excerpt from A history of the Brüll family, in English with German passages, with a letter written by Samuel Brüll to his infant son, Michael, translated by Margaret Vallence
To my beloved son Michael!
Today it is exactly 8 days since you first saw the light of day, and should it not be vouchsafed to me to be able to relate to you the events of the last 8 days once you have reached an age of maturity, I shall write it down now.
10 months of happiness have passed since my marriage, and I have lacked for nothing in those things which make a human being truly happy. Your dear mother and I came together, not as a result of considerations of wealth or calculation, but by true love. During the 12 months of our engagement and the 10 months of our marriage we experienced no differences of opinion, no disagreements. We enjoyed a mutual esteem and love. We were content and happy, both within ourselves and with each other, and any external attempt at interference failed in face of our mutual understanding.
Then came the hour of your birth. The night of agony is still vivid in my mind and will not easily be forgotten. I was spending terrible nights awake in the open, the enemy before me, and in the trenches and in the ruined houses outside Paris. Death was a constant presence. But there it was only my own life that was in danger. Here it was the life of everything that I hold most dear on this earth that was in danger.
Since that October night in the year 1870 which I spent in a house in Chatillon, awaiting the next shell which would bury us under its rubble, and I prayed to God so fervently, as never before, then I prayed not for my life, but that I should not be crippled, but prayed for a quick death and for the consolation of my father, who now rests with God, for the life of one who is now more important to me than my own.
At last, after hours of torment, my sister Mina sent me news of your birth. What joy, what happiness fills a father’s heart when a son is born to him! What hopes, what expectations are laid upon this young life. I must confess, I was not overjoyed by your birth, I was not eager to see you. I expected a girl.
The Entry into the Covenant of Abraham presented itself before my eyes. A ceremony which I have always abhorred, that is no longer in keeping with our age, that since I was a child I have regarded as unworthy to be treated as a holy act, and which ran totally in opposition to my belief in the individual’s freedom of thought, which even the penal code hints at being unlawful and which brands a human being even before he is capable of rational thought, but which is regarded as the sole pillar upon which Judaism still rests. I hold the Jewish religion in which I was raised in high esteem. I have openly professed my belief in it through times and upon occasions when others timidly hid their belief and were happy to give the impression that they did not belong (to this religion). But I do not want to believe that an ancient sanitation law constitutes the basis of a faith. How sublime the words sound: ‘ Hear, oh Israel, Israel the eternal, your God is a single, eternal Being’ for whom you should circumcise… etc of your flesh (offspring) 8 days after his birth. I am firmly of the belief that the Jewish faith will continue to rest upon the belief in a higher, eternal being, long after this practice of offering this visible sign (circumcision) has been given up as obsolete. If, after all this, you still believe that I behaved wrongly, then the damage can easily be remedied. You can redeem the sin of your father. If you have inherited at least some of my characteristics, then you will not flinch from the small amount of pain and will honour your father’s good intentions. I rely on you to remain true to the faith of your forefathers, but not to adhere blindly to ceremonies, but to act as a truly God-fearing, thinking human being.
The terrible 8 days are over. All (my family) have broken with me and my good mother, and my heart is heavy when I think back on the happiness and mutual accord that prevailed in our family. I do not intend to mention names. You should not grow up with resentment in your heart against any one of them. They have had other experiences, and other views. I will however mention one who remained honest and unswervingly loyal to your dear mother. One who held and kissed you. This was your young and beautiful Aunt Marie. I shall never forget this and will hold it as a holy obligation to help her in return. If it should not be possible for me to do so, you will take on this obligation.
28 October 84. Your grandmother could not bring herself to continue to be angry with us. She was here again on Sunday and today as well, and she likes you very much. Your grandfather was also here, although he is less conciliatory, but in this too, time will bring healing. Doctor Ehrlich says that you will not thank me for what I have suffered on your account. It is possible, you cannot reproach me for this, that I forced you into something that you would later regret, but what can not be undone.
Whilst I write I can hear you groaning in your bedroom. You have not yet learned how to cry properly! But now your dear mother has calmed you by providing you with the nourishment you require. I almost feel jealous that she loves you so much.
Today the Reichstag election took place and I remained true to my principles, voting for the National Liberals. In the year 1870/71 I proved that one can both be a Jew and a good German and I will continue throughout my life to devote my modest strength to upholding the glory and fame of our German Fatherland.
I hope that you also will be proud of your Fatherland and that the Fatherland will count you amongst its most loyal citizens33.
A man who has no interest in his homeland, who is only conscious of his own needs, is not worthy of belonging to a country.
16. February 1885
Today, shortly before 2.00 o’clock, my most deeply loved father gave up the ghost. He passed away peacefully, without a struggle, at the age of 76 years, one month and 27 days.
May I always remember these last few days and never forget the constancy with which his eyes rested upon me, even in his last moments. He suffered much and for a long time, but bore it all with the patience of Job.
A good and honest man, respected and esteemed by his fellow citizens, has left us. He was a true father to his children.
21 May 1878. (Lak Boemer). Today the mortal remains of my deceased father were laid to rest in the earth. May it treat him as lightly as he deserves. The length of the funeral procession speaks for the high regard in which he was held.
Inscription on my father’s tombstone in the Jewish cemetery in Lichterfels.
In remembrance of our unforgettable husband and father, Samuel Brüll.
Born 21. September 1848. Died 11 April 1901.
In 1870/71 Samuel Brüll fought as a reserve Lieutenant in the K.b.15 Infantry Regiment for the Glory and Honour of his Fatherland.