Friday, February 29, 2008

DIALECT OF LOST JEWS LINGERS IN A BAVARIAN TOWN

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February 10, 1984

By JAMES M. MARKHAM
Shortly after he became Mayor of this little Bavarian town in 1978, Hans- Rainer Hofmann was sitting in a tavern, where he overheard some elderly people whispering something unintelligible: ''Der Schoufett hockt im Juschbess und kippt sein Ranze voll.''

A native of nearby Ansbach, the Mayor sensed uneasily that the older people were gossiping about him.

But only after he had taught himself Lachoudisch, a local variety of German containing many Yiddish and Hebrew words, did he realize that they had been saying: ''The Mayor is sitting in the bar filling his belly with booze.''

In mastering Lachoudisch, Mayor Hofmann was going against the grain of history. Since the last Jews were deported from Schopfloch in 1939, Lachoudisch has been dying out. Today not even a score of Schopfloch's 2,500 residents can speak this dialect, which appears to be about as old as the first Jewish settlement here in the early 16th century.

A Dialect for the Village

In those days, many of the Jews were cattle dealers. Traveling to Bavarian villages and towns, they found it convenient to keep trade secrets in a language of their own. Other Schopflocher traders picked it up, and eventually the village had a kind of underground dialect.

Lachoudisch is replete with words that bespeak the Jews' wary relationship to Christian authority. The word for ''church'' in Lachoudisch is ''tum'' - from the Hebrew word for ''religiously unclean.'' The word ''police'' is ''sinem''- from the Hebrew for ''hated.'' A priest is a ''gallach'' or, in Hebrew, ''one who shaves.''

By 1835, 332 of Schopfloch's 1,390 people were Jews, but later in the 19th century many Jewish families moved to nearby cities like Nuremberg and Stuttgart or joined the tide of Germans emigrating to America. In 1933, the year Hitler came to power, there were only 37 Jews in the village.

Older people in Schopfloch like to remember the early 1930's as an autumnal moment of harmony between the Jews and Gentiles. Fritz Grimm, who is 62, recalls as a boy scampering to the big Jewish houses on the street near the railroad station to open letters for the pious, for whom such activity was forbidden on the Sabbath.

''We got five pfennig a letter,'' said Mr. Grimm, a retired butcher and a Lachoudisch speaker. ''In those days, that was real money.''

But, after the Nazis took power, new laws decreed that Jews and Gentiles end contacts. Even so, Mr. Grimm says that his father, a butcher, secretly killed his animals in a kosher fashion to keep up a clandestine Jewish trade, since many of his Gentile customers were too poor to pay cash. Synagogue Torched in 1938

''The atmosphere between the Jews and Christians was good,'' said Karl Philipp, a schoolteacher who came to the village in 1933. ''But many of the Jews didn't seem to grasp what was happening outside. I remember Norbert Jericho asking me if he could join the Hitler Youth.''

The first Jews were deported from Schopfloch in 1936, taken during the night to the railroad station by Nazi paramilitary thugs. And on Nov. 9, 1938, the infamous Crystal Night, Nazis set fire to Schopfloch's synagogue.

The flames were quickly extinguished, to prevent them from spreading to adjacent houses. But the persecution of the remaining Jews intensified. Mr. Philipp recalls one man who was paraded through the streets with his hands manacled and wearing a sandwich board that read ''I am a Jewish pig'' because he had spoken to a Christian girl.

''I remember Samuel Herz saying that he would give up half his wealth if he could die in Schopfloch,'' said Mr. Philipp, who has written a small history of the village. Mr. Herz did not get his wish. Except for a handful who escaped to Palestine, Argentina and America, the Jews of Schopfloch were deported and put to death at Flossenb"urg or other Nazi camps. No Memorial for the Jews

The people of Schopfloch seem to have dealt with this past the way many Germans have, by not thinking about it too much. At the town hall, there is a framed memorial to the sons of Schop floch who fell in World War II. There is no memorial to Samuel Herz and the others.

Older people like Mr. Grimm still refer to the big houses once owned by the Jews - distinctive because of their roofs beveled at the tops - by their former owners' names. A young couple is renovating the interior of the half-timbered building on Bahnhofstrasse that was the Hebrew school. A gap between two buildings across the street shows where the synagogue once stood. With support from the small Jewish population of Munich, Mayor Hofmann oversees the maintenance of the sprawling Jewish cemetery in Schop floch, which lies on a gentle slope amid a stand of thin trees. During the war, members of the Hitler Youth overturned some gravestones, but they were righted after 1945.

At carnival time in Schopfloch, children sing a ditty called ''Lachoudisch Is Really Not So Hard'' in which the Hebrew and Yiddish words are momentarily revived. But the Mayor's effort to organize a club that would keep alive and propagate the dialect has failed, largely because so few people still speak Lachoudisch. Those Who Know Are Dying Off

''Those who know a lot,'' said Friedrich Ruck, a 48-year-old butcher who learned the dialect from his father, ''you can count on the fingers of two hands. It is 10 years too late. The people born in 1900, who really knew the dialect, are dying off.''

Three years ago, Zvi Lidar, a correspondent for Israeli television, did a documentary on Schopfloch that created something of a sensation at home. (Mr. Lidar had learned about the village from an Israeli diplomat who happened to spend a night in a local inn, and was astonished when a waitress understood his children's needs when they spoke in Hebrew.)

Since then, a number of curious Israelis have visited Schopfloch. But only rarely have Jews who once lived here come back.

Last July, Julius Ansbacher - who changed his name to James Anson when he and his wife fled to New York in 1939 - returned to his birthplace. Mr. Anson's brother, his brother's wife and their daughter were deported from Schopfloch in 1936 and died in the gas chambers. He himself had left the town for eastern Germany before Hitler came to power.

''First you feel you are back where you grew up - like your homeland,'' said the 88-year-old Mr. Anson, who lives in Brookline, Mass. ''People were very nice. On the other hand, there was a sad feeling, because the synagogue wasn't there anymore. And we knew that the people had to have once been mean and enemy-like.''

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2 comments:

metzenberg said...

Rudi,

I am the descendant of several Jewish families from Schopfloch and nearby towns like Feuchtwangen and Dinklesbuehl. One of my ancestors born in 1762, Reuben Kohn Mannheimer, was the cantor in Schopfloch in the early 19th century.

Howard

Although the 1984 article describes a town with no memorials or monuments, where the Jewish population is fading from memory, I am impressed with what they are doing today to restore synagogues and cemeteries, to collect every possible piece of judaica that represents a part of their past, including this linguistic remnants.

Although I cannot attribute her pronunciation to Schopfloch, my Jewish grandmother, whose great grandparents were born there and in nearby towns, used pronunciations of the few yiddish words she knew that were very different from the Litvack and Galician pronunciations that predominate in American Yiddish.

Howard Metzenberg

Anonymous said...

James Anson died May 14, 1993.