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Itzig Behrend, Chronicle of a Jewish Family in Hesse-Kassel, c. 1800-1815 (Retrospective Account)

Itzig Behrend (1766-1845) spent his whole life in Grove (Hesse-Kassel), a small rural community with a few Jewish families. The following family chronicle provides a wealth of information on marriages, births, deaths, and other notable events in the Behrend family, but it also offers a rare view into Jewish social and communal life in Grove and the surrounding area in the first decades of the 19th century. Moreover, the chronicle is also a rich source of first-hand commentary on the major political events of the time and their effects on the local Jewish population. Itzig describes, for example, the French invasion of the Kingdom of Hannover in July 1803 and the founding of the Kingdom of Westphalia in 1807. He also makes specific reference to Jérôme [Hieronymus] Napoleon’s "Decree Abolishing Fees Imposed on the Jews" (January 27, 1808).

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Our Family Chronicle

Itzig Behrend

This is the story of Jitzchak (Itzig), the son of Jakauf, known as Jakob.

Jakob was a son of Bär, Bär a son of Jakob. I, Itzig, am the third son of my father Jakob of Rodenberg. I was born in Grove, in house no. 65. I still recall my great-grandfather Jakob, who lived to the age of one hundred. His son was named Bär. Bär married a woman named Chaja from Hildesheim and fathered four daughters and two sons, of whom my father was the oldest. [ . . . ]

Our wedding took place on Sunday and Monday, the first days of the lunar month Ijar 1793. On Wednesday, Sidra . . . (February 11, 1796), with God’s help we moved into house no. 88 in Grove. And Jitzchak took Rivka into his mother Sarah’s tent. [ . . . ]

On May 13, 1800, Jewish male subjects from the age of 15 to 40 were summoned to Gudensberg by Landgrave Wilhelm IX for military conscription or exemption. And so it was. But the parnassim of the communities made an arrangement at high cost, of which our portion, paid here to the local tax authorities, amounted to 100 talers. Since the Landgrave was away on a trip and came back on Schwuaus and wanted to leave again in a few days, the raw (rabbi) instructed the parnassim to go to him in Weissenstein on Jontew (since this was permitted by the Law), and there, with a great deal of money, they averted the gesere (evil decree). [ . . . ]

On May 9, 1803, all of us Schutzjuden (Protected Jews) here and in Nenndorf were summoned at the behest of the local merchants and the towns of Witteln and Aplern. That is, the merchants had petitioned the court to the effect that we should not engage in commerce, sell from door to door, or employ many servants (clerks). We then presented a document of protest in Rinteln by way of Fürstenau, which cost us 13 talers and 21 groschen. Feibisch O.N., Meyer and his brother Gumpel, I, Itzig, and my brother Aron contributed to this sum. Thereafter, we heard no more of the matter. May God continue to grant peace to us and all Israel. [ . . . ]

On May 15, 1803, all of us Jews gave a ball with music at the rathskeller, since on that day our Landgrave had been named a Prince Elector. In addition, on that morning seven psalms, selected by his honor Rabbi Löb Berliner of Kassel, were sung in the schul (synagogue). And on the same day, the Jews of Kassel, [ . . . ] about which we received a printed book. The ball cost us, that is, my father, Itzig, Aron, and Abraham, 15 talers. Since that time, the Leibzoll has been abolished in all of Hesse. [ . . . ]

In June 1803, the French, under a commander named Mertier, marched into the kingdom of Hannover, which they wanted to occupy, since England had not kept to the peace treaty. Hannover’s troops wanted to resist, but they thought twice about it and drew back b’schaulem [peacefully]. The French marched in undisturbed. Some of their patrol and volunteer corps plundered and set fires, but the ones who were caught were severely punished and shot. At that time, we had many of our friends’ valuables in our house. They feared that they would lose everything. Those were our friends from Nienburg, Stolzenau, Ohes, and Baschehusen (Barsinghausen).

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