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The Judenrein town that spoke Hebrew

Schopfloch in Germany is no doubt the only place in the world where non-Jews called their mayor a 'shoufet,' their country a 'medine' and their house a 'bayis'
Schopfloch. (Wikimedia Commons)
Schopfloch. (Wikimedia Commons)

The man had just inquired the price of an overnight room in the only pension in Schopfloch. Hearing the reply, he turned to his wife informing her in Hebrew, “This is not expensive.” Surprised and incredulous, he heard the German woman behind the desk repeat in her own language, “No, it is not much money.” She had understood his Hebrew!

This scene took place in the 1980s, not long before Bonn bowed to Berlin as the capital of Germany. The Israeli couple – the man, an official at the embassy of Israel in Bonn – had traveled south to spend their vacation in this leafy countryside. And that is how the centuries-old secret of Schopfloch was discovered: the unique dialect of Lachoudish, a bowdlerized version of lashon kodesh – the holy tongue.

When the official returned from his Bavarian vacation with this piece of sensational news, I decided to investigate. After a long train ride, I arrived at my destination. Schopfloch lies some 160 kilometers northwest of Munich in the state of Bavaria, a state bordering the Czech Republic to the east and Austria to the south.

I had notified the town’s mayor that an American journalist was coming to learn about that special language – so I was expected and, without undue ceremony, taken by the town’s officials to the local pub. I learned that Schopfloch has existed since the 900s. Its men earn their living to this day from the same trade, masonry and bricklaying.

Signs of Jewish habitation go back to the 16th century. Forbidden as they were to work in agriculture and in handicrafts, the Jews turned to textile and to horse- and cattle trading.  They spoke their own language based on Hebrew (Ashkenazic pronunciation) so they could communicate without being understood. But when the locals, who did not work in the winter, helped during off-season their Jewish co-citizens in textile or in the cattle-trading business, they adopted many words from the language of the Jews and, mixing it with their own Frankish-Swabian jargon, called it Lachoudish. The non-Jewish folk adopted it, some communicating in Lachoudish among themselves. Karl Philip, a Schopfloch teacher who wrote about his hamlet’s history, even compiled a dictionary of Lachoudish.

Only after Zvi Lidar, representative in Germany of Israel radio and TV, produced his well-watched film, and the German national channel ZDF produced a video, shown at the annual celebration of Brotherhood Week, did the Schopfloch natives understand that Lachoudish did not derive from Yiddish, but from Hebrew, the holy tongue.

Schopfloch is no doubt the only place in the world where a mayor was called “shoufet” (“shofet” means judge in Hebrew), where non-Jewish denizens referred to their country as medine and their house as bayis.

Schopfloch was first settled around 1260, Bavaria was a dukedom, later a monarchy. In 1871, Bavaria was one of the first states to join the united German Empire.

Schopfloch was more tolerant than its famous neighbors. Whereas the nearby tourist-targeted walled towns of Rothenburg ob der Taube and Dinkesbuehl forbade their  Jewish residents entrance or exit after 6 p.m., Schopfloch’s Jews were free to return home from out-of-town at all hours of the night.

The locals welcomed the Jews and the Jewish community flourished. At its peak, in 1835, out of a population of 1390, 382 were Jewish citizens. The Jewish community had its own elementary school, which, later, as the children grew older, turned into a Talmud Torah, its own ritual slaughter house, mikve and cemetery. A synagogue built in 1872 was partly burned on Kristallnacht, on November 9, 1938, and later destroyed by the Nazis. But only one year before the Nazis began to rule officially, the synagogue in 1932 was renovated, with Schopfloch’s town officials participating in the ceremony.

The cemetery, now slowly sinking into the earth, holds some 2,000 tombs, the earliest dating from the 16th century, the last from the year 1939, the final year of Jewish habitation in Schopfloch, when only 24 Jews were left living there.

At the time we met, almost 50 years later, the town’s mayor expressed pride in the happy co-existence which reigned all the years, proud, as he put it, of the “integration without assimilation,” the communal cooperation, and the give-and-take of the two communities — Christian and Jewish. He was hoping for an influx of tourists due to Schopfloch’s history and the unique language it possessed. He expressed that wish when Schopfloch was already totally Judenrein.

“We do not want to forget our Jewish history; we do not want to forget Lachoudish,” he declared. At his initiative, a group of 25 mostly young people, were meeting once every two weeks to converse and sing in Lachoudish.

What happened here during the war years? Many managed to flee to Israel and America — and 49 Jews perished in the Shoah.

Karl Philip, the schoolteacher and historian of Schopfloch, recalls Erna, a little curly-haired Jewish girl in his class. Because she was very gifted, he wanted to give her extra math lessons after class. But he was informed that no Jews were allowed to be taught in an official institution. So he decided to teach her at home. She managed eventually to make it to Israel.

In 1945, a Schopfloch native Jew, one Norbert Jericho, came to visit the town in his American soldier’s uniform.

Lachoudish was transmitted only orally; it was not written. Therefore, its chances of survival were minimal. Indeed, by 1994, reportedly only 12 people used some 200 Lachoudish words. The dialect Lachoudish had its day; it is now extinct (reportedly, one indigenous language or dialect dies every two weeks).

Like the one-time flourishing Jewish community of Schopfloch, Lachoudish left a small mark on history and has since faded away.

About the Author
Lili Eylon is Czech by birth, American by education, Israeli by choice. She has been a journalist since the days of Methuselah, having studied English Literature and journalism at Brooklyn College and the University of Wisconsin. She traveled widely as the spouse of Israeli diplomat Ephraim Eylon, and is mother to Raanan Yisrael and David Baruch z"l, who fell in the service of the IDF.
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