Rabbi Herman Schaalman and his wife Lotte came to Emanuel Congregation in 1956. By that date the arc of their personal experience was already beyond what most of us can imagine. Both were born in Germany during World War I (Lotte in 1915, Herman in 1916). Both came from prosperous, well-settled families who felt secure in their place.
Herman’s family was religious and followed the liberal tradition then current in Germany, somewhat like today’s Conservative Judaism. Herman remembers Jewish tradition at home as infused with joy and pleasure. He attended the local public school and did encounter some anti-Jewish bullying, but rarely.
Both Herman and Lotte had fathers who served in the German army, and they were brought up expecting to be part of the society they knew, she in Karlsruhe and he in Munich. Occasionally anti-Jewish incidents occurred in both cities but seemed an unpleasantness one had to expect. Neither family thought about leaving Germany.
Herman enrolled in the local, liberal rabbinic school in 1935. His daily life was fairly limited to the Jewish community of Berlin. Lotte’s family was more secular. Her upbringing was more cosmopolitan. She attended Neuchatel finishing school in Switzerland. Some of her relatives moved to the US in the 19th century.
Stories of the rise of Hitler and anti-Jewish propaganda were heard in the United States, where Jewish leaders felt growing concern about the situation. Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati therefore extended an invitation to Herman’s seminary in 1935 to send five students to the USA to study. Herman felt no interest, but the seminary president, his local rabbi and his father all told him he had to go.