The story of the Steinhardts of Flonheim carries romantic twists that keep it alive among their many descendants.
It starts with Samuel Steinhardt, born in 1749 in Flonheim, Germany, and his wife Gertrude Loewy. Flonheim’s village records go back 1,400 years. The place was tiny then and it’s tiny now, with about 600 inhabitants.
Just finding it was a challenge. Not until we met with our French-Cambodian exchange student Gabrielle Houillon in Germany did we succeed. Working for Air France, she had excellent maps and located Flonheim quickly, just an hour’s drive from her home.
It’s southwest of Frankfurt, near Worms, between Kreuznach and Alzey.
WELCOME TO FLONHEIM
Jews were first mentioned in 1260 in Alzey and again in 1348 during the Black Death massacres. The Jews organized as a community about 1700 and the first synagogue built in 1791.
Once there, Gabrielle, my wife Elizabeth and I went straight to the main cemetery. But the lady caretaker said we needed to go to the tiny old Jewish cemetery nestled inside a cherry orchard on the side of a gentle hill.
There we beheld a charming little rectangle of gravestones and protective fencing that farmers had respected across time. There were enough Steinhardts buried there to tell us we need not look elsewhere for more ancestors.
SAMUEL STEINHARDT'S GRAVE
The caretaker also told us which house in Flonheim was the one in which five Steinhardts had lived, until they were taken away by the Nazis. We of course lingered at the cemetery and Steinhardt house as long as we could to savor the precious moment of bonding with relatives long gone.
Samuel and Gertrude had two sons, Joseph, born in 1777, and Michel, born in 1784. Joseph, married Rosalie (Johannette) Levi. They had two sons, Raphael, born in 1814, and Benjamin, born in 1824.
We have a copy of Raphael’s birth certificate. It was written in French. My father used to tell me his mother was born in Alsace. A quick look at the maps of today made me doubt that. But Raphael’s birth record confirms that French was the language of Flonheim when Samuel and Gertrude Steinhardt lived there at the beginning of this family branch.
Here is the English translation:
In the year 1814, December 25, at 10 hours in the morning, before our Henry Hafft, living in Flonheim, officer of the Civil State of Flonheim, Canton of Alzey, Department of Mont-Tonnerre, appeared Joseph Steinhardt, age 37 years, tradesman by profession, living in Flonheim, who presented us with a child of the masculine sex, born in the 23rd of the current month, of his and of Rosalie Levi, his wife, and who he has declared he wishes to give the first name of Raphael.
They make this declaration and presentation in the presence of Samuel Steinhardt, age 65 years, tradesman by profession, living in Flonheim, and of Michel Steinhardt, age 25 years, salesman by profession, living in Flonheim, and are the father and witness, evidencing with us this act of birth, after which they have made their signatures.
(Signed) Joseph Steinhardt, Samuel Steinhardt, Michel Steinhardt. Henry Hafft
STEINHARDT Home in Flonheim
Out of this event sprang the magnificent future of one Steinhardt family.
In spite of--or because of--the ten years that separated the brothers, Raphael and Benjamin were very close. They met and married sisters: Eva and Johannette Hirsch from Mandel. The two couples came to America and began to enrich the Reform-minded Jewish population of the Newark, New Jersey, region that continues to this day. The Steinhardts, spelled with and without the D, are well known and well respected. And by and large they live, quaintly enough, in the same northern New Jersey area.
We have discovered a remarkable document from archives in Koblenz detailing Hirsch family real estate holdings in Mandel, Germany, from 1856 to 1858. It reflects how Jacob Hirsch, father of Eva and Johannette, transferred his land gradually to two of his sons-in-law, Raphael and Benjamin Steinhardt, and one of his sons, Isaac Hirsch. The following remarks explain the document:
“Fields in our region were not big because the districts of the little villages are small, not like in America. And in the past they always got smaller because a father divided his fields among all his children…I found the Steinhardt brothers on this document because they were listed through their wives…Isaac had more fields than his sisters—why, I don’t know. Perhaps the Steinhardt wives had other fields in nearby Roxheim. Or they could have sold some. But this list verifies that Jacob Hirsch gave a large number of fields to all his children.” Some 58 tracts are detailed in the land transfers. They locate each by descriptions such as, “in front of the heath,” “by the flood ditch” and “in the reclaimed meadow.” His cemetery monument in Mandel reads, “A life of manliness…deeds of righteousness to the poor, Jacob, son of Solomon, died the 2nd day of Shavuot and buried the next day.”
Go today to a Steinhardt family reunion in Westfield or Verona or Caldwell or Short Hills and you may just break out laughing at the remarkable similarities in faces, figures and personalities. There is no denying they are all descended from Raphael and Benjamin Steinhardt. Though some identified with other congregations, most are firmly imbedded in Temple B’nai Jeshurun—first on High Street in Newark and now in Short Hills, one of the original American Reform temples.
Raphael and Eva already had two of their ten children when they came to America in 1865: Babette and Solomon. These Steinhardts were a family of butchers for generations. So they traveled first to Cincinnati and Washington Court House, Ohio, where meat was king, and then to Washington, DC, and Newark, NJ, where success followed success.
Forty-one grandchildren came from those children. So did 56 great grandchildren. And 122 great great grandchildren. And 172 great great great grandchildren. And another generation is well under way today.
Benjamin and Johannette’s marriage gave the family two sons, Ralph and Simon, before it ended with her tragic death at the age of 44. That union produced six grandchildren, nine great grandchildren, 25 great great grandchildren and 44 great great great grandchildren—so far. Life went on for Benjamin when he married again, that time to Regina Loeb from nearby Kreuznach, but they had no children.
Did all these Steinhardts amount to anything in life?
Well, judge for yourself. Dr. Ralph Steinhardt was a member of the team of scientists who designed and built the first nuclear bombs that helped win World War II. Dr. Norman Winarsky is president of eight corporations inventing and marketing such technologies as the fraud-busting cameras that identify ATM users’ eyes by the unique patterns in the iris. Julius and Kathy Thiry comprise the United States National Governing Body for the sport of karate.
Eva Steinhardt Hess was a Braille translator who lived to be 100. Marvin Marx was principal writer for Jackie Gleason and Sid Caesar over many years.
Jacob Klein was invited to compete in the Olympics as a gymnast. Steven Kurzman was US Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare under President Nixon. Cousins Myra Ferree and Beth Bowman wrote Controversy and Coalition.
Steven R. Lowenstein was Chief Medical Officer of the State of Colorado. Roger Lowenstein, Wall Street Journal author, wrote Buffett. Dr. Joel Trapido co-founded and headed the University of Hawaii drama department. Samuel Finklestein was a Newark attorney who worked on the Lindbergh baby kidnapping. Susan Low is CNN’s expert on constitutional law and Georgetown University law professor. Sarah Steinhardt is a concert pianist.
Over the years hundreds of Steinhardt names have come to our attention we simply can not tie to our genealogies. We see too many little tombstones lined up near their parents’ graves, marking victims of childhood tragedy. We cannot forget one Steinhardt committed to an asylum on South Orange Avenue, Newark, whose name kept appearing in census data every ten years until his absence told you he died without having lived. We learn of two branches of Steinhardt relatives who stopped talking to each other over a wedding invitation a century earlier. And lonely relatives who took their own lives. Efforts to find lost relatives too often become found relatives that we lose.
The noble search goes on, from generation to generation.
You are encouraged to contact the author to learn more about Flonheim Steinharts or to add to the fund of Steinhardt knowledge. firstname.lastname@example.org Phone 704-544-9575. 5009 Gamton Court, Charlotte, NC 28226 USA.