Seite 56 / Dienstag, 5 Juni 2007, Nr 128
Offenbach . Aschaffenburg
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitunbg

“You come here – and Stories become Reality“

From across the world Merzbach descendants travelled to Offenbach
for the first Family Gathering


Ajw. Offenbach. 

“That is my Great Grandfather, says Susan Merzbach in German to those standing around her, and points at the photograph of Heinrich Merzbach displayed in the show case. The eyes of the woman are moist. Silently she picks up her camera, bends over the glass case in the town Archive and photographs the portrait of her antecedent who had been the co-owner of the “Bankhaus S. Merzbach”, and Chairman for two decades of the Offenbach Jewish Community.  Then the 61 year old American said : ”I knew a lot about the founding of this bank already before this trip, about the Nazi period . I have heard so many stories about the past. But then you come here, you see the picture of your great grandfather, you stand in front of the place where the bank used to be – and the stories become a reality.”. Like her 50 relatives who came here from more than ten countries – from  Mexico to Luxembourg – Susan has also come to Offenbach for three days.


It is for the first time that the family meets in this way. The Englishman David Lewin, together with the American Robert Jesselson, organisers of the international family gathering, have so far found 1000 family members. The Offenbach roots of the family go back to Siegmund Merzbach who was born here in 1805 and who, in 1832, with the establishment of an exchange and a money-changing business laid the foundations of the later “S. Merzbach Bankhouse”, the first financial Institute of Offenbach. The aim of the bank was to further the commercial development of the town to become an industrial centre.   To his 14 children Siegmund Merzbach, who died in 1869, bequeathed a recognized Banking establishment which was to be further developed by his sons Heinrich and Hermann.  However, as explained by the former Town Archivist Herr Ruppel”, under the “pressure of the Nazi Regime”, the family was forced later to abandon their positions in the bank. Ruppel yesterday guided the guests to the place where the bank was founded, the Bank on the “Grossen Marktstrasse” – named at an earlier stage the “Grossen Judengasse”, and then on to the location where for decades the bank was at Frankfurter Strasse 43.


When the Librarian Martina Weiss of the Klingspor Museum showed some of the outstanding items from the museum holdings of the “Guggenheim Collection” among which was the special Offenbach Hagada created by the Graphic Artist Rudolf Koch in 1927 and the wooden Passover dish, it was Helen Mayer-Lancberg who, to the surprise of the family members stepped forward and told how she had experienced these festival days as a child in the home of Siegfried Guggenheim. The 71-year old is the granddaughter of Guggenheim, the last Chairman of the Offenbach Jewish Community before 1938.  After the reception by the Mayor Horst Schneider (SPD) and the official inauguration of the “Siegmund Merzbach Platz (Square) close to the Erlenbruchstrasse, the guests yesterday visited the Old Jewish Cemetery, where also the Guggenheimer urn was interred, whose wife Bertha stemmed from the Merzbach families.


Lewin had invited several hundred relatives to the reunion. Among those who came were also the siblings Ilse Jesselson and William Merzbach who descend from Rudolf Merzbach who lived in Frankfurt, and who emigrated after the November 1938 Pogrom . “We had a very good life here until Hitler threw us out.” Said the 83 –year old.


Different to Jesselson, Georges Merzbach, who lives in Jerusalem, vacillated whether to come to the Offenbach Family Reunion.  The 62-year old who, like his son Nati wears a skullcap – the head covering of the very orthodox-leaning Jews – also outside the Synagogue, does not hide the fact that his intention to travel to Germany had found calls of refusal in his family: “One of my brothers said to me: If you travel, you need to know that you do not represent us”.  That, however, decided him to make the trip: “We must show, particularly here, who we are”.


Picture: Return from 10 nations: Members of the Merzbach family whose ancestor had established and run a bank in Offenbach, visiting the town of their forefathers.