The young Oppenheimers opened an antique shop at Marktplatz 7 in 1908 and lived in a 2-room apartment above the store. There they raised their four girls and two boys – Greta, Julius, Johanna, Irma, Gertrud, and Manfred. By the 1930s, of course, the children were grown and had moved away, and Leopold and Babette were in their fifties. The couple were quite well-liked in town and highly respected due to their close association with the local museum. Leopold procured three or four art objects for the museum collection each year – lovely paintings and engravings of old Heidelberg and beautiful porcelains.
In 1933, quite without warning, the Oppenheimer’s little shop appeared on the NSDAP list of businesses to be boycotted, and so began the marginalization of Heidelberg’s small Jewish population. Leopold and Babette struggled along until the fateful evening of November 9, 1938. That night would become known as Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass, and for the Oppenheimers it would mean that their apartment, the shop and the basement storage room would be looted. With the cooperation of local authorities, most of the contents of their home and business were either auctioned off or simply disappeared.
The Oppenheimers managed to continue living day to day in their beloved Heidelberg until the morning of October 22, 1940. In the early hours, neighbors watched as the Gestapo forced Leopold and Babette into a truck full of other Jews. A special train was waiting at the main station- destination - Gurs - an internment camp run by the French military. Mayor Carl Neinhaus had been informed of these events ahead of time and throughout the day, longtime friends and acquaintances stood in the Platz or on the train platform and watched their panicked and terrified Jewish neighbors being rounded up.
The train arrived at Gurs four days later,
and the Oppenheimers found themselves in unimaginable living conditions, which for many would prove fatal. Leopold, now age 65, would live only 27 days, dying on November 23rd. One week later, for reasons unknown, Babette was released and managed to survive in wartime France for four years. She died on September 1, 1944, in Périgueux, age 67.
– Of the 66 Jewish shops that existed in Heidelberg in 1933, only one survived.
– Many of Leopold’s antiques are still owned today by the Kurpfälzisches Museum in Heidelberg.
– The Six Oppenheimer children found safety in the US and were paid a small stipend as “compensation for damage to property and assets" belonging to their parents.