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UNRWA and AJDC Helping the Survivors in the D.P. Camps, Germany, 1945-1947
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UNRWA and AJDC Helping the Survivors in the D.P. Camps, Germany, 1945-1947

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UNRWA and AJDC helping the survivors in the D.P. camps, Germany, 1945-1947. Photo: Zvi Kadushin.
The Oster Visual Documentation Center, ANU - Museum of the Jewish People, Zvi Kadushin Collection.

Photo period:
between 1945 and 1947
Photo period:
between 1945 and 1947
Photo period:
between 1945 and 1947
Photo period:
between 1945 and 1947
Photo period:
between 1945 and 1947
Photo period:
between 1945 and 1947
ID Number:
171711
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Germany

Bundesrepublik Deutschland - Federal Republic of Germany
A country in western Europe, member of the European Union (EU)

21st Century

Estimated Jewish population in 2018: 115,000 out of 83,000,000 (0.14%). Main umbrella organization of the Jewish communities:

Zentralrat der Juden in Deutschland - Central Council of Jews in Germany
Phone: 49 30 28 44 56 0
Fax +49 30 28 44 56 13
Email: info@zentralratderjuden.de
Website: www.zentralratderjuden.de

 

HISTORY

The Jews of Germany

810 | The First Ashkenazi Elephant

A decree by the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great in 321 CE is the first mention of a tiny Jewish settlement in the city of Koln and other cities along the Rhine – Mainz, Worms and Speyer.
According to the decree, in these places, later to become known as “The lands of Ashkenaz”, Jews enjoyed certain civil rights, but were prohibited from spreading their faith and their share in government employment was limited.
Until the Crusades, which began in the late 11th century, Jews coexisted peacefully with the local population and were allowed to hold property and engage in all trades and occupations.
An historical anecdote tells of a Jew named Isaac, who was part of a diplomatic delegation on behalf of the Emperor Charlemagne to the Abbasid Caliph Haroun al-Rashid. Historians believe that Isaac was added to the delegation due to the great influence of Jews in the Abbasid court. The Abbasid Caliph, for his part, sent the Charlemagne an unusual gift: an elephant named “Abu Abbas.”
Word of the huge monster, which would peacefully eat from the hand of its handler, spread far and wide. When the elephant walked the streets of Germany during festivals and celebrations, tens of thousands of peasants would throng to the city to witness the zoological wonder, the likes of which had never been seen in Frankish domains before.
According to the sources, the elephant died in the year 810 CE.


1096 | Monogamy, Rabeinu Gershom Style

One of the first yeshivas founded in the lands of Ashkenaz was located in the city of Mainz and was founded by the man known throughout the Jewish world and to posterity as “Rabeinu Gershom Ma'or Hagolah” (“Our Rabbi Gershom, Light of the Diaspora”).
Many students flocked to Rabeinu Gershom to learn Torah from a prodigy who composed commentary on the Talmud and instituted important religious rulings, among them the famous “Ban of Rabeinu Gershom,” which forbade Jewish men to marry more than one wife at once.
The end of the 11th century saw the advent of the Crusades, intended to liberate the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, where Jesus is believed by the Christian faithful to be buried, from the hands of the Muslims – an act of piety for which all participants were promised a place in heaven. Concurrent with this religious fervor there grew a call to kill the Jewish heretics. This was a violation of the centuries-old policy started by St. Augustine, who maintained that the Jews must not be killed because their existence as second-class subjects was living proof that God held them in disfavor.
The height of the anti-Jewish hate in this period was reached in the year 1096, when the Rhineland Massacres (known in Jewish history as Gezerot Tatnu, or 4856, after the Hebrew date for the year) took place. According to various estimates, thousands of Jews were murdered in these rampages, and many others were injured, robbed and raped.
Several dirges written in memory of the destroyed Jewish congregations, known as the “Shum” congregations (Shpira, Wormeysa and Magenza, or in German Speyer, Worms and Mainz) have survived to this day.
Despite the massacres and the worsened treatment of the Jews, the Jewish population of Germany flourished and grew to become one of the centers of Jewish spiritual endeavor in Europe and the cradle of the Yiddish language.

1196 | A State within a State

Over the years, a community structure took shape in the Jewish population centers in Germany that would come to characterize Jewish communities throughout Europe. The community served as the legislative, executive and judicial authorities, and the synagogue served its members as a cultural, social and religious center.
In the second half of the 12th century, despite the crusades, the small Jewish community in Germany flourished. This was the period in which the Ashkenaz Hasidim formed, and made a crucial impact on the spiritual-religious world of Jews for generations to come, laying down rules regarding penitence, prayer, religious laws and mystical conduct.
The Ashkenaz Hasidim movement (not to be confused with what is now known as Hasidism) was led by Rabbi Judah ben Samuel of Regensburg, known in Judaism as “Rabbi Yehudah Hasid”, author of “Sefer Hasidim” and one of the first kabbalists. Hasid was a scion of the glorious lineage of the Kalonymus family, which came to the lands of Ashkenaz in the year 917, and whose members – scholars, poets, rabbis and kabbalists – made a deep and lasting impression on the world of Jewish thought.
Another religious circle was that of the Tosafists (“Ba'alei Tosafot” in Hebrew) who enriched the volumes of the Talmud with their innovations. The Tosafists, who viewed themselves as continuing the Talmudic tradition of the Amoraim of Babylon, founded batei midrash and traveled from yeshiva to yeshiva to impart their innovations. In 1209 some 300 scholars left these batei midrash, made aliyah to the Land of Israel and settled in Acre and in Jerusalem. Researchers believe that this migration of these scholars was a reaction to the crusades.
The aliyah of the Tosafists took place concurrent with blood libels against the Jews, who were accused of using the blood of Christian children and with desecrating the Eucharist at churches.
In 1298, armed with a Eucharist “desecrated” by Jews, a German nobleman named Rindfleisch embarked on a rampage of mass extermination against the Jews. According to various estimates, these pogroms took the lives of some 20,000 Jews and destroyed 146 communities.

1348 | The Black Death

In 1348 the Black Death plague began, which would wipe out an estimated one third of the population of Europe, including entire Jewish communities. The people of the time believed the plague to come from the water, and from there to declaring the Jews “well poisoners” was but a short distance.
These accusations led to the destruction of 300 Jewish communities in Germany. Many Jews were burned at the stake and many of the survivors fled to the Kingdom of Poland, establishing what was to become the great Jewish community of Poland.
In the 15th and 16th centuries the Jews remaining in the German lands suffered from the cruelty and superstition of the masses, fell victim to the avarice of princes and were forced to deal with ever-increasing intolerance by the Church. Most of the Jews of Germany at this time made their living as textile merchants, pawn brokers, money exchangers, street vendors and itinerant workers. They were allowed to reside only in the big cities, where they were pushed into crowded, poverty-stricken quarters. Many of them wandered the roads all week long, carrying their wares from village to village, only to be met with contempt and degradation from the locals.
This image of the “Wandering Jew” was later expressed in German poetry: “Miserable Jew, doomed to wander, a famished vendor through town and vale, his bones rattle, his teeth chatter, forever crying: Knick-knacks for sale!”

1529 | Josel The Lobbyist

In the 16th century Europe was showing signs of enlightenment. Renaissance culture, humanist ideas, the Reformation movement and more were the clearest signs. Two major German figures who represented these trends were philosopher Johann Reuchlin and theologian monk Martin Luther. The two were in agreement regarding the just cause of the religious reformation in Christianity, but regarding the Jews they took opposite views.
Reuchlin, who specialized in the study of Hebrew, was fond of Jewish culture. Proof of this can be found in the public debate he held with Johannes Pfefferkorn, a Catholic theologian who had converted from Judaism and called to destroy all copies of the Talmud. Reuchlin also gained fame when he published a defense of the Jews titled “Augenspiegel” (“Visible Evidence”) which called for equality and argued that all human beings shared a common source.
Martin Luther, in contrast, published a treatise in 1543 titled “On the Jews and Their Lies”, in which he proposed to burn down synagogues and expel the Jews from Germany. Four hundred years later the Nazis republished the tract and added it to their canon, alongside Hitler's “Mein Kampf” and “The Jew Suess” by Goebbels.
In 1529 a Jew named Josel of Rossheim was appointed to the lengthy title of “Custodian of the Jews in the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation”. Josel was among the first to fill the role of “shtadlan” - a new figure in the Jewish landscape, serving as a lobbyist of sorts for the Jews in the halls of power. Among Josel's achievements was the procurement of a charter of protection stating that any soldier harming a Jew would be executed, as well as saving 200 Jews who were sentenced to burn at the stake.

1669 | First We Take Vienna, Then We Take Berlin

By the end of the 18th century the German lands consisted of over 100 independent political units under absolute rulers small and large: kings, dukes, counts, bishops and more. Theoretically, they were all subject to the “Holy Roman Emperor of the German Nation” who sat in Vienna, but in practice these were autonomous states with borders, laws and currencies of their own. Prussia, which included the city of Berlin, which would eventually become its own capital and that of all Germany, was one of the largest such duchies, and by the second half of the 18th century it became the fifth most powerful country in Europe.
Until 1699 Jews were prohibited from living in or near Berlin, but following the Thirty Year War and the deficits it created in the duchy's budget, things changed. In order to jump-start the Prussian economy, Duke Frederick I (soon to crown himself King) decided to welcome the fifty richest of the Viennese Jews expelled by Austria. These Jews were declared “Protected Jews” (“Schutzjuden”) and signed a contract promising to pay the King 2,000 tallers (approximately $90,000 in today's currency), to establish certain industries and to refrain from building synagogues.
When the Jewish population grew, the King called it “a plague of locusts” and decreed that only 120 families, the “richest and finest”, would be allowed to remain in the city. The rest were cast out. King Frederick's hatred did not extend to “useful” Jews such as Levin Gomperz, who obtained credit from the banks for his excessive expenses, or Jeremiah Hirz, the royal goldsmith. Unlike other Jews, those two were exempt, for instance, of the abhorrent requirement to pay a tax each time they passed through Rosenthaler Gate, one of the Berlin's famous portals.

1734 | The Jewish Socrates

In the fall of 1743 a 14 year-old boy passed through the gates of the city of Berlin. He was small for his age, and suffered from a slightly hunched back and a speech impediment. It was said that “even the cruelest of hearts would soften at the sight of him”, and yet he was blessed with handsome features and his eyes revealed depth, wisdom and brilliance. The records of the Rosenthaler Gate, through which he entered, document the passage of “six oxen, seven swine and one Jew”. When the guard at the gate asked the boy what he was selling, the youngster replied with a stammer but surprising confidence: “W...W...Wisdom”.
Even the most imaginative of writers couldn't imagine that the stammering hunchback, Moses Mendelssohn, would one day become such a central figure in the annals of the Enlightenment movement in general, and of Judaism in particular.
Less than two decades after entering Berlin, and being self-taught, the boy became one of the most important philosophers in Germany, one so important that a 1986 tour guide states that “The history of literature in Berlin begins on that autumn day in 1743, when a 14 year-old yeshiva student named Moses Mendelssohn entered through the gate reserved for livestock and Jews only.”
Mendelssohn, who became known as “The Jewish Socrates”, was an admired example for all German Jews. His “Golden Path” ideology, the mixture he created in his thought between religion and rationality, and the religious lifestyle he adhered to despite the attempts of Christian clerics to talk him into converting in return for tempting favors – all these turned him into the guiding light of the Jews of Germany.
But Mendelssohn – the man who more than anyone symbolized the trend Jewish integration in Germany – recognized the hypocrisy of the German elite. Despite his reputation as an intellectual giant, he never received an academic position and was forced to make his living as a simple factory worker. “My life is so beset on all sides by tolerance,” he wrote sarcastically to one of his friends, “that for the sake of my children I must imprison myself all day in a silk factory.”

1780 | Signs of Enlightenment

By the end of the 18th century it seemed that the Jews of Germany were integrating admirably into German society. Austrian Emperor Joseph II gave them the “Edict of Tolerance” and in 1781 a senior Prussian official, Christian von Dohm, called for the political and civic emancipation of all German Jews, which set off a widespread public debate.
Two years later, in 1783, Berlin's main theater staged the play Nathan the Wise by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, one of Germany's leading playwrights of the time. Lessing's protagonist was an enlightened, wise, tolerant Jew who believed in universal brotherhood – a complete opposite to the greedy, corrupt, nefarious Jewish character which was a staple of European culture at the time.
Jewish reaction to these expressions of enlightenment were mixed. Many responded with enthusiasm and euphoria, expressed among other in the book “Divrei Shalom Ve'emet” by German-Jewish poet Naftali Hirz Wessely. Others expressed concern that the same old toxic hatred was hiding behind the smokescreen of tolerance, and that the true aim of the “tolerance” was to wipe out the Jews' religious identity.

1790 | The Literary Salons

Among the most fascinating expressions of the pluralistic spirit that characterized the upper class of Berlin at the end of the 18th century were the literary salons held by Henrietta Herz and Rachel Levi. Anyone holding themselves to be erudite wished to be invited to these salons, where intellectuals and artists, writers and musicians, entrepreneurs and thinkers – Jews and Gentiles alike.
Since in those days no university had yet been established in Berlin, and the court life of Prussian King Frederick II was boring and limited, the literary salons offered an outlet for young people who hungered for intellectual nourishment. They spoke of art, literature and poetry, enjoyed drinks and hors d'oeuvres, and exchanged forbidden kisses in secluded rooms.
Berlin of those days was home to many rich Jewish families (as mentioned above, the poor ones were expelled from the city), and the fact that Jews took such an interest in art, and Jewish women no less, was exceptional. The daring of these women was doubled, as they were both Jews and women. For the Jewish guests the salons were “a small slice of utopia”, as Jewish writer Deborah Hertz. French writer Madame de-Stael said upon visiting Berlin that Henrietta and Rachel's salons were the only places in all of Germany where aristocrats and Jews could meet freely.
The war between Prussia and France ended the phenomenon of the literary salons. “Everything sank in 1806,” wrote Rachel Levi, the most fascinating of the salon hostesses, “went down like a ship carrying the finest gifts, the choicest of life's pleasures.”

1806 | Romance In The Air

While famous German philosopher Frederick Hegel watched from his home balcony as the conqueror Napoleon entered the city of Jena and felt that he was witnessing “the end of history”, a Jewish boy of nine named Heinrich Heine looked at his father proudly wearing his blue-and-red uniform in his new position as a patrolman securing the streets of Dusseldorf. Unlike Hegel, this boy, destined to become one of the most important poets in Germany, felt that he was witnessing the beginning of a new history.
The Franco-Prussian war, which ended with the Prussians defeated, heralded a new age for the Jews. In the territories annexed to France, among them Dusseldorf, Jews were accorded full political rights, and for the first time in the history of Germany Jews like Heine's father were allowed to serve in public capacities. Even in the territories left to Prussia, whose size shrunk by half, reforms took place. The liberal Prussians who came to power abolished the medieval guilds, banned corporal punishment and gave the Jews – albeit only the rich ones – a municipal status, if not a country-wide political one.
But unlike in the United States and France, where liberation was the product of a popular revolution, in Germany the ideas of equality and enlightenment were handed down from above, by the regime. In those days, the Romantic movement spread in Germany, replacing the universal ideals of the Enlightenment with that of nationalism, and called for a sacred bond between people, church, and state.
One of the principles of the Romantic movement was to define nations in organic terms and the German nation as an ideal, homogenous and most importantly Jews-free specimen thereof. A new kind of Jew-hatred began to appear, one that combined religious sentiment and racial arguments with a disdain for the rationality of the Enlightenment, which was identified with the “Jewish mind”. The main proponent of this view was German philosopher Johann Fichte, who said that “We should cut off their (the Jews') heads in one night and replace them with others, in which there is not a single Jewish idea.”

1819 | Hep Hep Hep

In 1819 riots broke out in the city of Wurzburg, as a result of the rise of the nationalist Romantic movement, the cancellation of Napoleon's emancipation edicts and the increased anti-Semitism of the German aristocracy. The rioters broke into Jewish homes and shops, looted them and laid them to waste while shouting the “Hep Hep Hep” cry (a Latin acronym for “Hierosolyma est perdita”, or “Jerusalem is lost”) which, unfounded tradition has it, served to recruit fighters for the crusades in the Middle Ages. Another theory is that the cry was a traditional one for shepherds in German.
Three years earlier Germany suffered a severe economic crisis, which also led to these riots. The fact that 90% of German Jews were desperately poor mattered not one bit to the marauders, who stayed away from the areas in which wealthy Jews lived (mostly in Prussia).
The Jews reacted to the riots with restraint. Those of the upper-middle class, most of whom lived in Berlin and were not exposed to the riots, felt little shared fate with their brethren. The rate of conversion in these communities grew and many, among them the poet Heinrich Heine, hoped that if they shed their home-given language and dress, the historical hatred towards them would vanish. But many discovered that nothing had changed even when they “crawled to the cross”, as Heine put it.
A few weeks after the riots three extraordinary young Jews – Edward Gans, Leopold Zunz, and Moses Moser – met in Berlin and decided to found a “culture and science association”, in order to bring the Jews closer to German society and thus to crumble the walls of hatred. The founders of the association applied the principles of modern research to the study of Judaism, hoping that if European society became acquainted with Judaism and its contribution to world culture, antisemitism would cease to exist. Carried on the waves of optimism he shared with his friends, Gans applied for a position at the University of Berlin. He was rejected out of hand.

1848 | The Spring Of Nations

“I should have been either healthy or dead,” said the poet Heinrich Heine, semi-paralyzed and bed-ridden in exile in Paris, when he received the news of the revolution in Germany. And indeed, although the “Spring of Nations” revolution has been called a parody of the French Revolution, Heine was excited by the possibility that Germany would lose the confinements of nationalism and royalty and adopt the values of freedom and equality.
Despite its failure, the revolution was a turning point in the lives of Germany's Jews. The fact that many Jewish liberals took an active part in it heralded a deep change in the mind. For the first time in the history of Germany the traditional Jewish passivity began to give way to active political involvement. After several decades in which the Jewish elite almost disappeared in the first wave of conversions, a new generation rose: A generation of Jewish leaders proud of their Jewishness.
The revolutionary Ludwig Bamberger, Orientalist Moritz Steinschneider, the charismatic physician Johann Jacoby and writer Berthold Auerbach were but a few of the Jews who were determined to make the ideals of the revolution a reality. This was the first time, writes historian Amos Eilon, that the representatives of the Jews were so scathing, firm, and aware of their rights.
Another person who stood our during this time of tumult was the scion of a long line of rabbis – the revolutionary Karl Marx. A few weeks after publishing his “Communist Manifesto” Marx quickly joined his revolutionary friends in Cologne and Dusseldorf, and spread his ideas from there. Marx had no sympathy for Judaism. He saw emancipation, for instance, not as the liberation of Jews in Germany, but “the liberation of humanity from the Jews”. His aversion to religion and his famous quote that religion is the opium of the masses would turn out to be ironic as he founded a new world religion, Communism, whose results were written in blood. The irony is doubled when one learns that this famous quote was not penned by Marx but by his Jewish comrade Moses Hess (who later reconciled with his Jewish identity and was an early herald of Zionism).

1870 | Indeed?

In the mid-19th century, some 1,000 small Jewish communities flourished in the towns and villages of Bavaria, Wurttemberg, Hessen, Westphalia, and the Rhine Valley. Most Jews were observant, spoke Yiddish in a western dialect and worked mostly in the cattle and horse trade.
The Franco-Prussian War, which broke out in 1870 and ended in a crushing Prussian victory, gave the Jews an excellent opportunity to display their loyalty. Between 7,000 and 12,000 Jewish fighters took part in the battles. “It was,” wrote author Theodore Fontane, “as if they had vowed to themselves to put an end to the old notion of their aversion to and incompetence at war.”
Jews were also active in high places. The Jew Ludwig Bamberger, a veteran of the 1848 Revolution, followed the advances of the Prussian forces into Paris from his exile in that city. Upon the occupation of the city, he joined the personal staff of the “Iron Chancellor” Otto von Bismarck and served him as a senior adviser, dues to his experience as a revolutionary.
At the German headquarters in Paris he met another Jew, Gerson Bleichroder, who was Bismarck's all-powerful banker. Bleichroder, who seemed cast in the mold of the “Court Jew”, was in charge of the secret funds with which Bismarck bribed the kings and dukes of the principalities of southern Germany, in order to persuade them to unite all the independent countries in Germany under a single rule – a mission eventually crowned with success.
In 1871 the Emancipation Law was passed and applied to all of Germany. As equal citizens the Jews began to reap success in all walks of life. Over 60% of them belonged to the settled middle-class. They achieved remarkable prominence in the worlds of publishing and journalism, and more and more young Jews, the sons of shopkeepers, innkeepers, cattle traders and street vendors enrolled in the universities.
The Jews began to slowly assimilate into the general population and adopt the German identity. Organs were introduced into the synagogues, and traditional prayer was abandoned. Jewish philosopher Hermann Cohen declared that serving Germany was as holy a deed as serving God, whereas the successful Jewish-German author Berthold Auerbach, who was styled “The German Dickens”, stated that the process of integration had been successfully completed.
But had it, indeed?

1880 | The New Antisemitism

On November 22nd, 1880 writer Berthold Auerbach sat in the visitors' gallery of the Prussian parliament. The delegates discussed a proposal to revoke the civil rights of the Jews. Auerbach returned to his home morose and depressed, opened his notebook and wrote: “I have lived and toiled in vain.”
Like many other Jewish activists, Auerbach too devoted his life to the cause of Jewish integration in Germany. A few years before that parliamentary debate he had even declared that upon the granting of Jewish emancipation, their integration into German society had been completed. Now he was broken and despondent.
The 1873 German stock exchange crash is viewed by many historians as the watershed moment. The rage and frustration of the masses found a new target: “The nouveau-riche” (which is to say, the Jew) who exploited the naiveté of the honest Christian and profiteered off his hard-earned money. To the old anti-Semitism a new fear was added. If in the past the Jews were accused of being beggars, immoral and of low hygiene, now they were described as devious and endlessly powerful. Major Jewish figures, among them railroad magnate Henry Strasburg and banker Gerson Bleichroder were depicted as having corrupted the German economy and the main culprits in the suffering of the Germans.
In the German climate, where strong ties to the feudal system still lingered, the Jews – bearing the flags of liberalism, democracy and the free market – were considered to be responsible not only for the crisis, but for the founding of capitalism itself, which was equated with materialism, exploitation and degeneracy. Prominent German figures, such as Protestant chaplain Adolph Stoecker and historian Heinrich von Treitschke, gave the new anti-Semitism the veneer of the Church and Academia. Bismarck and his noble friends, who had themselves become rich at the public's expense, gave it the imprimatur of aristocracy.

1900 | Progress, Secularism and Religion

The 25 years preceding the outbreak of WW1 were described by Jewish-German writer Stephan Zweig as “the golden age of security”. The “years of anxiety”, as the 1880s later came to be known, had passed. The expressions of anti-Jewish discrimination were marginal, and the wave of anti-Semitism that characterized the previous decade had died down. Future Zionist Richard Lichtheim went so far as to state that prior to 1914 he had never felt anti-Semitism. Jewish philosopher Walter Benjamin noted that he had grown up “completely certain of himself and his resilience”; the feeling imbued by his grandmother's villa, which stood in a well-to-do suburb of Berlin, he described as “unforgettable sensations of an almost eternal bourgeoisie security”.
Against a backdrop of economic prosperity, technological progress and stable law and order, the number of Jewish entrepreneurs rose steadily, and they founded some of the new industries in Germany. Among the most famous ones must note banker Max Warburg, coal magnate Edward Arnhold, cotton magnate Jason Frank and “The Bismarck of the German electric industry”, Emil Rathenau, whose son, Walter, would one day serve as Foreign Minister in the Weimar regime.
At the same time, Jews were becoming increasingly detached from their traditions, which were replaced by modern patterns – whether the “Experiential Judaism” advocated by philosopher Martin Buber, or the Reform Judaism model founded in the mid-19th century. Jewish linguist Victor Klemperer told how right after his father was awarded the position of “deputy preacher” at the new Reform congregation in Berlin, his mother entered a non-kosher butcher's shop and bought “mixed sausages, a bit of each”. When they returned home the mother said, beaming: “This is what others eat. Now we can eat it too.”
Many Jews stopped circumcising their children or holding bar-mitzva ceremonies. More and more Jews became secular, and others chose to convert to improve their social standing. In 1918, for example, some 21% of the Jewish men in Germany converted to Christianity.

1914 | WW1 – More Catholic Than The Pope

The significant integration of the Jews in German life manifested in many ways, from admiration of German music and theater to joining in the patriotic wave that washed over Germany upon the outbreak of WW1 in 1914. Many of the Jews abandoned their cosmopolitan views and their traditional support of the socialist parties who stood for the brotherhood of nations, and exchanged them for a sentimental festival of nationalism.
Among the most zealous advocates for war, the Jewish intellectuals were most prominent. Hermann Cohen, the author of “Religion of Reason from the Sources of Judaism”, believed that the most sublime ideals would be realized as a result of this war. Stefan Zweig, an avowed pacifist who claimed that he would never touch a gun, not even at an entertainment booth at a country fair, waxed enthusiastic of “having the privilege of being alive at such a wonderful moment”. Felix Klemperer, a renowned brain surgeon, was surprised at his own excitement over “the splendor of war”, and Martin Buber extolled war, claiming it was a liberating cultural experience. These are but a few of the Jewish intellectuals who were swept away by German nationalist patriotism.
The only one who saw through the stupidity of war was Jewish industrialist Walter Rathenau. When he heard of the outbreak of WW1, “a terrible paleness spread over his face”. But despite his opposition to the war Rathenau enlisted in the patriotic effort and took the management of the national emergency economy upon himself.
Later on various historians would note that if not for Rathenau and the skilled officials working under him, Germany would have collapsed within a few months. 12,000 Jews fell in battle during the war, and over 7,000 were decorated for bravery – far beyond their share of the population.

1933 | The Weimar Illusion

The success of the 1918 revolution, which overthrew the corrupt monarchical regime in Germany, disproved Lenin's claim that German revolutionaries would never conquer a train station without first buying tickets.
Weimar, the city of Goethe, Nietzsche and Schiller, was chosen as the home of the new German republic, and the patriotic war slogans were replaced with fiery speeches calling for the establishment of a constitution based on the principles of human rights.
In the new republic the Jews finally won full equality not only in theory, but in practice as well. In a single moment the dam was broken, and a tidal wave of Jewish intellectuals flooded the fields of learning. The philosophy of Edmund Husserl and Ernst Cassirer, Max Reinhardt's theater and more are but a fraction of the immense Jewish contribution to European culture in those years.
But under the surface there were seething currents, drenched in anti-Semitic filth. The skyrocketing inflation, increased unemployment and the German pride, trampled underfoot by the Versailles peace agreements that ended WW1 were just as powerful, if not more so, than the illusion of Weimar enlightenment.
The last straw was the severe economic crisis that broke out in 1929, which caused many of the middle-class to join extreme right-wing parties. The Jews were accused of “stabbing the nation in the back” and one fine day they found themselves assigned to one of two groups – the “capitalist swine” or the “Bolshevik swine”.
In time historians would come to believe that the seeds of disaster from which the Nazi Party bloomed were planted back in the failed revolution of 1848. The culture of militarism, the racism, the defeat in WW1 and the dire economic crisis watered and fertilized it up to January 30th, 1933, when Adolph Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany.

1939 | Twilight of Civilization

In 1933 the Nazi Party came to power and antisemitism took center stage. Hate had a sovereign, and he was determined and monstrous. The anti-Semitic snowball gathered more and more supporters and believers. Books written by Jews were burned at the university square in Berlin. In 1935 the racist Nuremberg Laws were passed and in 1938 the Night of Broken Glass, or Krystallnacht, took place – an organized pogrom against the Jews. The Holocaust was at the doorstep.
The old technology of the pogrom was updated to state of the art means of murder: The extermination camps. The town square calls to massacre the Jews were replaced by respectable committees whose members drafted official documents with a glass of fine wine at dessert. The old myths were replaced by sophisticated propaganda that equated Jews with insects, rodents, and other pests.
Many Jews believed that this was but another wave of anti-Semitism, soon to pass, but many others realized that this time it was something different, methodical, organized and massive, and began to pack in order to emigrate (see table of data on Jewish emigration from Germany between 1933-1939).
On May 19th, 1943, Germany was declared to be “Judenrein” (German for “Clean of Jews"). Most of those who survived were Jews with Gentile spouses and a handful of Jews who survived underground with the help of those Gentiles whose courage and moral rectitude earned them the title of “Righteous Among the Nations”.
The rise of the Nazis in Germany and the Holocaust of Europe's Jews spelled an end for one of the most fascinating and creative communities in the history of the Jewish People. From a persecuted tribe of shopkeepers, cattle traders and itinerant vendors the Jews became a flourishing community of writers, entrepreneurs, poets, musicians, scientists, publishers and political activists, who were in many regards the leaders of modern Europe. WW2 put an end to all that.

Emigration of Jews from Germany in the years 1933-1939

Destination No. of Immigrants
United States 63,000
Palestine 55,000
Great Britain 40,000
France 30,000
Argentina 25,000
Brazil 13,000
South Africa 5,500
Italy 5,000
Other countries in Europe 25,000
Other countries in South America 20,000
Far East countries 15,000
Other 8,000
Total 304,500


Early 21st Century

At the end of WW2 only a few dozen thousand Jews remained in Germany, some of them displaced Jews from other places and some German Jews who survived the war. Many insisted that their stay in the “cursed country” was but temporary, but in the early 1950's calls were heard for reconciliation with German society. The Jewish communities, headed by that of Berlin, were rebuilt, and in 1967 the number of registered members of the community stood at some 26,000 people.
Upon the disintegration of the Soviet Union the German government opened its gates to the Jews, and some 104,000 immigrated into it, mostly from Russia, Ukraine and the Baltic countries. As of the early 21st century, Germany is home to the third-largest Jewish community in Europe, with some 115,000 live there, of these some 10,000 are Israelis. The Jewish community of Germany consists of approximately 90 renewed Jewish congregations. Berlin is the largest, followed by Frankfurt and Munich.

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UNRWA and AJDC Helping the Survivors in the D.P. Camps, Germany, 1945-1947

UNRWA and AJDC helping the survivors in the D.P. camps, Germany, 1945-1947. Photo: Zvi Kadushin.
The Oster Visual Documentation Center, ANU - Museum of the Jewish People, Zvi Kadushin Collection.

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Germany

Germany

Bundesrepublik Deutschland - Federal Republic of Germany
A country in western Europe, member of the European Union (EU)

21st Century

Estimated Jewish population in 2018: 115,000 out of 83,000,000 (0.14%). Main umbrella organization of the Jewish communities:

Zentralrat der Juden in Deutschland - Central Council of Jews in Germany
Phone: 49 30 28 44 56 0
Fax +49 30 28 44 56 13
Email: info@zentralratderjuden.de
Website: www.zentralratderjuden.de

 

HISTORY

The Jews of Germany

810 | The First Ashkenazi Elephant

A decree by the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great in 321 CE is the first mention of a tiny Jewish settlement in the city of Koln and other cities along the Rhine – Mainz, Worms and Speyer.
According to the decree, in these places, later to become known as “The lands of Ashkenaz”, Jews enjoyed certain civil rights, but were prohibited from spreading their faith and their share in government employment was limited.
Until the Crusades, which began in the late 11th century, Jews coexisted peacefully with the local population and were allowed to hold property and engage in all trades and occupations.
An historical anecdote tells of a Jew named Isaac, who was part of a diplomatic delegation on behalf of the Emperor Charlemagne to the Abbasid Caliph Haroun al-Rashid. Historians believe that Isaac was added to the delegation due to the great influence of Jews in the Abbasid court. The Abbasid Caliph, for his part, sent the Charlemagne an unusual gift: an elephant named “Abu Abbas.”
Word of the huge monster, which would peacefully eat from the hand of its handler, spread far and wide. When the elephant walked the streets of Germany during festivals and celebrations, tens of thousands of peasants would throng to the city to witness the zoological wonder, the likes of which had never been seen in Frankish domains before.
According to the sources, the elephant died in the year 810 CE.


1096 | Monogamy, Rabeinu Gershom Style

One of the first yeshivas founded in the lands of Ashkenaz was located in the city of Mainz and was founded by the man known throughout the Jewish world and to posterity as “Rabeinu Gershom Ma'or Hagolah” (“Our Rabbi Gershom, Light of the Diaspora”).
Many students flocked to Rabeinu Gershom to learn Torah from a prodigy who composed commentary on the Talmud and instituted important religious rulings, among them the famous “Ban of Rabeinu Gershom,” which forbade Jewish men to marry more than one wife at once.
The end of the 11th century saw the advent of the Crusades, intended to liberate the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, where Jesus is believed by the Christian faithful to be buried, from the hands of the Muslims – an act of piety for which all participants were promised a place in heaven. Concurrent with this religious fervor there grew a call to kill the Jewish heretics. This was a violation of the centuries-old policy started by St. Augustine, who maintained that the Jews must not be killed because their existence as second-class subjects was living proof that God held them in disfavor.
The height of the anti-Jewish hate in this period was reached in the year 1096, when the Rhineland Massacres (known in Jewish history as Gezerot Tatnu, or 4856, after the Hebrew date for the year) took place. According to various estimates, thousands of Jews were murdered in these rampages, and many others were injured, robbed and raped.
Several dirges written in memory of the destroyed Jewish congregations, known as the “Shum” congregations (Shpira, Wormeysa and Magenza, or in German Speyer, Worms and Mainz) have survived to this day.
Despite the massacres and the worsened treatment of the Jews, the Jewish population of Germany flourished and grew to become one of the centers of Jewish spiritual endeavor in Europe and the cradle of the Yiddish language.

1196 | A State within a State

Over the years, a community structure took shape in the Jewish population centers in Germany that would come to characterize Jewish communities throughout Europe. The community served as the legislative, executive and judicial authorities, and the synagogue served its members as a cultural, social and religious center.
In the second half of the 12th century, despite the crusades, the small Jewish community in Germany flourished. This was the period in which the Ashkenaz Hasidim formed, and made a crucial impact on the spiritual-religious world of Jews for generations to come, laying down rules regarding penitence, prayer, religious laws and mystical conduct.
The Ashkenaz Hasidim movement (not to be confused with what is now known as Hasidism) was led by Rabbi Judah ben Samuel of Regensburg, known in Judaism as “Rabbi Yehudah Hasid”, author of “Sefer Hasidim” and one of the first kabbalists. Hasid was a scion of the glorious lineage of the Kalonymus family, which came to the lands of Ashkenaz in the year 917, and whose members – scholars, poets, rabbis and kabbalists – made a deep and lasting impression on the world of Jewish thought.
Another religious circle was that of the Tosafists (“Ba'alei Tosafot” in Hebrew) who enriched the volumes of the Talmud with their innovations. The Tosafists, who viewed themselves as continuing the Talmudic tradition of the Amoraim of Babylon, founded batei midrash and traveled from yeshiva to yeshiva to impart their innovations. In 1209 some 300 scholars left these batei midrash, made aliyah to the Land of Israel and settled in Acre and in Jerusalem. Researchers believe that this migration of these scholars was a reaction to the crusades.
The aliyah of the Tosafists took place concurrent with blood libels against the Jews, who were accused of using the blood of Christian children and with desecrating the Eucharist at churches.
In 1298, armed with a Eucharist “desecrated” by Jews, a German nobleman named Rindfleisch embarked on a rampage of mass extermination against the Jews. According to various estimates, these pogroms took the lives of some 20,000 Jews and destroyed 146 communities.

1348 | The Black Death

In 1348 the Black Death plague began, which would wipe out an estimated one third of the population of Europe, including entire Jewish communities. The people of the time believed the plague to come from the water, and from there to declaring the Jews “well poisoners” was but a short distance.
These accusations led to the destruction of 300 Jewish communities in Germany. Many Jews were burned at the stake and many of the survivors fled to the Kingdom of Poland, establishing what was to become the great Jewish community of Poland.
In the 15th and 16th centuries the Jews remaining in the German lands suffered from the cruelty and superstition of the masses, fell victim to the avarice of princes and were forced to deal with ever-increasing intolerance by the Church. Most of the Jews of Germany at this time made their living as textile merchants, pawn brokers, money exchangers, street vendors and itinerant workers. They were allowed to reside only in the big cities, where they were pushed into crowded, poverty-stricken quarters. Many of them wandered the roads all week long, carrying their wares from village to village, only to be met with contempt and degradation from the locals.
This image of the “Wandering Jew” was later expressed in German poetry: “Miserable Jew, doomed to wander, a famished vendor through town and vale, his bones rattle, his teeth chatter, forever crying: Knick-knacks for sale!”

1529 | Josel The Lobbyist

In the 16th century Europe was showing signs of enlightenment. Renaissance culture, humanist ideas, the Reformation movement and more were the clearest signs. Two major German figures who represented these trends were philosopher Johann Reuchlin and theologian monk Martin Luther. The two were in agreement regarding the just cause of the religious reformation in Christianity, but regarding the Jews they took opposite views.
Reuchlin, who specialized in the study of Hebrew, was fond of Jewish culture. Proof of this can be found in the public debate he held with Johannes Pfefferkorn, a Catholic theologian who had converted from Judaism and called to destroy all copies of the Talmud. Reuchlin also gained fame when he published a defense of the Jews titled “Augenspiegel” (“Visible Evidence”) which called for equality and argued that all human beings shared a common source.
Martin Luther, in contrast, published a treatise in 1543 titled “On the Jews and Their Lies”, in which he proposed to burn down synagogues and expel the Jews from Germany. Four hundred years later the Nazis republished the tract and added it to their canon, alongside Hitler's “Mein Kampf” and “The Jew Suess” by Goebbels.
In 1529 a Jew named Josel of Rossheim was appointed to the lengthy title of “Custodian of the Jews in the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation”. Josel was among the first to fill the role of “shtadlan” - a new figure in the Jewish landscape, serving as a lobbyist of sorts for the Jews in the halls of power. Among Josel's achievements was the procurement of a charter of protection stating that any soldier harming a Jew would be executed, as well as saving 200 Jews who were sentenced to burn at the stake.

1669 | First We Take Vienna, Then We Take Berlin

By the end of the 18th century the German lands consisted of over 100 independent political units under absolute rulers small and large: kings, dukes, counts, bishops and more. Theoretically, they were all subject to the “Holy Roman Emperor of the German Nation” who sat in Vienna, but in practice these were autonomous states with borders, laws and currencies of their own. Prussia, which included the city of Berlin, which would eventually become its own capital and that of all Germany, was one of the largest such duchies, and by the second half of the 18th century it became the fifth most powerful country in Europe.
Until 1699 Jews were prohibited from living in or near Berlin, but following the Thirty Year War and the deficits it created in the duchy's budget, things changed. In order to jump-start the Prussian economy, Duke Frederick I (soon to crown himself King) decided to welcome the fifty richest of the Viennese Jews expelled by Austria. These Jews were declared “Protected Jews” (“Schutzjuden”) and signed a contract promising to pay the King 2,000 tallers (approximately $90,000 in today's currency), to establish certain industries and to refrain from building synagogues.
When the Jewish population grew, the King called it “a plague of locusts” and decreed that only 120 families, the “richest and finest”, would be allowed to remain in the city. The rest were cast out. King Frederick's hatred did not extend to “useful” Jews such as Levin Gomperz, who obtained credit from the banks for his excessive expenses, or Jeremiah Hirz, the royal goldsmith. Unlike other Jews, those two were exempt, for instance, of the abhorrent requirement to pay a tax each time they passed through Rosenthaler Gate, one of the Berlin's famous portals.

1734 | The Jewish Socrates

In the fall of 1743 a 14 year-old boy passed through the gates of the city of Berlin. He was small for his age, and suffered from a slightly hunched back and a speech impediment. It was said that “even the cruelest of hearts would soften at the sight of him”, and yet he was blessed with handsome features and his eyes revealed depth, wisdom and brilliance. The records of the Rosenthaler Gate, through which he entered, document the passage of “six oxen, seven swine and one Jew”. When the guard at the gate asked the boy what he was selling, the youngster replied with a stammer but surprising confidence: “W...W...Wisdom”.
Even the most imaginative of writers couldn't imagine that the stammering hunchback, Moses Mendelssohn, would one day become such a central figure in the annals of the Enlightenment movement in general, and of Judaism in particular.
Less than two decades after entering Berlin, and being self-taught, the boy became one of the most important philosophers in Germany, one so important that a 1986 tour guide states that “The history of literature in Berlin begins on that autumn day in 1743, when a 14 year-old yeshiva student named Moses Mendelssohn entered through the gate reserved for livestock and Jews only.”
Mendelssohn, who became known as “The Jewish Socrates”, was an admired example for all German Jews. His “Golden Path” ideology, the mixture he created in his thought between religion and rationality, and the religious lifestyle he adhered to despite the attempts of Christian clerics to talk him into converting in return for tempting favors – all these turned him into the guiding light of the Jews of Germany.
But Mendelssohn – the man who more than anyone symbolized the trend Jewish integration in Germany – recognized the hypocrisy of the German elite. Despite his reputation as an intellectual giant, he never received an academic position and was forced to make his living as a simple factory worker. “My life is so beset on all sides by tolerance,” he wrote sarcastically to one of his friends, “that for the sake of my children I must imprison myself all day in a silk factory.”

1780 | Signs of Enlightenment

By the end of the 18th century it seemed that the Jews of Germany were integrating admirably into German society. Austrian Emperor Joseph II gave them the “Edict of Tolerance” and in 1781 a senior Prussian official, Christian von Dohm, called for the political and civic emancipation of all German Jews, which set off a widespread public debate.
Two years later, in 1783, Berlin's main theater staged the play Nathan the Wise by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, one of Germany's leading playwrights of the time. Lessing's protagonist was an enlightened, wise, tolerant Jew who believed in universal brotherhood – a complete opposite to the greedy, corrupt, nefarious Jewish character which was a staple of European culture at the time.
Jewish reaction to these expressions of enlightenment were mixed. Many responded with enthusiasm and euphoria, expressed among other in the book “Divrei Shalom Ve'emet” by German-Jewish poet Naftali Hirz Wessely. Others expressed concern that the same old toxic hatred was hiding behind the smokescreen of tolerance, and that the true aim of the “tolerance” was to wipe out the Jews' religious identity.

1790 | The Literary Salons

Among the most fascinating expressions of the pluralistic spirit that characterized the upper class of Berlin at the end of the 18th century were the literary salons held by Henrietta Herz and Rachel Levi. Anyone holding themselves to be erudite wished to be invited to these salons, where intellectuals and artists, writers and musicians, entrepreneurs and thinkers – Jews and Gentiles alike.
Since in those days no university had yet been established in Berlin, and the court life of Prussian King Frederick II was boring and limited, the literary salons offered an outlet for young people who hungered for intellectual nourishment. They spoke of art, literature and poetry, enjoyed drinks and hors d'oeuvres, and exchanged forbidden kisses in secluded rooms.
Berlin of those days was home to many rich Jewish families (as mentioned above, the poor ones were expelled from the city), and the fact that Jews took such an interest in art, and Jewish women no less, was exceptional. The daring of these women was doubled, as they were both Jews and women. For the Jewish guests the salons were “a small slice of utopia”, as Jewish writer Deborah Hertz. French writer Madame de-Stael said upon visiting Berlin that Henrietta and Rachel's salons were the only places in all of Germany where aristocrats and Jews could meet freely.
The war between Prussia and France ended the phenomenon of the literary salons. “Everything sank in 1806,” wrote Rachel Levi, the most fascinating of the salon hostesses, “went down like a ship carrying the finest gifts, the choicest of life's pleasures.”

1806 | Romance In The Air

While famous German philosopher Frederick Hegel watched from his home balcony as the conqueror Napoleon entered the city of Jena and felt that he was witnessing “the end of history”, a Jewish boy of nine named Heinrich Heine looked at his father proudly wearing his blue-and-red uniform in his new position as a patrolman securing the streets of Dusseldorf. Unlike Hegel, this boy, destined to become one of the most important poets in Germany, felt that he was witnessing the beginning of a new history.
The Franco-Prussian war, which ended with the Prussians defeated, heralded a new age for the Jews. In the territories annexed to France, among them Dusseldorf, Jews were accorded full political rights, and for the first time in the history of Germany Jews like Heine's father were allowed to serve in public capacities. Even in the territories left to Prussia, whose size shrunk by half, reforms took place. The liberal Prussians who came to power abolished the medieval guilds, banned corporal punishment and gave the Jews – albeit only the rich ones – a municipal status, if not a country-wide political one.
But unlike in the United States and France, where liberation was the product of a popular revolution, in Germany the ideas of equality and enlightenment were handed down from above, by the regime. In those days, the Romantic movement spread in Germany, replacing the universal ideals of the Enlightenment with that of nationalism, and called for a sacred bond between people, church, and state.
One of the principles of the Romantic movement was to define nations in organic terms and the German nation as an ideal, homogenous and most importantly Jews-free specimen thereof. A new kind of Jew-hatred began to appear, one that combined religious sentiment and racial arguments with a disdain for the rationality of the Enlightenment, which was identified with the “Jewish mind”. The main proponent of this view was German philosopher Johann Fichte, who said that “We should cut off their (the Jews') heads in one night and replace them with others, in which there is not a single Jewish idea.”

1819 | Hep Hep Hep

In 1819 riots broke out in the city of Wurzburg, as a result of the rise of the nationalist Romantic movement, the cancellation of Napoleon's emancipation edicts and the increased anti-Semitism of the German aristocracy. The rioters broke into Jewish homes and shops, looted them and laid them to waste while shouting the “Hep Hep Hep” cry (a Latin acronym for “Hierosolyma est perdita”, or “Jerusalem is lost”) which, unfounded tradition has it, served to recruit fighters for the crusades in the Middle Ages. Another theory is that the cry was a traditional one for shepherds in German.
Three years earlier Germany suffered a severe economic crisis, which also led to these riots. The fact that 90% of German Jews were desperately poor mattered not one bit to the marauders, who stayed away from the areas in which wealthy Jews lived (mostly in Prussia).
The Jews reacted to the riots with restraint. Those of the upper-middle class, most of whom lived in Berlin and were not exposed to the riots, felt little shared fate with their brethren. The rate of conversion in these communities grew and many, among them the poet Heinrich Heine, hoped that if they shed their home-given language and dress, the historical hatred towards them would vanish. But many discovered that nothing had changed even when they “crawled to the cross”, as Heine put it.
A few weeks after the riots three extraordinary young Jews – Edward Gans, Leopold Zunz, and Moses Moser – met in Berlin and decided to found a “culture and science association”, in order to bring the Jews closer to German society and thus to crumble the walls of hatred. The founders of the association applied the principles of modern research to the study of Judaism, hoping that if European society became acquainted with Judaism and its contribution to world culture, antisemitism would cease to exist. Carried on the waves of optimism he shared with his friends, Gans applied for a position at the University of Berlin. He was rejected out of hand.

1848 | The Spring Of Nations

“I should have been either healthy or dead,” said the poet Heinrich Heine, semi-paralyzed and bed-ridden in exile in Paris, when he received the news of the revolution in Germany. And indeed, although the “Spring of Nations” revolution has been called a parody of the French Revolution, Heine was excited by the possibility that Germany would lose the confinements of nationalism and royalty and adopt the values of freedom and equality.
Despite its failure, the revolution was a turning point in the lives of Germany's Jews. The fact that many Jewish liberals took an active part in it heralded a deep change in the mind. For the first time in the history of Germany the traditional Jewish passivity began to give way to active political involvement. After several decades in which the Jewish elite almost disappeared in the first wave of conversions, a new generation rose: A generation of Jewish leaders proud of their Jewishness.
The revolutionary Ludwig Bamberger, Orientalist Moritz Steinschneider, the charismatic physician Johann Jacoby and writer Berthold Auerbach were but a few of the Jews who were determined to make the ideals of the revolution a reality. This was the first time, writes historian Amos Eilon, that the representatives of the Jews were so scathing, firm, and aware of their rights.
Another person who stood our during this time of tumult was the scion of a long line of rabbis – the revolutionary Karl Marx. A few weeks after publishing his “Communist Manifesto” Marx quickly joined his revolutionary friends in Cologne and Dusseldorf, and spread his ideas from there. Marx had no sympathy for Judaism. He saw emancipation, for instance, not as the liberation of Jews in Germany, but “the liberation of humanity from the Jews”. His aversion to religion and his famous quote that religion is the opium of the masses would turn out to be ironic as he founded a new world religion, Communism, whose results were written in blood. The irony is doubled when one learns that this famous quote was not penned by Marx but by his Jewish comrade Moses Hess (who later reconciled with his Jewish identity and was an early herald of Zionism).

1870 | Indeed?

In the mid-19th century, some 1,000 small Jewish communities flourished in the towns and villages of Bavaria, Wurttemberg, Hessen, Westphalia, and the Rhine Valley. Most Jews were observant, spoke Yiddish in a western dialect and worked mostly in the cattle and horse trade.
The Franco-Prussian War, which broke out in 1870 and ended in a crushing Prussian victory, gave the Jews an excellent opportunity to display their loyalty. Between 7,000 and 12,000 Jewish fighters took part in the battles. “It was,” wrote author Theodore Fontane, “as if they had vowed to themselves to put an end to the old notion of their aversion to and incompetence at war.”
Jews were also active in high places. The Jew Ludwig Bamberger, a veteran of the 1848 Revolution, followed the advances of the Prussian forces into Paris from his exile in that city. Upon the occupation of the city, he joined the personal staff of the “Iron Chancellor” Otto von Bismarck and served him as a senior adviser, dues to his experience as a revolutionary.
At the German headquarters in Paris he met another Jew, Gerson Bleichroder, who was Bismarck's all-powerful banker. Bleichroder, who seemed cast in the mold of the “Court Jew”, was in charge of the secret funds with which Bismarck bribed the kings and dukes of the principalities of southern Germany, in order to persuade them to unite all the independent countries in Germany under a single rule – a mission eventually crowned with success.
In 1871 the Emancipation Law was passed and applied to all of Germany. As equal citizens the Jews began to reap success in all walks of life. Over 60% of them belonged to the settled middle-class. They achieved remarkable prominence in the worlds of publishing and journalism, and more and more young Jews, the sons of shopkeepers, innkeepers, cattle traders and street vendors enrolled in the universities.
The Jews began to slowly assimilate into the general population and adopt the German identity. Organs were introduced into the synagogues, and traditional prayer was abandoned. Jewish philosopher Hermann Cohen declared that serving Germany was as holy a deed as serving God, whereas the successful Jewish-German author Berthold Auerbach, who was styled “The German Dickens”, stated that the process of integration had been successfully completed.
But had it, indeed?

1880 | The New Antisemitism

On November 22nd, 1880 writer Berthold Auerbach sat in the visitors' gallery of the Prussian parliament. The delegates discussed a proposal to revoke the civil rights of the Jews. Auerbach returned to his home morose and depressed, opened his notebook and wrote: “I have lived and toiled in vain.”
Like many other Jewish activists, Auerbach too devoted his life to the cause of Jewish integration in Germany. A few years before that parliamentary debate he had even declared that upon the granting of Jewish emancipation, their integration into German society had been completed. Now he was broken and despondent.
The 1873 German stock exchange crash is viewed by many historians as the watershed moment. The rage and frustration of the masses found a new target: “The nouveau-riche” (which is to say, the Jew) who exploited the naiveté of the honest Christian and profiteered off his hard-earned money. To the old anti-Semitism a new fear was added. If in the past the Jews were accused of being beggars, immoral and of low hygiene, now they were described as devious and endlessly powerful. Major Jewish figures, among them railroad magnate Henry Strasburg and banker Gerson Bleichroder were depicted as having corrupted the German economy and the main culprits in the suffering of the Germans.
In the German climate, where strong ties to the feudal system still lingered, the Jews – bearing the flags of liberalism, democracy and the free market – were considered to be responsible not only for the crisis, but for the founding of capitalism itself, which was equated with materialism, exploitation and degeneracy. Prominent German figures, such as Protestant chaplain Adolph Stoecker and historian Heinrich von Treitschke, gave the new anti-Semitism the veneer of the Church and Academia. Bismarck and his noble friends, who had themselves become rich at the public's expense, gave it the imprimatur of aristocracy.

1900 | Progress, Secularism and Religion

The 25 years preceding the outbreak of WW1 were described by Jewish-German writer Stephan Zweig as “the golden age of security”. The “years of anxiety”, as the 1880s later came to be known, had passed. The expressions of anti-Jewish discrimination were marginal, and the wave of anti-Semitism that characterized the previous decade had died down. Future Zionist Richard Lichtheim went so far as to state that prior to 1914 he had never felt anti-Semitism. Jewish philosopher Walter Benjamin noted that he had grown up “completely certain of himself and his resilience”; the feeling imbued by his grandmother's villa, which stood in a well-to-do suburb of Berlin, he described as “unforgettable sensations of an almost eternal bourgeoisie security”.
Against a backdrop of economic prosperity, technological progress and stable law and order, the number of Jewish entrepreneurs rose steadily, and they founded some of the new industries in Germany. Among the most famous ones must note banker Max Warburg, coal magnate Edward Arnhold, cotton magnate Jason Frank and “The Bismarck of the German electric industry”, Emil Rathenau, whose son, Walter, would one day serve as Foreign Minister in the Weimar regime.
At the same time, Jews were becoming increasingly detached from their traditions, which were replaced by modern patterns – whether the “Experiential Judaism” advocated by philosopher Martin Buber, or the Reform Judaism model founded in the mid-19th century. Jewish linguist Victor Klemperer told how right after his father was awarded the position of “deputy preacher” at the new Reform congregation in Berlin, his mother entered a non-kosher butcher's shop and bought “mixed sausages, a bit of each”. When they returned home the mother said, beaming: “This is what others eat. Now we can eat it too.”
Many Jews stopped circumcising their children or holding bar-mitzva ceremonies. More and more Jews became secular, and others chose to convert to improve their social standing. In 1918, for example, some 21% of the Jewish men in Germany converted to Christianity.

1914 | WW1 – More Catholic Than The Pope

The significant integration of the Jews in German life manifested in many ways, from admiration of German music and theater to joining in the patriotic wave that washed over Germany upon the outbreak of WW1 in 1914. Many of the Jews abandoned their cosmopolitan views and their traditional support of the socialist parties who stood for the brotherhood of nations, and exchanged them for a sentimental festival of nationalism.
Among the most zealous advocates for war, the Jewish intellectuals were most prominent. Hermann Cohen, the author of “Religion of Reason from the Sources of Judaism”, believed that the most sublime ideals would be realized as a result of this war. Stefan Zweig, an avowed pacifist who claimed that he would never touch a gun, not even at an entertainment booth at a country fair, waxed enthusiastic of “having the privilege of being alive at such a wonderful moment”. Felix Klemperer, a renowned brain surgeon, was surprised at his own excitement over “the splendor of war”, and Martin Buber extolled war, claiming it was a liberating cultural experience. These are but a few of the Jewish intellectuals who were swept away by German nationalist patriotism.
The only one who saw through the stupidity of war was Jewish industrialist Walter Rathenau. When he heard of the outbreak of WW1, “a terrible paleness spread over his face”. But despite his opposition to the war Rathenau enlisted in the patriotic effort and took the management of the national emergency economy upon himself.
Later on various historians would note that if not for Rathenau and the skilled officials working under him, Germany would have collapsed within a few months. 12,000 Jews fell in battle during the war, and over 7,000 were decorated for bravery – far beyond their share of the population.

1933 | The Weimar Illusion

The success of the 1918 revolution, which overthrew the corrupt monarchical regime in Germany, disproved Lenin's claim that German revolutionaries would never conquer a train station without first buying tickets.
Weimar, the city of Goethe, Nietzsche and Schiller, was chosen as the home of the new German republic, and the patriotic war slogans were replaced with fiery speeches calling for the establishment of a constitution based on the principles of human rights.
In the new republic the Jews finally won full equality not only in theory, but in practice as well. In a single moment the dam was broken, and a tidal wave of Jewish intellectuals flooded the fields of learning. The philosophy of Edmund Husserl and Ernst Cassirer, Max Reinhardt's theater and more are but a fraction of the immense Jewish contribution to European culture in those years.
But under the surface there were seething currents, drenched in anti-Semitic filth. The skyrocketing inflation, increased unemployment and the German pride, trampled underfoot by the Versailles peace agreements that ended WW1 were just as powerful, if not more so, than the illusion of Weimar enlightenment.
The last straw was the severe economic crisis that broke out in 1929, which caused many of the middle-class to join extreme right-wing parties. The Jews were accused of “stabbing the nation in the back” and one fine day they found themselves assigned to one of two groups – the “capitalist swine” or the “Bolshevik swine”.
In time historians would come to believe that the seeds of disaster from which the Nazi Party bloomed were planted back in the failed revolution of 1848. The culture of militarism, the racism, the defeat in WW1 and the dire economic crisis watered and fertilized it up to January 30th, 1933, when Adolph Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany.

1939 | Twilight of Civilization

In 1933 the Nazi Party came to power and antisemitism took center stage. Hate had a sovereign, and he was determined and monstrous. The anti-Semitic snowball gathered more and more supporters and believers. Books written by Jews were burned at the university square in Berlin. In 1935 the racist Nuremberg Laws were passed and in 1938 the Night of Broken Glass, or Krystallnacht, took place – an organized pogrom against the Jews. The Holocaust was at the doorstep.
The old technology of the pogrom was updated to state of the art means of murder: The extermination camps. The town square calls to massacre the Jews were replaced by respectable committees whose members drafted official documents with a glass of fine wine at dessert. The old myths were replaced by sophisticated propaganda that equated Jews with insects, rodents, and other pests.
Many Jews believed that this was but another wave of anti-Semitism, soon to pass, but many others realized that this time it was something different, methodical, organized and massive, and began to pack in order to emigrate (see table of data on Jewish emigration from Germany between 1933-1939).
On May 19th, 1943, Germany was declared to be “Judenrein” (German for “Clean of Jews"). Most of those who survived were Jews with Gentile spouses and a handful of Jews who survived underground with the help of those Gentiles whose courage and moral rectitude earned them the title of “Righteous Among the Nations”.
The rise of the Nazis in Germany and the Holocaust of Europe's Jews spelled an end for one of the most fascinating and creative communities in the history of the Jewish People. From a persecuted tribe of shopkeepers, cattle traders and itinerant vendors the Jews became a flourishing community of writers, entrepreneurs, poets, musicians, scientists, publishers and political activists, who were in many regards the leaders of modern Europe. WW2 put an end to all that.

Emigration of Jews from Germany in the years 1933-1939

Destination No. of Immigrants
United States 63,000
Palestine 55,000
Great Britain 40,000
France 30,000
Argentina 25,000
Brazil 13,000
South Africa 5,500
Italy 5,000
Other countries in Europe 25,000
Other countries in South America 20,000
Far East countries 15,000
Other 8,000
Total 304,500


Early 21st Century

At the end of WW2 only a few dozen thousand Jews remained in Germany, some of them displaced Jews from other places and some German Jews who survived the war. Many insisted that their stay in the “cursed country” was but temporary, but in the early 1950's calls were heard for reconciliation with German society. The Jewish communities, headed by that of Berlin, were rebuilt, and in 1967 the number of registered members of the community stood at some 26,000 people.
Upon the disintegration of the Soviet Union the German government opened its gates to the Jews, and some 104,000 immigrated into it, mostly from Russia, Ukraine and the Baltic countries. As of the early 21st century, Germany is home to the third-largest Jewish community in Europe, with some 115,000 live there, of these some 10,000 are Israelis. The Jewish community of Germany consists of approximately 90 renewed Jewish congregations. Berlin is the largest, followed by Frankfurt and Munich.