- MEMORYBOX OF THE MONTH -
- MEMORYBOX OF THE MONTH -
- The Falkenstein Family -
The Falkenstein family’s story can be traced back to the early 18th century when Jacob Faist and Greta Resge raised their young child in the quaint western German village of Meudt. Interestingly, the family first adopted the surname ‘Falkenstein’ — German for ‘Falcon of the Castle’ — due to the Prussian law of 1866 requiring all families to bear Germanic names. The surname itself, although unique in its meaning, was actually selected to match the head of household’s name Falk at the time. Unfortunately, much of the family’s story in the 19th century has been lost to history.
The family’s recorded past picks up again five generations later with the birth of Salomon Falkenstein on July 19th, 1882. By then, the Falkensteins had become important farmers in the Meudt region and were the sole producers of Kosher meat for all the surrounding villages. Although Salomon felt very Jewish, like many German Jews at the time, he also had a deep allegiance toward Germany, serving in the 88th infantry of Mayence during WW1. Quite incredibly, Salomon would be one of the few Jewish Germans to be personally honored in 1933 by President Hindenburg, receiving the Iron Cross a few months before Hitler assumed the chancellery and presidency. Salomon and his wife lived in Meudt Bertha would had 9 children.
Interestingly, Hitler’s ravages were a strongly external concept to the village of Meudt. Salomon's son Ludwig would sing both in the village’s synagogue and church. Many years later, Salomon’s son Kurt would reflect on his time spent in Meudt: “We all had our differences, but these did not seem to matter to anyone.” However, on the eve of Kristallnacht (the Night of Crystal) on November 7th, 1933, this way of life was about to be shattered for many years. Kurt and other young Jewish men in Meudt received word of the Nazis' impending arrival the next day. That night, the Jewish community jumped to action, burying the Torah scrolls and other holy items in the depths of the village graveyard, saving them from the Nazis' flames. Ludwig and Kurt hid an ancient Sefer Torah that the Falkensteins had offered to Meudt in years past before Jurt left with his sister Ruth to Birmingham in the United Kingdom, secretly transporting the family heirloom. Luckily, the family treasure successfully avoided British border control inspection, finding its new home at the Birmingham Synagogue on Pershore Road, where it resides to this day. Kurt and Ruth successfully escaped the horrors of the Shoah, working as a butcher and cleaner, respectively, and founding families that reside in the United Kingdom to this day.
Kurt’s parents, Salomon and Bertha, along with the youngest siblings, would know very different fates. The family initially attempted to flee to the United States through Hamburg but was denied due to the Nazi restrictions on the Jewish movement. They returned to Meudt before being deported and brutally murdered in concentration camps. Kurt’s other siblings, Ludwig and Julus, were both arrested and interned for a few months in 1938. By then, they were given the option to either leave Germany immediately or remain imprisoned. Both left for Brussels in January 1939, leaving their childhood landscapes behind them forever. In Brussels, Ludwig and Kurt immediately began planning their escape to the United States. After a final visit to the American consulate, Ludwig was required to have a medical procedure completed before having his VISA approved. The two brothers were sadly forced to part ways as Julus left for Marseilles with the then U.S. Territory of Cuba as his final destination. Julus would then start an extremely successful diamond business on the Caribbean island before relocating to New York City during the Cuban revolt.
Ludwig, who stayed behind in the Belgian hospital, never reached America. By the time he was discharged, Hitler’s forces had invaded Belgium, and the United States terminated Ludwig’s VISA application. Ludwig then went into hiding in the Belgian capital until being sold out by the notorious Jacques, a Jewish man who denounced other Jewish families in hiding for personal gains with the Nazis. On January 4th, 1944, Ludwig was deported from Malignes to Auschwitz through convoy 24. On his way to the death camp, Ludwig miraculously escaped from the train, roaming through the woods in the German region of Magdeburg. He was unfortunately recaptured by the Nazis, who believed him to be a British parachutist. Ludwig admitted he was Jewish and was transferred to Leipzig before being once again sent to Auschwitz. Ludwig survived the horrors of the camp, only to be forced through the infamous death march in -10C weather on January 18th, 1945. Ludwig yet again survived the horrors of Nazism and was abandoned for a few weeks in the concentration camp of Theresienstadt. He was then transferred to Melk, Austria, where the Nazi regime subjected him to forced labor, digging tunnels. On May 5th, 1945, the U.S. troops defeated Austria. The Americans brought Ludwig back to Brussels on a U.S. army plane. After the war, Ludwig returned multiple times to his childhood village of Meudt, where he worked hard to keep the memory of Jewish victims alive. There are now two memorials in the village, one for the Jewish citizens who never returned and one for the synagogue that was burned to the ground. The village also honored Ludwig’s work with a street named after him. The Falkenstein family also started a beautiful tradition, allowing the past to meet with the present.
In fact, for every family member’s bar mitzvah, the old Sefer Torah saved by Kurt is brought to the ceremony so the young adult may read their parashat from the original Sefer Torah itself. The Falkenstein family now counts numerous descendants that span from Argentina to Israel, passing by the U.K. and Belgium.
Street named after Ludwig Falkenstein in Meudt, Germany.
Saved sefer torah from Meudt brought to England, used for family bar/bat mitzvahs
Beatrice Falkenstein, daughter of Ludwig Falkenstein, holding a pre-war family portrait.
International organizations’ post war attestations to Ludwig Falkenstein’s deportations.
Belgian government’s post war certification of Ludwig Falkenstein’s deportation.
Letter announcing to Ludwig that the travel authorization for the United States has been revoked due to the U.S. Consulate’s closure after Germany's invasion of Belgium.
Falkenstein Family Tree