Why Roots

Ambivalence as a cultural and ancestral code

hechtThe “Golden Age” of German Jewry has begun in the autumn of 1743 (Elon 2004) with the historic (and symbolic) entrance of Moshe Mendelssohn1, a 14 years old yeshiva student, through one of the gates into the city of Berlin. It was the only gate that permitted the entrance of Jews into the city (Elon 2004:7). This “Golden Age” produced ground-breaking innovations in science, the arts, philosophy, literature, and industry which enriched the German nation.

It came to an end with the rise of the Nazi regime in 1933. Yet this “German Requiem” (1743-1933) (Elon 2004) was available only to the few, while the rest led their lived unaffected by it. The Hecht’s were not city dwellers (landjuden) and therefore had no part in this cultural renaissance.

Twenty years later, in 1762, Itzik Anschel, father of the Hecht dynasty was born in a small village in Lower Franconia, in the state of Bavaria. Four generations have lived their lives in the same village and earned their living from agriculture and commerce, until 1936.


German Jewry, in all its diversity, has suffered hate and discrimination of varying kinds and intensities, long before the rise of Nazism. Occasioned by great (and small) political upheavals which occurred from time to time, the demons of hatred have awakened, and the Jews suffered the consequences: pogroms, prolonged aggression and harassment, hostility and suspicion. The fate of the Jews in Lower Franconia (where the Hecht family lived) was similar to that of the Jews in other regions. Already in August 1819, a mini “Kristallnacht” took place in Wurzburg, the district capital of Lower Franconia, the city where great grandfather Samuel, fifth generation descendant of the Hecht family completed his studies and received a teaching diploma (1918-23).

From Wurzburg the pogroms have spread throughout Germany. The Bavarian cities Nordberg, and Munchen, as well as Wurzburg are infamous for their contribution to Nazi history. Yet periods of progress and enlightenment did also occur. It was during one of these that Kurt Eisner; a Berlin-born Jew was appointed as the first prime minister of the Bavarian Republic. Eisner was murdered in February 1919 by Anton Arco-Valley? A young nationalist who hid the fact that his mother was a Jew as well (Elon 2004:348).


I, Yacov Hecht, sixth generation descendant of the Hecht family, was born in Berlin in 1935, two years after the “German Requiem” has come to an end (1933). It was a time of renewed hatred towards the Jews, which led to my family’s decision to come to Israel. In Israel, the atmosphere was one of intense rejection of all things German. The German language, my mother tongue and the main language spoken by both my parents, was considered as offensive and abominable. As a boy I felt ostracized for using it and as a result, gave it up altogether. I started to use it again only thirty years later, and by then it has become flawed, inarticulate, and has remained so until today.

The days of my childhood were filled with stories from our past, narratives of our life in Germany. My father’s overriding need to recount his memories and experiences had a deep and painful impact on me. I believe that his obstinate reluctance to break away from the past was consistent with his conservative, orthodox world view. This was also manifested by his strict adherence to the rules and regulations which he acquired/absorbed during his studies in The Jewish Teachers College (“Israelitische Lehrerbildungsanstalt” ILBA) in Wurzburg. This College was the only one in Germany which expanded its curriculum to include non-traditional subjects, subjects that didn’t form a part of regular yeshiva studies.

This unique curriculum was compiled by the Rabbis Yitzhak Dov Bamberger and Nathan Bamberger, the students of Wolf Hamburger and Yebuda Halberstadt. My father’s God-Fearing was mostly limited to the strict observance of the rules and regulations of the Jewish rituals. This meticulousness has increased while he was a teacher in the “Adass Jisroel” school in Berlin (1932-8). The “Adass Jisroel” Rabbis took care to draw a line between rabbinical ordination (which was offered only to the most talented), and the teachers. The late Samuel Hecht has chosen to be a teacher, and has led his life accordingly. He saw no need to continue his high studies, in Germany or in Israel, since his life’s ambitions (and ideals) were focused on his chosen vocation, that of a primary school teacher, an ambition which he continued to pursue also in Israel.

This is the atmosphere I grew in, and never managed to really break away from it. Even today, there are still times when I have an otherness feeling2. This feeling might have generated this uncontrollable need to explore my family heritage. The question posed at the beginning of my “quest” was whether it was the environment my family grew up in (the culture of Bavaria) that made us what we are. Could this account for the tension that existed between my Bavaria-born father and my Mainz -born mother?


As it turned out, I was not the only one to attribute the influence of German culture to the upbringing of my father, and to the way he turned up. The publication of Yoram Kaniuk’s “The last Berliner” (2004) has introduced me to other Berliners who are as ambivalent in their attitude towards German culture as I am (Elon’s book in English is “The Pity of it All”). The book “German Requiem” (Elon 2004) taught me the complexities of the German-Jewish culture. Today I understand that I am not unique in my frustrations as a second generation descendant to the German Jews who fled from their country and came to Israel to escape the rise of Nazism. There are others, and my thoughts, my feelings, are echoed by their own.

In the author Yoram Kaniuk I discovered kindred. He too is Berlin-born (1935) and there must be many others. Kaniuk’s feelings, as expressed in his book, echo mine:

“In my mind’s eye, I saw my father’s footsteps. I longed to possess them. I envied the Germans for living within the parameter of those footsteps. I envied them because my father and his friends loved them more than they loved me, or us, or the country they lived in, where I was born…”

There is no doubt that our lives are intertwined, not just cognitively but also spiritually, with that of our parents and grandparents, forming a thick texture of local, political and intellectual family traditions. All belonging to a specific place, a specific

We rescue our family history from the depths of oblivion. We vaguely remember the consciousness of childhood. Fading photos in yellowing documents are not enough, was need more evidence to make sure that they are part of the family chronicles. The genealogical family tree merely provide the three essential dates in a person’s life: being born, getting married and passing away.


Just like Yoram Kaniuk, I too, return to Germany again and again, to look the “genetic map” my father has bequeathed me, and attempt to untie the Jewish-German “Gordic Knot” (footnote 4)3. Yet, unlike Kaniuk, I do not yet feel that I succeeded in freeing myself of the demons that have pursued me since childhood. The intense search for my family heritage and for the origins of my own self is also a search for my own identity. This search is so intense that I sometimes forget that a holocaust has occurred in Germany, in which many of my relatives have perished.
It seems that the state of Bavaria, where the Hecht family has originated, has contributed its own share to the growth of anti-Semitism, and the hatred towards the “other”, and has done so since the beginning of the 18th century. Thanks to Cordula Kappner4 for the information she shared with me. Cordula Kappner is a sympathizer of Jews and a keen researcher of the history of the Jewish people, who received the Obermayer Foundation prize (German-Jewish history award) in 2004 for her “commitment to the documentation of Jewish life during the Holocaust”. I managed to obtain a great deal of information on the history of the Jewish community in Lower Bavaria and Franconia and especially on the 250 families who lived in Lower Lower, where the Maroldsweisach village is located and where the roots of the Hecht family have originated in 1762. Were it not for Cordola’s help, the headstones in the Ermershausen cemetery, where several of the family members are buried, would have been left undiscovered, except perhaps for the kaddish site, which we ourselves discovered (in the photograph – Matanya, sixth generation descendant of the Hecht family saying kaddish during family heritage journey in the summer of 2003).


The demons that haunted me since childhood might have originated by the symbols and images of Bavarian culture, which was permeated with the hate towards the stranger, the “other”. In fact, the hatred between Catholics and Protestants was, in certain Bavarian regions even deeper than the hatred towards the Jews, as was the discrimination against women (Heilbrunner 2000:9). This growing hatred might have stemmed from specific social groups: the farmers and the tradesmen, who bore the brunt of the industrial revolution and targeted the Jew (among others) as the source of their frustrations. This tendency to exclude and to alienate have, (to a certain extent) infiltrated our family as well, and was directed towards non-German Jews (Ostjuden (. This in turn resulted in the omission of several of our family members. The numerous and recurrent stories my father told of his childhood memories never mentioned our large family who lived in the village in which he was born.


Only in 2000, during one of my visits to the village, I encountered the nickname “Obere Hecht” (“the upper Hecht”). This term was given to Max Hecht, my father’s uncle, who lived in the village hills (today, house number 29 in the main street, where Manasses Hecht used to live). Max Hecht perished in the gas chambers of Auschwitz in 1943. He is not the only one omitted from our family chronicles. There might be others of the Hecht family who escaped my father’s memories and therefore were not included in the larger family “picture”: a letter written in 1988 by Rudolf (Ralf) Hecht, Father Samuel’s cousin, serves as evidence of another “uncharted” family member. Ralf is 77 years old (born 1911). He immigrated to the US in 1936, and even visited the village in 1971. While there he also visited his mother’s (Jenny, who passed away in 1925) grave and tended it. In the meantime, the Google search engine revealed a connection to his son Allan (Aaron) who lives in Florida (see the chapter: “Searching For a Lost Family Member”). Allan, too, claims that he never knew our family existed.

He writes:

“I have never heard about you, the last time we were in Israel about 15 years ago, we stopped by the Blooms House. I think they lived in Haifa” (29.11.204)

And then he adds, a month and a half later:

“I saw Sally Hecht from Maroldsweisach. Is that your father? I don’t know why none of these names were ever mentioned to me by my father”. (7.1.05)


Allan Hecht told me that two of my father’s female cousins (Rika Freudenberger and her daughter Sichel, third generation descendant of the Hecht family) have survived the Holocaust and have immigrated to New York.
The atmosphere of hostility and exclusion in which I grew up has also been turned towards other family members not directly related to the Hecht family. Such was my father’s dislike towards our aunt Lizl (Aliza) Kaufman (nee Klein), sister to our grandmother Ester (Elsa) who passed away in 2001.

These tense atmosphere of feuds and exclusion (within my own family as well as in the social environment in which I grew up) might have spurred me to look for my family heritage and locate unknown family members, and thus free myself from the tension and hostility which haunted me during my childhood and my adolescent years.

  1. Moshe Mendelssohn (1729-1786), the father of the German Haskallah (Enlightenment) Movement. 

  2. Otherness is an ambivalent phenomenon, encompassing both beneficial and uncanny elements: the fascination of novelty and the threat of the familiar, the possibility of innovation and the danger of loss. 

  3. The Gordic knot refers to a drastic solution to a complex problem that “cuts to the core of the problem”. (Named after Gordius, See the following:

    Gordius, in Greek mythology, king of Phrygia. An oracle had told the Phrygians that the king who would put an end to their troubles was approaching in an oxcart, and, thus, when Gordius, a peasant, appeared in his wagon, he was hailed king. In gratitude, Gordius dedicated his wagon to Zeus and attached the pole to the yoke with a knot that defied efforts to untie it. This was the Gordian knot. An oracle declared that he who untied it would become leader of all Asia. A later legend states that when Alexander the Great came to Phrygia, he severed the knot with one blow of his sword. Hence the saying, “to cut the Gordian knot,” meaning to solve a perplexing problem with a single bold action.


  4. An email correspondence with Mrs. Katherina Grombach from the MARKTGEMEINDE MAROLDSWESIACH has led to my acquaintance with Ms. Kappner, in 8.8.2000:

    From: “Grombach Katharina” >[email protected]>

    To: >[email protected]> Sent: 09:18 20.8.200

    Subject: Information about your family named Hecht

    Sehr geehrter Herr Dr. Hecht!

    lhre Anfrage Uber lhre Familie “Hecht”, wohnhaft gewesen in Maroldsweisach, wurde an Frau Cordula Kappner, Bibliotheks – und Informationszentrum, Durerweg 22, 97437 HaBfurt, weitergeleitet. Frau Kappner hat sich intensiv mit Judischen Vergangenheit hier in unserem. Landkreis Hasberge und alle Informationen gesammelt. Sie kann deshalb als “Expertin” hierfur gelten. Frau Kappner wird sich mit lhnen in Verbindung setzen und lhnen Informationen zukommen lassen.

    Mit freundlichen GruBen Marktverwaltunq Maroldsweisach


    From: “Bibliotheks- und Infomationszentrum (BIZ) HaBurt” <[email protected] t-online.de>

    To: <[email protected]< Sent: 12:47 9.8.2000

    Subject: Maroldsweisach

    Dear Dr. Hecht!

    My name is Mrs. Kappner and I will send you the information. Please give me your post address.

    Yours sincerely

    Mrs. Kappner


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