My grandfather's life and death

  • October 7, 2010
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My grandfather, Siegmund Westerfeld, was born in Stockstadt am Rhein on September 22, 1891. His mother, Sarah Westerfeld, gave birth to him in the family home that their ancestors had built in 1721. (I believe my mother, born in 1925, was the first child in the family who was born in a hospital in Crumstadt.) Siegmund was the third son. (Both my grandparents, Sigmund and Frieda, had the same family constellation – three boys and a girl.)

Siegmund Westerfeld and his parents

Siegmund served in World War I and received the Iron Cross for his service in the German Army. He became a successful businessman in Stockstadt and something of a community leader; no one in town brought crops to market without Siegmund’s services. The Westerfelds were trailblazing, owning the first car and installing the first telephone in the area. Sigmund introduced the cucumber as a cash crop. In addition, he was known for his sharp wit and tasty homemade sausage.

Perceiving the dangers in the late 1930s, Siegmund and my grandmother Frieda decided to send their daughters to America. Most rescue programs only took one child per family, yet somehow, they were able to place both daughters on ships out of Germany (I suspect Siegmund bribed the authorities.) He hoped that he and Frieda and his mother, Oma Sarah, would follow. However, Oma Sarah refused to leave her homeland.

Complicating matters, Siegmund and Frieda had signed a deed that decreed that the couple would care for Oma Sarah for all her remaining days. In exchange, they would inherit the Westerfeld home and all of its belongings. As Nazism intensified, Siegmund’s brothers and sisters escaped Germany, fleeing to Palestine and South America. But that deed essentially locked Siegmund and Frieda into staying in Germany and caring for Oma Sarah. She wouldn’t leave because she said, “I was born a German and I will die a German.” Siegmund wouldn’t emigrate without his mother.

In time, no one would do business with Siegmund since an SS guard was stationed at the front door. Eventually, without any income, the Westerfelds were forced to sell their large home, which had been in the family for over 200 years. As a prominent Nazi took ownership of the house, Siegmund, Frieda and Oma Sarah were forced to rent and live in one room. Eventually, the Nazis made the family leave Stockstadt in the early 1940s and live in a Jew House on Sudetengaustrasse in Darmstadt (his last known address). While there, local companies such as Volkswagen forced Siegmund and other Jews in the house to serve as slave laborers.

Sadly, Siegmund was taken to Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp on June 14, 1941. I learned from the Gedenkstätte und Museum Sachsenhausen that Siegmund Israel Westerfeld (all Jewish men in Nazi Germany were assigned the name “Israel”) confessed to “mosaisch” — that he believed in the laws of Moses. The record shows that he was assigned the number 38067 and he lived in hut 38. He died on February 15, 1942. The record does not report the cause of his death.

Siegmund Westerfeld’s grave

As you know, there are no markers or graves for Jews who were killed in the Holocaust. However, in the Jewish cemetery in Groß-Gerau, there is a headstone for Siegmund, though it is highly unlikely that his remains are buried there. No one knows who placed the stone there. Engraved on it is my grandfather’s full name, Siegmund Westerfeld. Just beneath, someone has scratched with a sharp tool the words, “Sarah Westerfeld.” On the other side of the headstone, Siegmund’s name is written in Hebrew.

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