Autobiographical Essays

Beate Caspari-Rosen, MD (1910 - 1995)

My Grandfather Jacob Caspari

I wrote about my mother's father, Louis Arnswalder, who lived with us for many years until his death in 1935. Although he was part of my close family while I was growing up, I knew  little about him, since he never talked about his past. My father's father, however, was long dead when I was born,
but his portrait is hangs on the dining room wall looking down at the table. It was painted by a itinerant woman artist; my grandfather asked for 10 identical oil paintings, so that each one of his children could have I a picture of him. Since my father was the youngest child, the artist painted this portrait last. Unsatisfied and probably bored with the portrait, she took a knife to slash it to pieces. Someone took the knife  from her, but a cut is still to be seen despite restoration.

My father told me many stories I about his father and his own youth in a small town called Brussow (Breslau) in the Uckermark, a part of Mark Bradenburg. I do not know when my grandfather was born or when he died or how he came to settle in this small place.  He had a dry-goods and clothing store and seemed to have been quite well off.

His first wife died during the birth of their eleventh child. Shortly thereafter he remarried; his bride was a girl of eighteen who was younger than his oldest child from his first marriage. She was the daughter of an innkeeper, who many years later, when my father left home to attend school in Berlin, said to him: "Paul, don't eat chopped meat away from home." This, the only advice she gave her son, must have been based on experience and knew what she was talking about. As a matter of fact, even my mother followed her advice, and herself used a meatgrinder. [When I was a child I still recall my grandmother Flora, my mother’s mother using a meatgrinder to make chopped meat.] 

My grandfather produced seven more children with his second wife, who I called Grossmutter Rosel. The first five died, including twins. The survivors were boys, my father Paul  the youngest.

I can still vaguely remember my grandmother Rosel, who told wonderful fairy tales, sitting in a red velvet chair in our living room, I at her feet. She died when I was four years old.

My grandfather was a very religious man who seemed to have followed the Jewish laws without question. When his oldest daughter died in childbirth, he ordered the next unmarried daughter to marry the widower, although she was engaged to a man of her choice. She had to break off her engagement and marry her sister's husband in order to bring up the orphaned children; she had many children with him. That was my aunt "Nanette (Nettchen). At the end of her life she confided in me that she had burned the love letters of her  fiance when she was 70 years old; she never forgave her father. The Jewish law states II that when a sister dies in childbirth the next unmarried sister has to take her place in order to raise the orphaned chitdren. There are still very religious Jews who obey this law, though I believe that nowadays one can buy oneself out with a token sum.

My grandfather's house must have been crowded with his children and grandchildren and other orphaned nephews and nieces who found a home with him.
On Friday evening when the Sabbath meal was served, so the story goes, my grandfather and the male portion of the family would get up after they ate the chicken soup and walk once around the market place, while the women folk would set the table for
the next course.         

My grandfather also like to play cards with his wife but did not like to lose; tactfully my grandmother would let him win. When new clothing was needed la whole bolt of material was given to my grandmother from the store and the tailor was busy cutting material for all the children. It must have looked odd seeing
everybody dressed in the same cloth.         
From my father's tales the small town became very vivid to me, so when one rainy November day years later a cousin of mine asked me to accompany him on a drive to Brussow (Breslau), where he had business to attend to, I gladly said accepted. What a disappointment! The market place with its splendid gas candelabra my father proudly talked about was a muddy forlorn looking place, where only some hungry dogs were running around and the family house looked gray and in bad repair. I was glad when we left it.

By the way, my father Paul had some difficulty connected with his home town’s name. When he attended gymnasium in Berlin the French teacher told him that he did not have to attend the course. My father, without asking for an explanation, followed the teacher's order, but when it came to the final examination he had to take it and failed miserably. The teacher was surprised and asked him: "How come you lived in Brussels (Brussel in German) and don't know French?" “I come from Brussow not Brussels,” my father replied. He never learned to speak Fench.  

All but one son and his family left Brussau; my grandmother moved to live with one son in Czarnikau (Poland today). [No explanation is given for why the family left Breslau or the date(s) when this occurred.]    


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