Thursday, August 26, 2004

The name of Epstein

A few weeks ago, I received an email from a Munich-based employee of Microsoft who read an email I sent to an internal newsgroup. He said, “it’s so interesting that your last name is Epstein. I grew up in a town called Eppstein.”

This began a multi-email dialogue between us. I related the story I had heard.

At some point after the Expulsion from Spain, the wandering tribe which had been known in Girona, Spain as the Benevensites ended up in Germany. They were in the money-lending business and lent money to one Count von Eppstein. As collateral, he offered up a piece of land.

When the time for the loan came due, he didn’t have the money and refused to turn over the land, saying that it belonged to his brother, a priest, and Church land couldn’t be given to Jews. Instead, he offered them the use of the distinguished last name of Eppstein. Apparently, the family took him up on his offer and eventually moved on to Lithuania, from whence my paternal grandfather emigrated.

I had never heard of the town of Eppstein until the summer of 1994 when a classmate of mine at the University of Regensburg where I was taking summer courses told me that it existed on the outskirts of Frankfurt.

During my travels through Europe thereafter, I made a point to take a trip out to Eppstein, a town nestled in wooded hills by a small river with a tiny fort on a hill, with a population of (I’m guessing) 2-3000 people. At some point during my teenage years, my father had given me a family crest which had the name “Epstein” underneath it and which has three chevrons upon it.

Interestingly enough, this same symbol was on all of the official Eppstein municipal items (trash trucks, the city hall, etc.). I climbed the small hill to the little fort, the museum for the history of the town, and knocked.

A woman answered. I told her my last name and showed her my passport. She was very excited and let me in for free (I thought the town still owed a lot more than that 1 Deutsche Mark that I saved, you know with interest and everything). I told her the story and she confirmed the possibility of its veracity saying something to the effect of “the Counts von Eppstein were very dishonest and made a living of robbing travelers and traders on the river next to the fort).

During the year I spent in Germany, I went back twice more, once with my father and once with Dina, Asher, and Julie. At my father’s request, I also made an inquiry to the City Hall to determine the name of the factory where the town flag was made and subsequently ordered one, which to this day flies outside our house. It was also used at the wedding ceremony for Asher/Julie as well as for Tamar and me.

Anyway, I relayed this entire story to my German colleague (Thomas). He too had heard that the Counts von Eppstein were not such great people. Furthermore, he asked if he could send the story I had sent to him to his friend who works in the City Hall and also to the town of Eppstein’s historian. He has since done this.

Lastly, he told me that the name Eppstein comes, supposedly, from a knight named Eppo, who built a fort upon a large stone (Stein in German). Hence, Eppo’s Stein or Eppstein.

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