Bernhard Cahn
A man of his times
Life in Nineteenth Century Germany

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Life in Nineteenth Century Germany
      Although Germany is one of the places that has relatively good records, we often wonder what life was like for our ancestors. Why did one need to become a citizen of Hesse? What did one have to do to become a citizen? What steps was it necessary to prove that one would not become dependant on the community? How did trains affect communication between family members? How did wars affect the family? What was having a soldier billeted in your home like? What was the citizen responsible for? Did the citizen have to supply food for the soldier? What if the place you lived in was so tiny that there was not room for anyone else? Were Jewish soldiers allowed to practice their religion while in military service? How could this be done? Were Jewish prisoners allowed to worship during the High Holy Days? Was crossing a bridge difficult in winter? Did Jews have full access to the law? What was the relationship between Jews and Christians in the community? Were Jews ever elected to civil offices? What kind of writing would Jews use when communicating between each other?
      What did people living there know about what was going on in the rest of the world? Did they know much about America? What did they know?

Bernhard Cahn a Jew in 19th Century Germany
      Description of life of an observant Jewish man and his relations with his congregation, the local mayor, and rabbis in Mainz.
      The steps Cahn had to take to become a citizen of Kastel and of Hesse and the steps to he took to get permission from the state to marry are all recorded. Did you ever wonder what your great-grandparent got as a birthday present? What kinds of gifts were given at a wedding? He recorded such events in great detail.
      It was during this period that Reform Judaism arose. Mainz was an early seat of this movement. Bernhard Kahn saw and commented on these changes as they occurred in Mainz. Bernhard Cahn was an orthodox Jew. He is clean shaven on his picture, which has led several people to believe he was reform, but a careful examination of his beliefs will reveal a very conservative leader of the Jews in his community.
      Reading the diaries often necessitated further research, when seemingly unexplainable events were described. How can a bridge “drive off”? What else could “abgefahren” mean? Why was doing the wash so important that Cahn’s daughter had to put off a visit to her parents until the wash was done? Who were the members of the Jewish community? How was the German government involved in paying for the salaries of religious leaders? Did Jews participate in local town events, such as in times of need? How were the Jews regarded by the local officials? Was there an official way to spell a name (Cahn vs. Kahn) ?
      Bernhard Cahn was well aware of the anti-Semitism occurring in other parts of Europe. He commented on newsworthy events from around the world, particularly reporting events in America.

Reading Judeo-German or ?
      Jews in most places in the world learned the Hebrew letters. While they could speak the local language they could not write it, so when they wanted to communicate with each other, the natural way of writing was to use the Hebrew letters that they had learned as children. Not only Yiddish but many other languages, including German, French, Persian, and Portuguese to mention just a few were written in this format.
      This talk shows a method that anyone can use to try to help decipher the material that seems to be Yiddish but isn’t. Following my method, the reader will end up with a document in Latin letters in the given language. A translator can then be found once the language is identified.

The effect of Napoleon's decrees and other civil ordinances that affected the life of Jews in the middle nineteenth century.
       A look at many of the changes that Napoleon brought to the face of Europe, including such decrees, as forced acceptance of last names, drafting Jewish men, civil registrations of vital records, release of Jews from ghettos.

Introduction to Genealogy - single session or multiple sessions
        A look at how to begin doing genealogy including techniques in interviewing, uses of the Family History Library, the National Archives, the Library of Congress, and storing data, both original documents and using a computer to keep records.

Contact Arline Sachs if you would like further information.