Hometown Histories - Frankfurt - Sam Hillinger

Here's my new series, Hometown Histories. This first post covers my paternal grandfather's birthplace, Frankfurt, Germany.

Frankfurt--by Pedelecs at wikivoyag

My paternal grandfather, Sam Hillinger, was born in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, in 1922.

Frankfurt straddles the Main River, south of the Taunus mountain range. It is the largest city in the state of Hesse in southwest Germany. In 2014, the population was 708,543. The city covers at total area of 248.3 kilometers. It is the fifth largest city in the country, and contains a large immigrant population from countries all over the world.

The oldest part of the city is the Cathedral Hill. There is archeological evidence that the area may date back to the Paleolithic, but the first proof of its existence dates back to the Roman era. The city itself first appears in written record in 794. Charlemagne presided over an imperial church assembly mentioning the place, then referred to as Franconofurd. The name is believed to be derived from the Germanic tribe of the Franks, with the addition of the word furt, meaning ford where one could wade across.

It played major roles in both the Roman and Germanic empires. From 855, German kings and emperors were elected there, and from 1562, were also crowned there. The city has been a major trade center since 1150, when the Frankfurter Messe (Frankfurt Trade Fair) was first mentioned. A special system of exchange rates was established there for the various forms of currencies circulating in the city at the time to prevent cheating on either side of a trade. The Frankfurt Stock Exchange (Frankfurter Wertpapierbörse) was founded in 1585, and is the tenth largest stock exchange in the world.

Though Frankfurt was invaded and attacked several times during the Napoleonic wars, it remained a free city through the collapse of the Holy Roman Empire. After Napoleon's final defeat, it became part of the German Confederation, and was eventually the home to the first German Parliament. It was only after the Austro-Prussian war that Frankfurt became part of the Prussian providence of Hesse-Nassau, losing its independence as a Free City.

The Jewish community was part of Frankfurt from before the Reformation. The earliest documented mention of Jews there was in the middle of the 12th century. Like most Jewish communities in Europe and much of the rest of the world, they faced discrimination in the form of extra taxes, laws and other restrictions on what they could own, how they could make a living, and even where they could live.

A map showing the Ghetto--the curved lane. The doors at each end were closed at night
After several hundred years as part of the Frankfurt community, a Jewish ghetto was established outside the city wall: the Judengasse. It has the dubious distinction of being one of the first Jewish Ghettos in Europe. Frankfurt has the even more dubious honor of being one of the last to allow Jews to leave the ghetto. For four centuries, this was the only place Jews in Frankfurt could live, the doors at either end of the street wall closing the residents in at night and on Sundays and holidays. In addition there were many legal and economic restrictions. This lasted until the French occupation after their revolution, when part of the wall separating the area from the city was destroyed in 1796. This led to a loosening of the restrictions on Jews, culminating in 1811 in the granting of civic rights for all Jews that gave them equality with all other citizens.

After this, the Jewish population of Frankfurt flourished, becoming a center for both Reform and Neo-Orthodoxy Judaism. Jews came to the city from all over the German Empire. After the Great War, this was even more true, and it was this lively, growing, progressive culture that drew my great-grandparents Alex and Dora to the city. They met and married there in 1919, and all six of their children were born the city.

Shortly after my grandfather Sam, their third child, was born, Frankfurt elected a Jewish mayor, Dr. Ludwig Landmann. He was in power from 1924 to 1933, when the Nazi party came into power. Coincidentally, that was the same year my great grandfather chose to leave the city forever. Dr. Landmann was hounded by the Nazis from that point on until his death from malnutrition in hiding in 1945.

Die Philanthropin, by Eva Kröcher
One of the many centers of Jewish learning in the city was de Philanthropin, which was founded in 1804. My grandfather and his siblings attended the school until their family had to flee from the Nazis. The Nazis shut it down in 1942, but after the war, it was reopened as an administrative center and community center for the re-born post-war Jewish community. In 2006, it was reopened as a school, the IE Lichtigfelt School, which is still in operation today.

With the growing discord after the Great War, the German Workers' Party grew to prominence. It was renamed the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, in 1920. It was abbreviated NSDAP, but is commonly known now as the Nazi Party. Though they touted themselves as a socialist people's movement, racism was always a core component of the group, and Jews were a major focus. They believed in racial purity and eugenics, and sought to exterminate any non-Aryan citizens. As the party's leader since 1921, Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany in 1933. Shortly after, he established the Third Reich, and the true war against the Jewish and other non-Aryan cultures began.

My grandfather, born at the beginning of their rise to power, was affected quite heavily by their hatred. His father was a small business man, always opening new businesses, most of which eventually failed in the end. In 1933, when one of his last businesses failed, Alex decided to take his family and flee the country rather than sticking around and hoping it would get better. The family fled to Paris, staying there for about a year until Alex was able to get a visa to go to the US. Shortly after their arrival, Alex suffered a stroke, and was never able to work again. He survived 14 more years in the US.

The Hillingers ca 1932, shortly before they left Frankfurt--Sam is the boy on the left corner of the picture
Sam was drafted into the army in 1943, and naturalized at Camp Crowder before his training began. As a former German, they chose to keep him away from the front lines, so though he was sent to Europe, he said he spent much of his time during the war pushing papers. After the war was over, he stayed in Europe to help clean up, working as an interpreter. He ended up stationed in his own home city of Frankfurt, and it was there he met and married my grandmother. They started their family there in Frankfurt, my father born on the base there before they were able to return to the US.

My grandfather never talked much about his childhood in Germany, though he often mentioned proudly his time as a paper-seller in the Paris streets. He was always a strong, determined, successful man, and I think he owed that to his parents' determination to keep their family safe and together.

Email letter from Sam Hillinger to Sharon Hillinger
Hillinger Family photos
Hillinger Family tree
Die Philanthropin (in German)


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About this blog

This blog is maintained by two sisters who have had a life long interest in geneology.
Mika writes here mostly about our family (Hansen, Hillinger, Bordewick, Park, etc), and her search for more information.
Shannon mostly uses this space as a place to make the many stories written about and by her husband's family (Holly, Walker, Walpole, etc) available to the rest of the family, present and future.

Our blog is named Oh Spusch! mostly because Shannon is bad at naming things. The first post I put up includes a story about the time Walker's great grandfather took his whole family out to see a play and the littlest kept saying "Oh! Spusch!" No one ever figured out what she meant by that.