Schöntal and Berlichingen

“The name is a bit of a show-off,” I thought, as the train pulled into Schöntal, which translates as “Beautiful Valley”. But, stepping out of the station, I had to admit that the name of the village was not wholly unjustified.

But as beautiful as the valley was, the sun pushed me up the hills on the left and right banks of the river.

There, completely unexpected, I found a surprisingly large Jewish cemetery. I mean really large, especially considering how small the villages down in the valley are. More than 1000 gravestones are slumbering there in the forest, I would venture to guess.

A memorial plaque informs me that nearby Berlichingen was once the seat of a rabbi and that the cemetery is about 400 years old. The last grave I find is that of Henriette and Samuel Strauss, who died in May and June 1938. Sadly, this is the time when the history of most Jewish cemeteries in Germany suddenly breaks off. For reasons well known.

Less well known, probably, is the fact that the Limes, the border of the Roman Empire, once ran through here, dividing Germany into a civilized and an uncivilized part. But then, even civilization does not protect against barbarism, as we can seen from the topic alluded to above.

If the village of Berlichingen, mentioned above, rang a bell, you are not mistaken. It is indeed named after the knight’s dynasty known from literature and medical history.

Then it turned grey and rainy and uncomfortable, and I had to cut short my hike. But don’t despair. Soon, there will be spring!


About Andreas Moser

Travelling the world and writing about it. I have degrees in law and philosophy, but I'd much rather be a writer, a spy or a hobo.
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17 Responses to Schöntal and Berlichingen

  1. dnrteuer says:

    Thanks for introducing me to this beautiful hiking trail.


  2. Denzil says:

    Must be an awe-inspiring place to wander around, especially, as you mention, when you consider the situation in the late 30s.

    • Indeed! It made me try to imagine the local communities with all the Jewish life that was destroyed or chased away: a synagogue, a Yiddish or a Hebrew newspaper, a choir, artists, shopkeepers, people from all walks of life, from secular to religious, from Zionist to non-Zionist, and all of that even in those little villages.

  3. Kiwerry says:

    An interesting read, as ever – thanks Andreas. I noticed on the gravestone of David Stern of Künzelsau an inscription which can be translated as “His son Eduard fell for his fatherland on the 30. Sept 1915”. How such sacrifices were rewarded by a grateful country a couple of decades later! Brought to mind some of the scenes in the recent remake of “Die Wannseekonferenz” which we watched last night.

    • I am glad someone noticed that, because I included the photo for exactly this purpose!
      Such inscriptions can be found in almost every Jewish cemetery in Germany and Austria. Up to the 1930s, Jewish gravestones often proudly list military ranks or medals, as if to prove the level of integration/assimilation. (In Guben, I even saw one with a steel helmet and the star of David on the tombstone.)
      To no avail, as we know.

      I’ll watch “Die Wannseekonferenz” on Monday, when it will be shown on TV. (I am old-fashioned and watch films when they are shown on real TV, not online. – Well, honestly, I am too stupid to hook up the interweb to the large television screen.)

  4. What a cool cemetery! I love that stone that the tree claimed.
    The valley is beautiful… no false advertising there. The village is very pretty too.
    Thank you for another lovely vicarious journey.

    • Jewish cemeteries in Germany, but also in other Central and Eastern European countries, often look very mystical, with nature taking over.
      The reason is a very tragic one, of course, that is the almost complete destruction of Jewish life in the 1930s and 1940s.

  5. dany sobeida says:

    Todo pueblo debe tener una matrona(partera) y un cementerio para cerrar su ciclo. Aunque aveces como bien haces notar los ciclos de los pueblos son alterados por acontecimientos tristes que solo son dignos de ser mencionados para no cometer los mismos errores.
    Es un lugar bello y después de apreciar esas edificaciones me pregunto cuantos arboles han sido necesarios para construirlas.

  6. Klaus says:

    That reminds me of the small jewish cemetery which until the late 70s lay very much neglected in a small wood at the edge of my German hometown. By 1938 there were about 25 jewish inhabitants left and by 1942 they had all gone. I believe only two survivors were traced in the 60s to Israel and USA. By the mid 70s young people tried to get the local council to recognise the cemetery as such, to clean it up and put up a memorial plaque. But we were told to go to East Germany if we didn’t like it in the West! It was still the very cold war.
    Today there are memorials held every year at the cemetery and in front of where the synogogue once stood – now a private house stands there but a memorial plaque was installed in front. And all local dignitaries attend.

    • Whoa! I didn’t know that “dann geh doch nach drüben!” also applied when people wanted to adequately remember history.

      But it’s also a good example of the many local initiatives that have helped to protect/save/remember local historical sites, to gather witnesses and testimony, to record history.
      Without all those grassroots initiatives, a lot of history would have been completely forgotten/lost.

    • Klaus says:

      Die Gegend war damals (und heute noch ein wenig) stramm CDU und viele der damaligen Lokalpolitiker stammten noch aus der Nazizeit. Selbst als sozialdemokratischer Sympathisant war man fuer die schon mit einem Bein im kommunistischen Lager.

    • Ich komme ja aus einer absoluten CSU-Gegend.
      Da war ich als Sozialdemokrat mathematisch so unbedeutend, dass ich eher mitleidig belächelt wurde. :/ Das war allerdings auch schon in den 1990ern.

  7. I’d gone for a walk near Detmold in Germany once and came to a place called Herrmansdenkmal. As I was trying to figure out what it was, a helpful local told me deadpan that it celebrated the person who “stopped civilization from entering our land”. I like the German sense of humour.

  8. thetorzorean says:

    All beautiful photos, in particular the ones of the Jewish cemetery tombstones. Your images reveal the care and respect you had while photographing them. You give us an intimate glimpse into the remains of a world that has disappeared. It’s touching to imagine those who were buried there, human beings who had, at least, lived their lives and been spared knowing what was to come to change the world of their loved ones.

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