Chapter 1


Descendant of Abraham


                It is just past 7 o'clock in the evening, on Saturday 21 September 1889, when Abraham Harburger opens the prayer book belonging to his wife, Émélie. She has just given birth to their eighth child. As he has done for those that have come before, and in accordance with Jewish custom, he writes on the first page the day's date and the name of the newborn baby: Julien.


                The family lives in the commune of Rambervillers, in the heart of the Vosges forest. They have a house in the place known as Les Tanneries. It is at the end of the road of the same name, which is about five hundred metres long and runs parallel to a river.


                Abraham has chosen to make the most of the running water on his doorstep and set up a laundry business. He employs women to wash the linen in the river and dry it in the garden, or in the room on the ground floor where they also iron it. Among his customers are some army units; Rambervillers is home to a large barracks.


                Julien's father is a working man, an entrepreneur who has gradually diversified his commercial activities. Following a family tradition, he has opened a butcher's shop that is situated in the centre of town. And our entrepreneur also trades in second-hand fabric. It is at his home that he stores his wares and receives his clients.


                Meat is a Harburger speciality. But whilst Abraham is a secular butcher, his father and grandfather observed religious rituals in the way they slaughtered animals and prepared the cuts.


                The first official document concerning the family is an act of marriage dating from the year 11. In other words, 1803. On the 14th day of Thermidor, the 11th month in the French Republican calendar, Élée Sée, 26, marries a man fourteen years her senior in Bergheim, in the department of the Haut-Rhin. He has the Harburger family name and the first name of Abraham. It is the grandfather of the Abraham Harburger cited above.


                Élée's husband was born in the town of Kriegshaber, in what at the time was called the Margraviate of Burgau, in Bavaria. The first Harburger whose trail I'm able to pick up, is therefore German.


                Whilst there is nothing to confirm it, it is nonetheless highly likely that Abraham left Kriegshaber to flee discrimination and persecution against Jews. In 1648, the treaty of Westphalia put an end to the Thirty Years' War. Alsace ended up going to the French. From that date, many Jews from Bavaria, as well as from the neighbouring regions of Baden and Palatinate, went to settle across the border. Living conditions were less difficult for them there, and people spoke almost the same language.


                I do not know at what age Abraham the patriarch leaves his homeland to cross the river that separates him from the promised land. We find him, in any case, in Alsace at the age of 40, saying 'yes' to a life with Élée.