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Sweet Ambition

Riki Goldstein

Is there any oma — or bubby, savta, or grandma — who doesn’t like to serve the children chocolate? For Erna Koppenheim a”h of Manchester, chocolate was more than a way to sweeten the family’s visits. Chocolate was part of her legacy, an instrument she used to support her family alone in a foreign land and ensure her son could learn Torah undisturbed.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Broad Lancashire accents mingle in the air; women work at a brisk pace. The heady scent of chocolate wafts from an industrial-sized melting pan, lending the 1940s factory scene its aromatic charm. Supervising the production is a frum lady with an aristocratic bearing. Her English is precise, but German-accented, and her dress is elegant and sophisticated. As various fillings emerge from their viscous chocolate bath, they’re left to dry, and then packaged by hand in decorative boxes. Mrs. Erna Koppenheim, the factory’s owner, has an unerring business sense that keeps her confectionary enterprise bustling. Yet Erna (Esther) began her life in a very different world. She was born in 1910 to Reb Eliyahu Pinchas Hepner and his wife. The family hailed from Ocwiecim, but had moved to Leipzig, Germany, the center of the European fur trade. Her father had learned in the Lomza yeshivah and the family was staunch in their Yiddishkeit. An intelligent young lady, Erna left school at age 14 to work in the family business. In the six years until her marriage to Avrohom Koppenheim, Erna became a proficient businesswoman. Her husband was a doctor, the only son of Reb Meyer Koppenheim, cattle fodder magnate and president of the Corn Exchange in Breslau, Germany. They moved into the Koppenheim mansion in Breslau, where the family lived a very privileged and affluent life. The Koppenheims’ oldest son, Peter (Peretz Yehuda), was born in 1931, followed by Eva (Ellinson) in 1933 and then Ruth (Friedman). The Koppenheims employed a cook and a couple: she was the housekeeper, and he was the maintenance man and driver of the family Mercedes. A frum nanny (kinderfraulein) looked after the children. Erna had no need to put her hands into cold water. The 1930s progressed. Inside their aristocratic home, the Koppenheims raised their children tranquilly on the yekkish path. Outside, on the streets of Germany, the Nazi party gained momentum, their hate-filled agenda capturing the hearts of an unsettled populace.  

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