the first day to school and had me give the teacher a package of smoking tobacco. I went to the public school in the morning, the teacher had little education, his father was the village tailor; the son being versed in the three “R’s” his father secured the position of teacher for him. In the afternoon I went to the Hebrew school. Mr. Mandel was the teacher there, he had received his education in a Seminary he was very strict and high tempered, the children all feared him, as occasionally he afflicted corporal punishment. Besides this I had private lessons in history and geography.

At the age of thirteen I had to start to assist working in the field, in harvesting and hay making. I also had to plow when I was barely strong enough to handle the plough, I had to hook the handles over my shoulders to manage to get to the next furrow. I had to arise during some of the winter months at 4 o’clock in the morning, and assist in the threshing while it lasted, and I got thrashed sometimes too, when I did not keep time. My greatest sport was fishing, for which purpose I made my own pole and I often walked off to the river, when my folks thought I was busily employed. The fish I caught were mostly perch. I remember I once caught several and fastened one to a string fastened to a stake in the ground, suddenly a severe thunder storm came up, at which I made hurridly for home, forgetting the little perch I had left behind. I started bright and early the next morning to get it, and to my great surprise on pulling the string I hauled up a big pike instead of the little perch, which had evidently swallowed the latter tied to the stake and thus was caught. The joy of my good luck was indescribable.

Another sport I was very fond of was shooting off pistols. My brother Marx had one in an old cupboard drawer, which I managed to get hold of one day and when none of the family were about I with a few of my boy friends ran off to the fields, where we had such fun taking turns in shooting, and when we had no more powder we snapped off percussion caps. When a pistol was not available I constructed an improvised pistol of my own design, by attaching a big old hollow key to a natural crook of wood, which I selected in the wood shed and to which I fastened it with wire. After filing a hole on the side of the key, under which I attached a piece of tin to hold the powder. When i was ready to shoot, I laid a little flat sponge on the tin, lighting the outer edge, which acted as a fuse, and as it burned toward the powder ignited it causing it to go off and making a loud report. Not trusting the old key entirely, however, fearing it might explode, I went to a safe distance after lighting the fuse.

"Sitting in front of the synagogue in Wittelshofen." ~ US Holocaust Memorial Museum, 25821.

Outside the synagogue in Wittelshofen, Bavaria, Germany. Circa 1912-1938.
~ United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, photograph # 25821.

“The Jewish community of Wittelshofen inaugurated a synagogue on Postweg in 1843. (Records suggest that a synagogue existed in Wittelshofen before 1804.)”
“Wittelshofen was declared ‘Judenfrei’ (‘free of Jews’) in January 1939.”
“The synagogue building was demolished during the winter of 1938/39.”
“A memorial stone was later unveiled there.”
~ Destroyed German Synagogues and Communities

In 1840, at the grand celebration of the new synagogue, my parents entertained with an invitation on a large scale. My mother had arranged for a special cook to prepare a grand feast. I and the younger children were excluded. I did not fancy being barred from participating. In strolling through the pantry I espied an elaborately decorated tart, chief ornament to grace the table. While the cook was otherwise engaged at the last moment, I managed to eat off the ornaments and decorations. Never will I forget the excitement and consternation the discovery of my act caused. Could hands have been laid on me then, I would have been severely dealt with.

Uncle Samuel N. Guttman’s children Henry and Babette immigrated with their Austrian cousins to the Keweenaw Peninsula and Chicago in later years.  Nathan Freudenthal Leopold Jr. (grandson of Babette Guttman and Samuel Freudenthal Leopold) was the subject of worldwide scandal due to his role in the Leopold-Loeb Murder of Bobby Franks.

In my fourteenth year, my mother began planning as to my future. The income of the fields, and the cattle business had declined, and considering the large family and household to be provided for did not permit of incurring much expense for my higher education, and my father advanced age made it impossible for him to enlarge his income. My mother was anxious to get me away from Wittleshofen, as she could see no promise in the future there for me. At this time, an opporunity was offered through my uncle Samuel N. Guttman and accepted.

To be continued in Manhattan 1848-1850

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