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The Jewish Community of Berkach

Berkach

A village in the Schmalkalden-Meiningen district in Thuringia, Germany.

Records from the 17th century document the earliest presence of Jews in Berkach, around 1626. From these sources we know that a Jew moved to Berkach during the Thirty Years War; more Jews followed soon after and settled in the village. Most of the Jews lived under the protection of the lords von Stein and initially resided in specified districts of Berkach, in Zehnthof and Hinterdorf. However, they were permitted to use the communal facilities of the village, such as the village outhouse and well. Jewish prayer services were held in private homes. Berkach Jews buried their dead in Kleinbardorf. Only in 1820 did the Jewish community purchase property to lay out its own cemetery east of Behrunger Landstrasse. It opened in 1846.
Until the first half of the 19th century, the number of Jews in Berkach steadily increased. In 1740, 12 Jewish families lived in Berkach and 32 in 1819. In 1833, the Jewish population numbered 152 Jews (33 percent of the town’s population). They initially traded cattle and goods (textile, wool). Around 1900, Jews owned several businesses in the village; there were also craftsmen among them.
During the 18th and 19th centuries, the Jewish community established several institutions. In the 1740s, Berkach Jews rented a building which they called their "shul" (synagogue). In 1762, a synagogue was built; it was in use for almost 100 years. From 1850 to 1854, a new synagogue and a school building were constructed on Muehlfelder Strasse. The festive opening took place on June 1, 1854. The synagogue had a Torah ark housing six Torah scrolls.
The new Jewish elementary school next to the synagogue had 45 pupils registered around 1860. However, due to the declining number of Jewish children, the school had to be closed and was sold in 1898. Subsequently, the Jewish schoolchildren attended the local village school.
Initially, Berkach Jews operated three mikvot (ritual baths) in private homes. When the establishment of a new mikvah was officially demanded by the authorities, a new mikvah was sponsored by Samuel Isaak in 1838 and opened on today's Poststrasse.
The Jewish community employed a teacher who also served as shochet (kosher butcher) and chazzan (cantor). Very well-known was Hermann Ehrlich (1815-1879), the community's chazzan and teacher. He lived in the village and published a magazine for Jewish music. Today some of his works can be found in certain libraries, even in New York. Another much appreciated chazzan was Loew Friedmann (1818-1893). For nearly 30 years, he served the community as an auxiliary chazzan on the High Holidays and as the local chazzan's deputy. He passed away in 1893. The association Chewra Chasuk Emuna (Strength of Faith), founded in 1842, helped the local and non-local poor. The organization celebrated its 50th anniversary in October 1892.
From the 1870s, the number of Jewish residents decreased due to migration and emigration. In 1913, 37 Jews lived in Berkach and only 28 in 1924/25. At the time of the Nazis' seizure of power in 1933, approximately 20 Jews were still registered in Berkach.
On Pogrom Night in November 1938, the synagogue and other Jewish community buildings were not harmed or damaged. The synagogue and the school building were spared from arson by intervention of local residents. In the following year the buildings had to be sold to the municipality. The former synagogue was misused as a smithy and later as a warehouse. The Jewish cemetery was desecrated by the Nazis. Nine Jews were arrested and taken to the Buchenwald concentration camp; one of them, Guthmann (Goetz) Friedmann, did not survive the ordeal. Ten Berkach Jews managed to flee from Nazi Germany and immigrate to Palestine, Australia, and the USA. In 1939, Lothar Goldschmidt, a community member, managed to save one of the six Torah scrolls which is now housed in a synagogue in New Jersey, USA. In 1942, the remaining Jews were deported to Theresienstadt, among them were Moritz Buxbaum, Ida Buxbaum née Sachs (1894), Dina Buxbaum (1927), Hans Kaufmann (1903), Helene Kaufmann, Salomon Stein, and Else Stein. At least 38 Berkach Jews perished in the Shoah.

After 1945, the ownership of the synagogue building changed a few times. It was first used as stables (Pferdestall) and from 1949 to 1989, as a blacksmith's shop, workshop and storage by the local LPG (Landwirtschaftliche Produktionsgenossenschaft, an agricultural cooperative). In 1990, the Berkach's political community purchased the former synagogue building and had it thoroughly restored in 1990/91.
Today the names of Berkach's deported Jews mentioned above can be found on a wooden board in the vestibule of the renovated synagogue. In addition, the memorial plaque also commemorates the fate of the following Berkach Jews: Rosalie Friedmann, Rudolf and Rosa Goldschmidt and their son Hermann, Klara Gutmann, Hulda Hoffmann, Guthmann Friedmann and his daughter Resie Friedmann.

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This entry was originally published on Beit Ashkenaz - Destroyed German Synagogues and Communities website and contributed to the Database of the Museum of the Jewish People courtesy of Beit Ashkenaz.

Place Type:
Village
ID Number:
20133681
Written by researchers of ANU Museum of the Jewish People
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Meiningen

A town in the Schmalkalden-Meiningen district in Thuringia, Germany.

The medieval Jewish community suffered persecutions in 1243 because of a blood libel, in 1298 during the Rindfleisch disturbances, and during the Black Death massacres in 1349 when it was destroyed. The synagogue was transformed into a chapel in 1384. Jews continued to live in nearby villages, which in 1803 were incorporated into the newly created Duchy of Saxe-Meiningen. The Duchy's Jewry law of 1811 laid down disabilities regarding residence, marriage permits, and economic pursuits. Only a few Jews were allowed to live in Meiningen itself; after the Hep Hep Riots (1819) only one family remained. By 1844, 29 persons lived there. At that time 1,500 Jews lived in the Duchy; the seat of the rabbinate was in the nearby village of Walldorf, where 550 Jews lived (35% of the total population) in 1844, when the ducal authorities approved the Saxe-Meiningen synagogue regulations stressing religious reforms. The Saxe-Meiningen Jewry law of 1856 granted citizenship to Jews owning
substantial business, and that of 1868 to all the Duchy's Jews. By 1870, 470 Jews lived in Meiningen, 490 in 1898, 359 in 1913 (2.08% of the total), 293 in 1925 (1.6%), and 192 in June 1933.

In 1871 the rabbinate was transferred to Meiningen, a cemetery acquired in 1874, a synagogue consecrated in 1883, and a Chevra Kaddisha founded in 1885.

In 1856 Jewish and Christian financiers founded the Central German Credit Bank in Meiningen. The banks of B.M. Strupp (formerly a merchandise firm) and D. Mannheimer (founded in 1871) were important in industrial financing far beyond the Duchy's limits. Gustav Strupp (1851-1918) was chairman of both the Chamber of Commerce and the Jewish community, and a member of the Landtag (1903-1918). From the 1870's Jews were admitted to the bar, and some were appointed judges.

In 1898 and the Nazi vote in 1932 far exceeded the national average. The synagogue was burned in 1938 and by the end of that year only a few Jewish families remained, with 16 children attending the Jewish school. Records on deportations are missing.

No Jews returned to Meiningen after 1945.

Schleusingen

A  city in the district of Hildburghausen, in Thuringia, Germany.

First Jewish presence: 13th century; peak Jewish population: 94 in 1861; Jewish population in 1933: 31-33

Although it is not known when Jews first settled in Schleusingen, records do mention that they were persecuted there in 1298 and in 1349. The modern community, established in 1725, maintained the following communal institutions: a synagogue at 2 Wachstrasse; a cemetery at Judengrund, or “Jews’ ground” (1710-1937); and a school (established in 1725). In 1881, five years after the synagogue was destroyed in a fire, local Jews inaugurated a new house of worship. In 1933, Schleusingen was home to 31-33 Jews; a teacher from nearby Themar instructed three schoolchildren in religion. The cemetery was desecrated soon after the implementation of the anti-Jewish boycotts of 1933. On Pogrom Night (Nov. 9, 1938), SS men vandalized the synagogue, destroyed its furniture and burned holy books and ritual objects to the accompanying cheers of bystanders. Jewish men aged 16 and 60 were arrested, taken to a local gym and, later, deported to Buchenwald concentration camp. Deportations from Schleusingen were completed in 1942. At least 22 local Jews perished in the Shoah. The synagogue was converted into an apartment building in 1950. A plaque (unveiled in 1988) and a stele (erected in 2008) commemorate Schleusingen’s former Jewish community. The synagogue has been declared a historical monument.

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This entry was originally published on Beit Ashkenaz - Destroyed German Synagogues and Communities website and contributed to the Database of the Museum of the Jewish People courtesy of Beit Ashkenaz.

Suhl

A city in Thuringia, Germany.

First Jewish presence: 16th century; peak Jewish population: 150 in 1905; Jewish population in 1933: 120-160

Jews were expelled from Suhl during the second half of the 16th century. Another Jewish presence was established there in 1848 and, in 1856, together with the Jews of nearby Heinrichs, the Suhl Jews founded an official community. The community’s registered office was moved from Heinrichs to Suhl in 1871, and religious services were conducted at 7 Muehlplatz. In 1905/06, the community built a synagogue at 13 Hohenlohestrasse (present-day Strasse der Opfer des Faschismus, or “street of the victims of Fascism”). Other communal institutions included a Jewish school and a cemetery, the latter of which was consecrated at Hoheloh and used for burials during the years 1903 to 1941. Several local stores and firms (for example the Simson Works) were owned by Jews. In 1933, Suhl was home between 120 and 160 Jews. A teacher—he also served as chazzan—instructed 12 schoolchildren in religion. A women’s charity association operated a sewing room, and a relief fund supported transient Jews. On Pogrom Night (Nov. 9, 1938), SA men set the synagogue on fire; a local Jewish man was arrested and abused by the Gestapo. Many Jews left Suhl soon after the pogrom. Later, in 1942, the remaining Jews were deported to Poland and Theresienstadt concentration camp. At least 49 Suhl Jews perished in the Shoah. A memorial stone was unveiled in the town in 1985.

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This entry was originally published on Beit Ashkenaz - Destroyed German Synagogues and Communities website and contributed to the Database of the Museum of the Jewish People courtesy of Beit Ashkenaz.

Mellrichstadt

District town in Lower Franconia, Bavaria, Germany
In Jewish sources also known as Mullrichstadt, Mellrichstat, Mallrichstat.

Jews were known to be present in Mellrichstadt already in the last quarter of the 13th century. In the year 1283, the Jews Nechemia, Eliezer, Shmuel and Yitzhak were burned at the stake; the "Burned of Mellrichtadt" and remains of the community that were victims of the Rindfleisch riots are mentioned in the Memor-Book of Nürnberg (a manuscript list of localities or countries in which Jews have been persecuted, together with the names of the martyrs, and necrologies).

In 1412 the bishop of Würzburg, Johann II, granted a chart of privileges to four Jews and their families. For the annual payment of 20 gold coins the four Jews and their families were permitted to reside in Mellrichstadt and to move freely from place to place. In 1414 these privileges were renewed for an additional eight years.

Also in the years 1655, 1660 and 1690, two to four "protected Jews" ("Schutzjuden") and their families resided in Mellrichstadt. One of the city's Jews is mentioned in the years 1758–1764 among the merchants attending the Fair of Leipzig. Two Jewish families in Mellrichstadt converted to Christianity in the years 1772 and 1779.

In the first quarter of the 19th century, Jews began to arrive in Mellrichstadt from the nearby villages of Nordheim v.d. Rhön and Willmars. Jewish residents brought their dead for burial in the regional Jewish cemetery in Kleinbardorf, and the oldest tombstone there dates from 1759.

In the year 1869, the Jewish community of Mellrichstadt dedicated its own cemetery, which was also used by Jews from the neighboring communities of Oberstreu and Mittelstreu. In 1881, the Jews of Mellrichstadt dedicated a synagogue, holding Jewish ritual vessels dating from the mid-18th century to the mid-19th century, and remnants of a Memory Book written on parchment; the list of community members dating from 1806 was lost. As from the end of the 19th century, the houses and shops of Mellrichstadt's Jews were centralized along the town's main thoroughfare; most of the town's commercial enterprises were also owned by Jews.

The Jewish population of Mellrichstadt grew from 45 persons recorded in 1814 (about 3% of the total population) to a peak of 165 persons in 1910 that at the time represented 7,6% of the total population of the town.


Under Nazi Rule (1933–1938)

In the year 1933, Mellrichstadt's Jewish community was subject to the Kissingen District rabbinical authority. The community had a synagogue and other nearby public buildings, a government elementary school, a "mikve" and a cemetery (expanded in 1922). Two separate associations, for men and for women, were responsible for charitable activity and assistance to the needy. The community's synagogue boasted the Holy Ark of the former Jewish community of Oberstreu, the Memor-Book of the Mühlfeld community (in 1933 the community did not exist), whose writing commenced before 1825, and records of births, marriages and deaths of both of the said communities. A branch of Keren Kayemet Le'Israel ("Jewish National Fund") was active in Mellrichstadt. The local Jewish community included Jews from the nearby village of Mittelstreu.

The community's budget (in 1930) was 8,500 Mark, of which 2,680 Mark were allocated for education and 780 Mark for assistance to the needy. In the 1932/1933 educational year, lessons were presented on religious subjects to twelve pupils, and the Jewish teacher also served as cantor.

From 1922 until his emigration abroad in the spring of 1938, the head of Mellrichstadt's Jewish community was Guido Prager, who also managed the central fund of the Kissingen District rabbinate, and was known as a community leader with many rights in favor of the area's Jewish population and of Bavaria's as a whole.

In June 1935 the Association of Jewish Communities in Bavaria declared the dissolution of the Oberwaldbehrungen community; the few Jews remaining there were re-affiliated with the Mellrichstadt community; the holy articles of the Jewish community of Oberwaldbehrungen as well as its Holy Ark were held in Mellrichstadt's synagogue.

In the 1934/1935 and in the 1935/1936 educational years Mellrichstadt held public examinations for the city's Jewish pupils in the presence of the District Rabbi Menachem Efraim; in the 1935/1936 educational year, pupils from the neighboring communities of Oberelsbach and Bastheim also participated in religious studies. In November 1937 all of Mellrichstadt's Jewish pupils attended the Jewish public school in nearby Unsleben.

According to an official report of the District governor published on January 10, 1938, as a result of the economic sanctions, Mellrichstadt's three commercial houses for iron products, all of which were owned by Jews, were liquidated.

Holocaust

On September 30, 1938 organized riots broke out in Mellrichstadt against the Jewish population. The riots were instigated by Germans, refugees from Sudetenland, who incited the city's local residents against the Jews. On the same Sabbath eve, the local Jews feared riots and avoided coming to the synagogue. Before evening a large gathering of 400 persons congregated around the synagogue; some 40–50 rioters broke in through the door. They shattered the panes of glass, broke the furniture and chandeliers, tore the Torah scrolls, prayer books and other holy articles, and then piled everything high and set it ablaze (two Torah scroll covers were stolen). To the laughs of the mob, one of the rioters dressed in the remaining garments of the teacher-cantor Schloss, who managed to escape.

From the synagogue, the rioters continued to Jewish homes and shattered all their window panes. They also broke into Jewish shops and threw the goods into the street, from where most goods were stolen, but the police returned the goods to their owners on the following day. Close to midnight, a group of Hitler youth ("Hitlerjugend") broke into the synagogue together with approximately 100 local residents and continued the ravaging. Tombstones from the Jewish cemetery were uprooted and broken; only after intervention by the mayor and the police were the rioters dispersed. On the following day, the Gestapo of Würzburg held an investigation and the leaders of the rioters were imprisoned.

On the night of the pogrom of November 10, 1938 ("Kristallnacht"), all Jewish homeowners in Mellrichstadt were arrested and were brought to the prison in Bad Neustadt a.d. Saale. They were released only after agreeing to sell their homes. The other local Jewish residents were sent to the Dachau concentration camp. One of Mellrichstadt's Jews, who was forced to sell his home, went crazy and committed suicide by hanging.

Some 82 Jews left Mellrichstadt in the years 1933–1942; 36 emigrated, of whom 31 to the United States, 2 to England, 1 to Uruguay, 1 to Africa and 1 to Holland, and 46 moved to other locations in Germany, of whom 8 to Frankfurt am Main, 5 to Würzburg and 4 to Meiningen. Fourteen of Mellrichstadt's Jews died in the town.

At the beginning of February 1942, the Jewish population of Mellrichstadt and of nearby Mittelstreu was 39 persons. On March 30/31 of the same year, seven of these Jews were transferred to Würzburg. On April 24 an additional 24 Jews from Mellrichtadt were transferred to Würzburg, and were deported on the following day to Izbica, near Lublin, in Nazi occupied Poland. Another four of Mellrichtadt's Jews were transferred to Würzburg on May 20, 1942. Nine of those transferred to Würzburg in March and in May were subsequently deported on September 23, 1942 to the Theresienstadt ghetto. The fate of two elderly women is unknown and they apparently died before the deportation. The last Jewess remaining in Mellrichstadt in May 1943 was not deported as she was the daughter of a mixed marriage.

After World War II no Jews returned to Mellrichstadt. The synagogue building was destroyed and the plot was sold for a minimal amount to the Mellrichstadt municipality, together with the garden and the building next door in the yard. The Jewish cemetery exists and is under the supervision of the town of Mellrichstadt.

On June 23, 1948, eighteen of the September 30, 1938 and November 10, 1938 rioters were tried in the Schweinfurt District Court. Nine were found not guilty and nine were found guilty and sentenced to imprisonment for period of three months to two years.

A Memorial to the Holocaust victims from Mellrichstadt was inaugurated in 2002. The scupture by the German artist Peter-Lorenz Emmert and donated by Al Gruen of Chicago, a native of Mellrichstadt, was vandalized nine months later, but rebuilt again.

No Jews reside today in Mellrichstadt.