Jul 01 2024

Baltimore: German and German-Jewish Populations Expand the City (Pt. 2)

Published by at 8:00 am under From Time to Time and tagged:

by Anna Rosmus

Anna Rosmus uses archival material and interviews to tell the story of German and German-Jewish heritage in the greater Baltimore area. Quotes without citations are from her conversations and correspondence. This is the second post in a three-part series. Click here for “Baltimore: German and German-Jewish Populations Expand the City (Pt. 1)” 

Harford County

As more and more city dwellers spread to the less crowded and more affordable countryside, retailers saw opportunities to increase their market shares. Harford County was no exception. Among its major employers in 2015 were Aberdeen Proving Ground (22,797 employees), Upper Chesapeake Hospital (3,129) Klein’s ShopRite of Maryland (1,000), Wegmans Food Markets (499 employees) and Giant Food (249 employees).

Sigmund and Harry Weis, the sons of a merchant, founded Weis Markets in 1912. When Sigmund died in 1955, he was known as a very charitable man. In 2022, the company web page summarized:

Our company and associates are committed to being good neighbors. Each year, we support local food banks and food pantries through our Fight Hunger program which generates hundreds of thousands of meals for people in need. We also donate to community-based health care organizations, focusing on charitable and clinic programs benefiting women’s health care, mammography screening, and pediatric programs.

In 1936, when myriads of other US-businesses were failing, Nehemiah Meir Cohen, an ordained rabbi and a kosher butcher from Jerusalem, joined Jacob Lehrman to open Giant Food store, hardly anybody could foresee that it would become one of the largest supermarket chains in the United States. In 1974, Adas Israel Congregation in Washington D.C. honored Cohen with the Shem Tov Award for his caring attitude. When Cohen passed away in 1984, at the age of 93, Bart Barnes commemorated him in The Washington Post not only as “a shrewd businessman”, but also as “one of the pioneers of the supermarket concept in this country.”

Balthasar Wegmann and his wife, née Maria Katherina Kuntz, immigrated from Erlenbach, Germany. Their grandson, Walter E. Wegman, married Anna Emelia Frankenstein, the daughter of German immigrants William F. Frankenstein and Amelia Hitzke. In 1916, their sons, John F. and Walter E. Wegman, founded a Fruit & Vegetable Company that would become Wegmans Food Markets. During World War II, Walter’s son, Robert Bernard, served in the Marines for three years. He married Mary Elizabeth Bemish, and became president of his family’s company. When Robert died on April 20, 2006, The Washington Post hailed him for building “an innovative company that combined business success and humanitarian ideals.”[1] The Associated Press commemorated the pioneer in the retail food business.[2] Most, however, praised him as a donor for educational purposes.[3]

Currently, his son, Daniel R., is the Wegmans CEO. He targets upscale customers. According to the company’s website, its stores “Look and feel like a European open-air market: Dazzling displays of fresh produce, artisan breads, and other baked goods hot from the oven several times a day.”[4] In 2014, Wegmans donated not only about 13.5 million pounds of food to local food banks and similar programs, but also $4.5 million in annual tuition assistance to employees. In 2016, when Market Force surveyed more than 10,000 grocery store shoppers nationwide, they rated Wegmans “America’s favorite grocery store.”[5] The Fortune List of the Top 100 Companies to Work For in 2020 ranked it number three.[6]

In 1925, Maurice Klein and his wife, Sarah, founded a food market in Fallston. Their only son, Ralph Lincoln Klein, was born on July 29, 1926.

He attended St. John’s College in Annapolis for two years, before being drafted in 1945 to serve in the Army. He completed basic training in upstate New York and deployed to Europe in April 1945. Klein rose to the rank of technical sergeant and was honorably discharged in 1947. Under the G.I. Bill, Klein earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration in 1949 from the University of Maryland.

Klein joined the Tau Epsilon Phi fraternity, where he forged lifelong friendships with many brothers, including future Gov. Marvin Mandel, Samuel Lefrak, “Speedy” Kushner, “Billy” Lewis and “Freddie” Sapperstein.[7]

Ralph Klein was a relentless multitasker. With his wife, née Shirley Snyderman, he raised three sons. Andrew P., Michael J. and Howard S. eventually joined the family business. Ralph spent not only more than a decade on the County’s Democratic Central Committee, but for more than two decades he was also a bank director, providing start-up loans for medical services, agricultural and other businesses.

Klein and his wife encouraged physicians to locate their practice in Harford County and developed an office park in Forest Hill with four medical professional buildings and an assisted-living facility. They helped lead the capital campaign to underwrite the construction of Bel Air’s Upper Chesapeake Medical campus. […]

Klein cared deeply about the small Jewish community in a largely rural Christian Harford County. He and his wife set up a fund to maintain the Adas Shalom religious school and were frequent benefactors of both of their congregations. [… Their son, AR] Andrew [said, AR] ’He couldn’t read two words of Hebrew, but he believed in Jewish education.’[8]


A photograph of the Klein Ambulatory Care Center from outside

Klein Ambulatory Care Center


Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Bel Air hospital’s main lobby and the adjacent Klein Ambulatory Care Center are named after this couple. They also donated property to construct the Hooper House Hospice Care in Forest Hill, where Ralph died at the age of 88. He was interred at Baltimore Hebrew Cemetery. On November 25, 2014, the Baltimore Sun commemorated the “businessman and philanthropist”.

Andrew Klein, president and CEO of Klein’s Shoprite, carried on the family tradition. Married to Jayne Zion, he doted on their children Rachel, Sarah, and Marshall. In 2007, when the Klein supermarkets joined the Wakefern cooperative, they became ShopRite. At that time, the County’s population increased significantly. When people with behavioral issues and substance abuse overwhelmed the Bel Air hospital, the Kleins stepped in. In the fall of 2018, the Klein Family Harford Crisis Center opened a hotline. One year later, residential beds were available. Managed by the University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Medical Center, the Harford County government and others, this center attempts to steer patients towards a lower cost, and possibly more appropriate alternative to the emergency room. It assists individuals seeking help to manage their crisis. On December 16, 2019, Erika Butler stated in The Aegis, that more than 5,000 people have already called this hotline and that the walk-in and urgent care center’s 933 visitors ranged from 8- to 89-year olds.

Andrew Klein was no longer alive. At the age of 65, he died in a car crash, and Butler summarized in the Baltimore Sun from March 12, 2019, “The business executive was behind Harford County getting a new hospital in Bel Air 20 years ago, Temple Adas Shalom being renovated, the Senator Bob Hooper House being built and the new Upper Chesapeake Behavioral Health Center.”

Amidst interfaith marriages, growing secularization, and its geographic location on the periphery of the state, however, the county’s Jewish community is easily overlooked.

The Harford Hebrew Congregation was founded in 1955. Two years later, a rabbi was hired for the weekends, and first Torahs were acquired. Temple Adas Shalom (Congregation of Peace) in Havre de Grace was dedicated in 1968. Six years later, Rabbi Kenneth Barry Block from Boston, MA, became its Rabbi. He left in 1998.[9]

In spite of membership costs, Temple Adas Shalom, a Reform synagogue, covered about 150 households. John Franken, a member of the Baltimore Board of Rabbis executive committee, studied law before he chose the rabbinate. In October 2019, Franken replaced Rabbi Gila Ruskin. After a few months, readers of the Baltimore Jewish Times learned that Franken perceived “Judaism […] a prescription and mandate for righteous living and leaving the world somehow better than we found it.”[10] The reporter pointed out that “for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Temple Adas Shalom hosted an interfaith ceremony with St. James A.M.E. Church, and Masjid Al Falaah, a mosque in the county.”

Last week, Franken headed to the Philippines. There, he went to monuments of Jewish soldiers that had been marked with Latin crosses, to remark them with the Star of David instead. Among them was the memorial for his father’s brother. ‘For the last several decades one of the most salient pieces of information — [my uncle’s] Jewishness — was wrong,’ he said. ‘Correcting this is an act of truth and kindness.’

In March 2024, Franken and his cat moved to Tel Aviv, Israel.[11]

Rabbi Gershon “Kushi” Schusterman served the Harford Chabad congregation in Bel Air. Growing up in Long Beach, California, he was appointed as the Chabad-Lubavitch representative of Harford and Cecil Counties by Chabad-Lubavitch of Maryland. “Fraida and I moved here in September 2010 providing services for any Jew regardless of their background or affiliation. There is no charge to become a member at Chabad although donations are appreciated.

Greater Baltimore,[12] now a metropolitan area, has come a long way since its foundation, almost 400 years ago. What started with a single Jewish merchant and one Jewish physician arriving in Baltimore, has evolved into a multi-faceted society. Whereas most Jews operating businesses may be less visible now, many physicians of Jewish and German heritage are concentrated at or near hospitals. From Reuben Ezra Abraham to David Rubin and Scott Steinmetz to Richard Zell, a glance at local telephone books or websites indicates their ethnic provenance.

In 1974, when the Harford Memorial Hospital in Havre de Grace from 1912 could no longer accommodate the growing number of patients, Fallston General Hospital was built. In 1990, Scott Alan Steinmetz graduated with honors from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Kathleen King liked looking into Charles Huttenberger and other German ancestors. When somebody mentioned Dr. Steinmetz, however, her face lit up. She got to know him as

completely devoted to the wellness of his patients. He truly cares for his patients’ entirety. In the late 90s, I was the caterer at Fallston General Hospital. Fallston was a small country hospital, where everyone knew everyone. On Christmas Eve, I was rolling down the hallway, preparing to deliver at a function, when two physicians came out of a patient’s area behind me. They were having a conversation. The first Dr. said, ‘Come on, let’s get out of here! Everyone can wait ’til after the holiday.’ Slightly raising his voice, Dr. Steinmetz said, ‘No! I will not leave until I know every one of my patients who is well ’n able is discharged to go home and has Christmas with the family.’ Now, I knew Dr. Steinmetz was an incredible surgeon, but I had no idea how compassionate he was. I have to say, as I turned into my area for delivery, there were a few tears in my eyes. I realized he was an incredible human being. He earned my total respect and admiration at that moment. This was over twenty years ago, and I will never forget it. By the way, they never knew I heard their conversation.

On October 30, 2000, the Baltimore Sun announced, “The $60.6-million Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in Bel Air opened to the public […], replacing Fallston General Hospital.” In 2011, the Office of National Drug Control Policy deemed Harford County a designated High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.[13] Prior to the 2016 report of the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation with the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, “Harford’s yearly rankings typically fell between ninth and 10th place, primarily because of the percentage of county residents who were obese or who smoked.”[14]

In 2019, Baltimore Magazine named Steinmetz a “Top Doctor” in General Surgery. He accepted the payment that Medicare approved, without billing anybody more than the Medicare deductible and coinsurance. RN Anchalee Dulayathitikul, who worked at IMC and ICU, observed, “he is attentive and energetic. I like the way he visits post-op patients in the early morning.”

For years, Dr. Andrew Nowakowski, an Internal Medicine specialist from Warsaw, Poland, played first violin in the Susquehanna Symphony Orchestra.[15] On April 23, 2018, the Baltimore Sun announced that “Nowakowski and friends […] will host a chamber music concert […] to benefit the Patricia D. and M. Scot Kaufman Cancer Center.” In the cafeteria, Kathleen King recalled: “He used to be my husband’s doctor, until we had to change because of insurance. He is a wonderful, caring, compassionate man. He always took his time to listen, to properly diagnose. Always pleasant!” Susan Coyle, a fellow cashier with the maiden name Frederick and German roots, chimed in: “I used to buy raffle tickets. He brought them to the cafeteria to benefit the charity he was playing for. He had them in his pocket, and asked if I would like to buy one. I bought them quite a few times over the years. He is very nice and friendly.” When Nowakowski entered an elevator on the garden level, glancing at the lit buttons, a hostess teased, “One, two, three. It’s a waltz.” Nodding, Nowakowski, replied, “Johann Strauss, Jr.” Later on, in a hallway, he picked up the conversation. When he mentioned, “I would like to hear Yo-Yo Ma,” the hostess replied, “He played for us, in Auschwitz, on a March of the Living.”

According to the 2020 census, Harford County had a total population of 260,924.[16] The county desperately needed more hospital beds. To better accommodate a variety of specific demands, the Bel Air hospital began to build not only a separate tower for orthopedic surgeons to treat outpatients, but it added three floors to its Kaufmann Cancer Center.


Black Forest Cake

Black Forest Cake


By the fireside in the remodeled cafeteria, a German immigrant offered Black Forest cake to friends with German roots. It was not uncommon for visitors or employees to discuss German news, sometimes with a heavy accent. Especially disturbing parallels or differences to US trends seemed to trigger interest. On October 6, 2023, for example, when Bradley Marshall wrote for the “Business” section of Investing1st.com about “The Most Educated Countries in The World”, Germany, with a population of 83.29 million, ranked first. Marshall noted: “With a literacy rating of 99%, a school achievement percentage of 22.91%, and an education index of 0.94, it might not be hard to see why.”[17] Looking at his cell phone, one of the Caucasian supervisors sighed, “I can only wish we had a sliver of that here, too!” Two weeks later, a well-dressed visitor shared with a friendly cashier that “Germany is about to overtake Japan as the world’s third-largest economy. I just read it. And where are we?” A middle-aged man, with a bold swastika visibly tattooed on his upper right arm, lamented that “They also deport more people. We just have them cross the border.”

Cardiac Rehab Nurse James Peleska wondered, “Was ist los?” [What’s happening?, AR] “Guten Tag” [Good day, AR], greeted African-American security officer Chuck Hart in German. Having been stationed in Bavaria, where he served in the US army, Hart shared fond memories of spending time with a local girlfriend and her infant, mostly to stay “away from the barracks.” Maintenance mechanics Dave Scheeler and Joe Vogt, whose grandfather immigrated to the US, were working on a leaking refrigerator and freezer. Balancing a stepladder, locksmith Terrence Jensen was checking pipes in the ceiling, when a frantic employee approached him for help, because she had lost the key to her locker. Pushing a cart with a collection of screws and other spare parts, John Kessler headed for a patient room where a short circuit caused the call bell to fail.

In the adjacent parking garage, WOHLSEN trucks and vans indicated the presence of a company with decidedly German roots.[18] On the second floor, Rick Shipley was looking for vents to tie plumbing and air conditioning into the hospital’s existing system. In flawless German, he greeted an immigrant who then inquired about the background of Werner Juergensen, his maternal grandfather, whom Baltimoreans might best know as cofounder of the Baltimore Kickers. The proud grandson explained,

He was born in Sylt, Germany, and worked as a butcher. When he came to the United States, he also worked at the National Brewing Company in Baltimore.[19] He owned two apartment buildings on Alta Avenue and two in Delta, PA. My ‘Opi’, as I called him, was one of the hardest working men I ever knew. He raised me and taught me to be the man I’ve come to be, and [I] teach my two boys his ways.

To ensure a total knee replacement patient woke up from anesthesia without complications, she was transported to PACU. Upon arrival, RN Susan Parrish prompted her to provide the full name and date of birth, as medical protocol demanded. Recognizing the patient’s German accent, the nurse explained, “My mother is from South Korea. My father was in the army. He was stationed in Germany. The first time, I was in elementary school, the next time a teenager. And when we were in Seoul, we attended a German Oktoberfest.” Delighted to make her acquaintance, the patient told her about General Michael Tucker, then in command of all US troops in South Korea. He organized an Oktoberfest to entertain his troops, and multiple photos were still on display at his Fort Belvoir home, long after he returned to the United States. “What a small world,” commented a visitor. Until that orthopedic patient was discharged, all follow-up conversations with RN Parrish occurred in German.

When the hospital cafeteria offered its own version of an Oktoberfest, very lively conversations ensued. Many were genuinely looking forward to perennial crowd pleasers such as Sauerbraten, potato dumplings, and Black Forest Cake – which were not offered. And when even the chef in his big, white hat conceded that other, allegedly “authentic” foods on the menu were not quite German, some eyebrows – and voices – were raised. Especially the glaring absence of beer was mocked. “Beer has much more nutritional value than the sodas you offer,” argued one,[20] and another chimed in, “In some European countries, doctors actually prescribe beer.” “It helps me digest,” a customer mentioned, and a hostess quipped, “It might fall under clear liquid diets. Imagine, how happy some patients would be!” One visitor carefully inquired, “Not even the alcohol-free variety?” “Even that has some alcoholic residue,” the director of the dietary department explained. “We don’t have a license for that, and with the wide-spread reservations, I don’t see that happening.”[21]

A hostess, working under rigid limitations, would not have minded a drink either. She sighed, “I had two foot surgeries, and it still hurts.” Pointing at her sore feet, Kathleen King confided that her podiatrist urged her decades ago to get another job. “I didn’t, because I loved it. But I had to reduce my work hours. Plantar fasciitis.” A customer from Germany referred to Dr. Michael K. Block, who received part of his medical training in Bavaria. “He offered me laser therapy. You take your socks of, and his staff points a laser beam at the sore spot. After a few minutes, you go home. No pain, no surgery. That’s it. You’re as good as new, and my insurance covered every penny.” “Yeah,” a cook sighed, “but American insurances won’t pay for it. They pay for Cortisone injections, and some of your surgery, but not for laser.”


This post is a part of a series on Baltimore, its German and German-Jewish heritage, and its hospitals. For more on Baltimore’s hospitals, see the following pieces also by Anna Rosmus: 

“Alpha, Delta, Omicron. Glimpses into the New World of Dr. Fermin Barrueto, Jr.”

Anchalee Dulayathitikul: “Proud of Being a Thai Nurse in the United States”


[1] Schudel, Matt: “Robert B. Wegman; Supermarket Innovator.” In: The Washington Post, April 22, 2006.

[2] “Robert Wegman, 87, Leader in Supermarket Innovations, Dies.” In: The New York Times, Associated Press, April 22, 2006.

[3] “Robert Wegman: Innovation and Integrity.” In: StoreBrandsReviewed, March 24, 2015.

[4] Retrieved on April 1, 2024.

[5] Vasel, Kathryn: “America’s favorite grocery store is …” In: CNN, April 20, 2016.

[6] Snouwaert, Jessica: “The 25 best companies to work for, based on employee satisfaction.” In: Business Insider, April 1, 2020

[7] Jankovitz, Michael: “A Classic.” In: Baltimore Jewish Times, December 4, 2014.

[8] Jankovitz, Michael: “A Classic.” In: Baltimore Jewish Times , December 4, 2014.

[9] According to “rabbionthego”, “Block retired after 40 years as an addiction Chaplain for the Veterans Administration Maryland Health Care Systems and as the Chaplain for the Bel Air, Maryland Volunteer Fire Company. He enters his 30th year as Adjunct Assistant Professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.” Block also facilitated an American Cancer Society support group.

[10] Conte, Carolyn: “Harford County Greets New Rabbi, New Vision.” In: Baltimore Jewish Times, February 13, 2020.

[11] Braunstein, Ellen: “Rabbi John Franken Says Goodbye to Baltimore and Hello to Israel.” In: Baltimore Jewish Times, February 29, 2024.

[12] In 2022, with a combined population of 2,985,871 in its seven counties, Greater Baltimore is statistically the 20th-largest metropolitan area in the nation.

[13] “8 counties deemed drug trafficking areas.” in: UPI.com June 20, 2011.

[14] Anderson, David: ”Not-so-healthy Harford slips in Maryland rankings.” In: Baltimore Sun, April 5, 2017.

[15] “The Susquehanna Symphony Orchestra […] founded in 1978 […] is a community orchestra of professional and amateur volunteer musicians […] The Orchestra has performed opera and ballet, as well as standard orchestral repertoire.” P. 3 of the program for its 40th Season.

[16] 190,128 identified as “white alone”.

[17] https://investing1st.com/post/4000/most-educated-countries-in-the-world?utm_source=Taboola&utm_campaign=MostEducatedCountries+V1+DB+US+DES+TB.6af+C.S1+TB&al=1&site_id=25&post_id=4000&utm_medium=yahoo.com&tblci=GiBCkGrlPOIykuxoeODu60pW_rgbQSFplje1oxhWqXiQ0SDZn14o_q2jkfaS66EB#tblciGiBCkGrlPOIykuxoeODu60pW_rgbQSFplje1oxhWqXiQ0SDZn14o_q2jkfaS66EB

[18] “In 1877, a 16-year-old carpenter named Herman F. Wohlsen had left Germany and … started Wohlsen Construction Company in Lancaster. Mr. Wohlsen quickly earned a reputation for his efficient work ethic and attention to quality and detail. More than 130 years later, his legacy continues. … We have grown into a regional full-service construction firm with an annual volume of $400 million … Wohlsen operates locally with offices in PA, DE, MD, VA, NJ, and CT, providing seasoned team members … for more than a dozen unique markets.” https://wohlsenconstruction.com/about-us. Abgerufen am 27. Oktober 2023.

[19] In 1885, the company began brewing their National Bohemian beer in barrels. Its emblem, one-eyed Mr. Boh with a handlebar mustache, is still prominently featured in its advertising. Sold at Memorial Stadium, the beer become the official sponsor of the Baltimore Orioles. By 1954, the company already brewed 1,000,000 barrels annually at its Baltimore plant, and five years later, Maryland’s House of Delegates and the Senate adopted resolutions commending it for tits “outstanding work in publicizing and extolling the virtues of Maryland and the Chesapeake Bay”.

[20] On July 16, 2014 Harvard researchers suggested that “Beer protects women from rheumatoid arthritis,” and the Munich Oktoberfest argues with “beer vitamins”.

[21] On August 31, 2023 yahoo!news headlined comments of Senior White House Correspondent Alexander Nazaryan, “Only 2 beers? Drinking is now part of the culture wars.”

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