A few weeks ago, I discovered a Jewish Cemetery in Limerick. It was across from a landmark pub in the city called the The Hurlers Pub. There was a small laneway across from Hurlers leading to the small cemetery.
One of the graves was of Simon Gewurz. He was originally from Bratislava in Slovakia and moved to Limerick, where he died in 1944. I recently found out that he was the last Rabbi in Limerick.
In 1938, he conducted the funeral service of Elsa Reininger.
Elsa’s story was a tragic one. She had fled Austria after Hitler annexed the country. Reininger was her maiden name, and later to Hofler when she married Berisch Hofler, a Polish Jew. The couple had one daughter, Margarete.
Austria was annexed into the Third Reich on 13 March 1938. The day after German troops entered Austrian territory, it became the so-called Anschluss. The Nazis were greeted by cheering Austrians with Nazi salutes and Nazi flags. A published law declared Austria, now one of the lands of the German Empire, and named Ostmark. On 10 April in Austria, a plebiscite was held and it was not a secret ballot. According to official Reich data, with 99.08% of the population voting, the Anschluss was approved by 99.75%.
Almost immediately, attacks were carried out on the Austrian Jewish community in an attempt to compel them to leave the country. They were beaten up, forced to sell their businesses, scrub footpaths and clean public toilets on their hands and knees.
Shortly after the Anschluss, the Hoflers left Austria. It is not clear how they were able to leave the country. Both Elsa and her husband ended up in Limerick, Ireland. Their daughter Margarete had married a widower, Gaskel Kaitcer, in the United Kingdom. Gaskel had family in Limerick, the Tobin family, so the couple decided to move to Limerick. Margarete soon found work as a violinist in one of Limerick’s cinemas.
In September 1938, Berisch visited his daughter and stayed as a lodger with Gaskel’s cousin, Annie Tobin and her husband at 18 Newenham Street. Elsa followed in October 1938. Elsa had arrived in Limerick from England, where her passport was stamped for a 48 hours stay, basically a short-term visa.
The experiences she witnessed in Austria had really disturbed Elsa. Her nerves were shattered from what she had seen and experienced in Vienna and the possibility that she might have to return there. She spoke continuously to the Tobins about Hitler. She suffered from depression. On 27 October 1938, she booked a room at the Crescent Hotel. There she took a
gun from her handbag, and as she lay on the bed, she put it to her head and pulled the trigger, killing herself, aged 57. No one heard the shot. Around 8 o’clock, Berish Hofler went to his daughter’s house and was distressed that he didn’t find his wife. At 23:30, Margarete went to the Garda (Police) station and reported her mother missing. The body was found shortly after midnight. The Gardai (Irish Police) notified the family. In the early hours of Friday morning of the 28th. The Fire Brigade ambulance arrived and brought the body to the morgue at Barrington’s Hospital on Georges Quay. As it was the eve of the Jewish sabbath, the family were anxious to have the remains buried. Mr Nathaniel Fine made arrangements for the burial at Griffins Funeral Home on Lower Gerald Griffin Street. As the body was about to be
removed, the Gardai intervened and had the deceased returned to the morgue. After a post-mortem examination on the Saturday, permission for the burial was given again. On Sunday morning, 30 October, a Griffins’ motor hearse went to Barrington’s Hospital, collected the coffin and drove to the Jewish Cemetery in Kilmurry where, in the presence of Berisch Hofler, Margarete Kaitcer and her husband Gaskel and the last serving Jewish Rabbi of Limerick, Simon Gewurz, the remains of Elsa Reininger were laid to rest in an unmarked grave.
Elsa was just one of the thousands that were so overwhelmed by the evil they had witnessed, that they felt they could not continue to live. These are often forgotten Holocaust victims, because they are not registered as such.
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