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For many years I’ve wandered through far-flung cemeteries looking for the name Kahn on gravestones. The Kahn name never appeared, partly because I was usually in Christian cemeteries and we have an undeniably Jewish name. That’s not to say all Kahns are Jewish; these days many are not, but in the 18th and 19th century, most Kahns would have been of the Jewish race and the Jewish religion. Hence, the majority of our forebears will be found only in Jewish cemeteries.

Freudenburg and Schweich Jewish cemeteries were enlightening. There our name is abundant in death. These little green plots on river valley hillsides are crammed full of Kahns, most of them distantly related to the founders of this blog.

At Schweich, the cemetery has survived since 1850 in a small tree-fringed hollow in gently sloping grassy banks at the end of a tiny and modern residential cul-de-sac: Im Gartenfeld. Almost entirely surrounded by well-groomed gardens, this small Jewish enclave is in the midst of Germanic horticulture.  Cherry trees, no doubt escapers from adjacent gardens, drop fruit on old graves and young silver birches lean in as if to observe in respect and quietude.

The cemetery is obviously tended. Graves have been repaired where possible; grass is mown short and somebody (probably a member of the local synagogue) keeps paths free of weeds. Browsing along the ranks of headstones is easy once through the gate (or over in my case because the entrance was locked). Kahn; Kahn; another Kahn; more Kahns. Some of the headstones are missing; many have been rendered indecipherable by weather and time. Here are three terraces of distant branch-line ancestors represented by the art of the stonemason.

Freudenburg Jewish cemetery is up a steep little slope on the outskirts of a picturesque and tranquil village. The gates were already swung open into a tapering sward of green meadow to reveal long lines of gravestones on the brow of a gentle hill. This is a more natural, maybe wilder, cemetery, but certainly not neglected. The headstones are perhaps in generally better condition than at Schweich. I walked along the ranks, taking photographs of silent Kahns. We’re related to a lot of them. I have a suspicion that our line actually started in Freudenburg and then moved to Schweich, but I have no proof. Something tells me we’ll never know.

Only distant relatives are here in Schweich and Freudenburg. Graves of the grandfathers of our grandfathers are missing. They’d died or moved on before these cemeteries were opened, but most of these Kahns I found are related to us in one way or another and feature in our continually expanding family tree.

Photographs of some of the graves will appear on www.cemeteryscribes.co.uk, a website recording residents of Jewish cemeteries in the UK and abroad.

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