Glückel of Hameln
(c.1646-1724) was a Jewish woman from a well-off merchant family
who wrote an account of her life for the edification of her
children. She was married twice and had fourteen children. She was
also very involved in the business affairs of her family, and
frequently offered opinions on economic and social issues in her
memoirs, which were written in Yiddish.
Excerpts from the Memoirs of Glückel of Hameln
good mother brought me into the world, the year of Creation 5407
[1646-47], in this city of Hamburg. Even if our sages say, "it is
better not to be born," meaning that men have so much to endure in
this sinful world, still I thank and praise my Creator that He
made me according to His will to take me under His holy charge.
My father gave his children, girls and boys, a secular as well as
a religious education. And whoever came hungry to my father's
house went forth fed and satisfied. Before I was three years old,
the German Jews, I am told, were driven out of Hamburg. Thereupon,
they settled in Altona which belonged to King of Denmark, who
readily gave them letters of protection. This city of Altona lies
barely a quarter of an hour from Hamburg.
About twenty-five Jewish families were previously settled in
Altona, where we had our synagogue and cemetery. After we
newcomers had remained there for some time, we finally succeeded
with great difficulty in persuading the authorities of Hamburg to
grant passes to Altona Jews, so we might enter and do business in
that city. Such a pass was valid for four weeks, it was issued by
the burgomaster and cost one ducat; when it expired another had to
be procured in its stead. However, if you got to know the
burgomaster or his officials, the old pass might be renewed for a
second four weeks.
This meant, God knows, a great hardship for our people, for all
their business lay in Hamburg. Naturally, many a poor and needy
wretch would try to slip into the city without a pass. If the
officials caught him, he was thrust into prison, and then it cost
all of us money to get him out again. In the early dawn, as soon
as our folks were out of synagogue, they went down to Hamburg, and
towards evening, when the gates were closed, back they came to
Altona. Coming home, our poor folks often took their life in the
hands because of hatred for the Jews rife among the dockhands,
soldiers and others of the meaner classes. The good wife, sitting
home, often thanked God when her husband turned up safe and sound.
My father was in no wise rich but, as I said, he trusted in the
Lord. He left no debts and worked himself to the bone to provide
decently for his family. He had gone through a great deal in his
life and, already become aged and worn, he naturally hastened to
marry off his children.
He was already a widower when he became engaged to my mother. For
fifteen years or more he had been married to a splendid woman, of
good family, named Reize, who maintained a large and fine house.
My father had no children by her, but a previous marriage had
blessed her with a daughter, beautiful and virtuous as the day is
long. The girl knew French like water! Once this did my
father a mighty good turn.
My father, it seems, held a pledge against a loan of 500
Reichthalers he made to a nobleman. The gentleman appeared at his
house one day, with two other nobs, to redeem his pledge. My
father gave himself no concern, but went upstairs to fetch it,
while his stepchild sat and played at the clavichord to pass away
the time for his distinguished customers. The gentleman stood
about and began to confer with one another in French. When the
Jew, they agreed, comes down with the pledge, we'll take it
without paying and slip out. They never suspected, of course, that
the girl understood them. However, when my father appeared, she
suddenly began to sing aloud in Hebrew, "Oh, not the pledge, my
soul-- here today and gone tomorrow!" In her haste the poor child
could blurb out nothing better. My father now turned to his
gentleman. "Sir," he said, "where is the money?" "Give me my
pledge!" cried the customer. But my father said, "First the money
and then the pledge." Whereupon our gentleman spun about to his
companions. "Friends," he said, "the game is up-- the wench, it
seems, knows French"; and hurling threats they ran from our house.
A few days later our gentleman appeared alone, repaid the loan
with due interest, took the pledge, and said to my father, "You
are well served and your money is well spent teaching your
daughter French." And he turned on his heels and left.
After our wedding, my husband and I remained for one year in
Hameln. Our business went poorly, for Hameln was not a trade
centre; and my husband did not wish to confine himself to
moneylending among the country folk. From the outset of our
marriage, he had bent his thoughts toward settling in Hamburg....
Although my husband was a stranger, he quickly learned how things
stood. At that time, the trade in gems was not flourishing as it
is now, and the burghers and young engaged couples among the the
Gentiles seldom or never wore jewels. Instead, it was the fashion
to wear solid gold chains; and gifts, if the occasion demanded,
were all of gold. What though, to tell the truth, the gains were
smaller than in jewels, my husband began by dealing in gold, and
plying his trade ran from house to house, to buy up the precious
metal. Then he turned it over to the goldsmiths, or resold it to
merchants about to be married; and he earned thereby a tidy
However much my husband toiled, and truly the whole day he ran
about upon his business, still he never failed to set aside time
to study his daily "portion" of the Torah. He fasted, too, a great
part of every day the Torah was read forth in the synagogue, at
least until he began to make long business journeys, with the
result that even in his youth he became sickly and needed much
doctoring. Yet, for all that, he never spared himself, and shirked
no pains to provide his wife and children with a decent
My blessed husband worked manfully at his business, and although I
was still young, I too did my share. Not that I mean to boast, but
my husband took advice from no one else, and did nothing without
our talking it over.
The next time I came with child I suffered terribly. I came down
with a fever, God save us! in my seventh month, an unheard-of
thing. If it began in the morning I suffered chills for four whole
hours, then I burned for four hours, and finally, for four hours
again, I sweat, and that was worse than either the chills or the
burning. You may imagine my torments...
I continued in this way to suffer torments for two full months. My
might failed me, and more than once I thought to myself, "Dear
Lord, when my time comes upon me, I shall have neither force nor
strength to deliver the child."
But when my time was one me, the ever-faithful God so graciously
lent me his aid, I gave birth almost without pain or effort, as
though the child fell of its own will.
It was a lovely, well-built child, but it came down at once with
the selfsame fever as mine. Though we summoned doctors and every
mortal aid, it proved of no avail. The child suffered fourteen
days, and the God took back his share and left us ours, a bit of
martyred clay. And me He left, a mother brought to bed-- without
I had two or three further attacks of the fever, but even before I
rose from my childbed I was once again healthy and strong.
Thereafter I gave birth to my daughter Hendelchen, and two years
later my son Samuel, then my son Moses, my daughter Freudchen, and
my daughter Miriam. The two youngest barely knew their father.
What, indeed, shall I write of the gaps between times? Every two
years I had a baby, I was tormented with worries as everyone is
with a little house full of children, God be with them! and I
thought myself more heavily burdened than anyone else in the world
and that no one suffered from their children as much as I. Little
I knew, poor fool, how fortunate I was when I seated my children
"like olive plants round my table."
The Memoirs of Glückel of Hameln, translated by Marvin
Lowenthal, New York: Schocken Books, 1977, pp. 5-7, 11-12, 32-34,