The Gerst banking family

In the first half of the 19th century money trading in Gunzenhausen was carried out by, among others, the Kromwell brothers at Mariusstrasse 5.

In 1864 the merchant and linen draper Jakob Gerst opened, under his name, a banking and bond business in his aunt’s house (Elka Stettheim) in Rathausstrasse 8. He then inherited the property from his aunt, the wife of Model Abraham Stettheim, in 1868.

Jakob Gerst was married to Theresia Gutmann of Eigenhausen. They had just one son: Moritz * 17.04.1866 in Gunzenhauen

Natalie Gerst © Stadtarchiv Gunzenhausen
Natalie Gerst © Stadtarchiv Gunzenhausen

Moritz Gerst married Natalie Grünsfelder of Michelbach on 20.08.1895.

They had two children,
Justin Jakob * 16.09.1896 in Gunzenhausen
Hilda * 30.11.1897 in Gunzenhausen

Hilda was married to the wine dealer Jakob Liebenstein of Mainz. The couple was living there.

Moritz Gerst took over the bank in 1897 and ran it until his death on 21.11.1929.

His widow Natalie and son Justin continued to manage the bank, which was well respected and is still well known bank.

Efficient handling of all forms of banking at favorable conditions. Absolute discreet personal service and reliable information, free of charge, for the handling of financial assets

Justin married Else Wolff from Grießheim near Darmstadt in 1925. From 1926 he was on the committee of the Israelite Cultural Administration, from 1932 as treasurer and in 1938, together with Hugo Walz, one of the last heads of the religious community. That's why he was responsible for selling the synagogue to the city of Gunzenhausen on November 8, 1938.

At first they rented accommodation from the teacher Netuschil in the Seckendorffstrasse.

Afterwards they moved into the house at Seckendorffstrasse 2, which the bank had taken over from the bankrupt estate of the Seeberger family.

The Gerst family home in the Seckendorffstrasse
The Gerst family home in the Seckendorffstrasse

The couple had two daughters who both were born in Gunzenhausen:
Therese Trudel * 26.01.1926
Hannelare Regina * 08.07. 1929

Therese Trudel Gerst ©Stadtarchiv Gunzenhausen
Therese Trudel Gerst © Stadtarchiv Gunzenhausen

In 1936 Justin Jakob Gerst’s family received a summons for violating the law regarding the safeguarding of German blood and honor, as the family employed a Christian housemaid.

On 17.11.1938, the day when the dome of the Gunzenhausen synagogue was pulled down, Natalie Gerst sold her house Rathausstrasse 8 – both the living quarters and the banking offices – to the municipality of Gunzenhausen for 9000 Marks.

According to the Ansbach court registers, the bank was dissolved one day later. The assets became the property of the German Reich and were confiscated by the State Secret Police (Gestapo) Darmstadt, office of Mainz, on 22.09.1942.

A contemporary witness could remember the bank employee Pfabel, who became the General Manager of the Gunzenhausen Savings Bank after the liquidation of the Gerst Bank.

Natalie Gerst, widow, emigrated on 30.11.1938 with her son Justin and his family via Mainz to North America, where they live in Los Angeles.

Apparently Justin Gerst came back once to Gunzenhausen after the war.

Unfortunately we have not been able to take contact with any descendants of the family.

But in 2007 Dr. Raphael Bloch visited the Jewish cemetery and wrote a short note for the cemetery book. About 20 years ago a granddaughter of the Gerst family named Wendy Bloch visited Gunzenhausen too. Maybe they are relatives. Unfortunately we didn't met one of them. So we would be very glad if they could send us a message.


Note in the guest book to the caretakers of the cemetery

Hilda Gerst, the sister of the banker Justin Gerst, was married to Jakob Liebenstein from Mainz. That's probably why Justin Gerst emigrated to the USA via Mainz with his family and his mother Natalie. They may have been waiting there for the day of their departure because they were registered at Rheinallee 13, where the Liebensteins lived.

Hilda and Jakob had apparently stayed in Mainz and committed suicide there the day before their deportation in September 1942. They were buried in the Jewish cemetery.

Their name was subsequently added to the new Jewish cemetery in Mainz “Heiliger Sand”.

Their only son Louis, who had apparently already been able to emigrate to the USA, lived there as Louis Lipton until 1999. During and after the war he was a GI in Germany.

Transcript of the interrogation of Justin Gerst in the District Court Prison

Gerst Justin (married, banker, 37 years old) Gunzenhausen, Hensoltstrasse 4

Questioned on the subject, he declared :

There is proof that my family has been resident in Gunzenhausen since 1450 and I too was born in Gunzenhausen. I fought in the army for two years and was an English prisoner of war after the war until the end of November 1919. In 1922 I took over my father's banking business , which I manage as a partner. I don't believe I have ever harmed anyone in Gunzenhausen.  I don't believe that anyone can prove the contrary.  I would like these points to be mentioned ahead of my comments to the events of March 25 1934.

On the day in question I wanted to go out, actually to the Waldmann Café.  On the way Mrs Rindsberg (Hensoltstrasse 6) called out to me from her window that something had happened in the town and it would be better if I didn't go out.  So I went to Rindsberg, where I played cards with Mr Rindsberg and Mr Levite until about 21.30h.  At that time we could hear shouting and yelling out on the street and I heard people calling out "Rosenau, Jewish Pig", "get the Jew out" and such like.  We turned off the lights in the Rindsberg's house and the crowd went away, but not before there had been a lot of beating on their doors. About twenty minutes later the crowd returned, and there was a pounding at their house door, with shouting and yelling like before.  Let me add that at this time I hadn't seen the crowd.  Mr and Mrs Rindsberg, Mr Levite and I went up into the attic to hide. From there we heard how the doors had broken and were pushed open.  The crowd stormed up the stairs and we came down, because it seemed useless to hide.  I recognized Michael Hertlein, the artist, Kurt Hennig the hairdresser and the former lifeguard Barthel amongst the people coming at us. I can't say what these men, who I knew, did. I just saw them come up the stairs and go into the entrance to the Rindsberg's apartment. There were around 20-30 intruders.  And there were shouts that another Jew must be here, he should be taken away. I then came down into the street, I don't know how, and was taken off to prison by Barthel and Beck, the chief guard of the Gendarmerie. Constable Hummel was also nearby.  On the way to the prison Haussler, who I knew, shouted out loud "he's cheated a whole bunch of people"! He obviously wanted to work the crowd up against me and was actually quite successful, as several people tried to get at me, but I and my escort were able to fend them off.  Haussler's shouts got the crowd agitated again.  I think that's what he wanted and what he achieved.

I then came to the prison and was met by Mr Kaiser and Kurt Bär, Mr Schneider was there too and other people who I didn't know.  The prison officer locked me and Levite into one cell. Before I was locked up, Kaiser said to me that I should do whatever Kurt Bär said, I shouldn't be difficult.  Shortly afterwards Kurt Bär came in and made Levite and me do drills.  He ordered "hands at your sides, lie down, heels together when you lie down, get up, on your knees, get up, lie down" and made us do this many times, Levite and I didn't protest and did what he ordered. This was under duress and I submitted to his violence. After the drilling he gave us each a cigarette and mockingly wished us a good night's rest. Something that struck me was a conversation between Scheiderer and Kaiser before I was locked into the cell, Kaiser said that he wouldn't be held responsible for anything. I don't really know what he meant but had the impression he was talking about this action.  Scheiderer replied "I'll take the responsibility!"  I saw Bär and Kaiser frequently opening the cells and then closing them again.  I didn't see that they had any keys, I didn't pay attention.  While I was in prison Constable Fuchs gave me and all other detainees a letter written by Dr Münch, the town mayor, stipulating that all Jewish businesses had to remain closed until further notice.

I have nothing else to add.  I was released on Monday evening at 21.30h by Lieutenant Karl Bär, who warned me to keep a low profile.  I didn't register an official complaint against Haussler for character defamation.

What I did do was to phone the lawyer, Dr: Landenberg in Nürnberg, on Tuesday 27 March 1934. I did this as I was the chairman of the Jewish Community in Gunzenhausen and needed to speak to Dr. Landenberger about the release of the detainees Eugen Joelsohn from Madrid and Julius Strauss.  Landenberger told me that he had learned from Dr. Schultze that Joelsohn would in the meantime have been released. I didn't speak again to Joelsohn. There is nothing else I can say.

Read and approved - signed Gerst

Except from the official chamber files August 1934.   Municipal Archives Nürnberg