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The Jewish Community of Potsdam

Potsdam

A city on the border of Berlin in Brandenburg, Germany.

First Jewish presence: 1630; peak Jewish population: 600 in 1929; Jewish population in 1933: 565

In 1671, the Great Elector of Brandenburg allowed 50 persecuted Jewish families from Vienna, Austria, to settle in the city, after which Potsdam’s Jewish community developed quickly. In 1731, David Hirsch won a monopoly on the kingdom’s velvet trade, an accomplishment that prompted other Jewish entrepreneurs to enter the silk industry. The Jews of Potsdam acquired a cemetery in 1743 and employed their first rabbi, Jehiel Michel of Poland, in 1760. The construction of Potsdam’s first synagogue, inaugurated in 1767 in the presence of the Prince and Princess of Prussia, was made possible by a loan from Frederick the Great. The ground on which the synagogue was built, however, proved too marshy to support the large structure; accordingly, a new synagogue was built on Wilhelmstrasse in 1802. Until 1776, the Jewish community was forced to pay exorbitant taxes and was required by law to purchase—this applied to each new Jewish household—costly china from royal factories. After these crippling taxes were lifted, the community showed its gratitude by donating the synagogue’s silver ornaments to the Napoleonic war fund and, much later, by sending volunteers to the Franco-Prussian War. In 1903, a new house of worship in the Reform style was built on the site of the original synagogue (by then the marsh had been properly drained). By this time, prominent Potsdam Jews included industrialists, professionals and councilmen. A home for Jewish girls was opened in 1929 and, in 1932, a boarding school for Jewish children from families in distress was established in nearby Caputh.

The Nazis’ victory in the 1933 elections and the subsequent economic boycott of Jews triggered a Jewish exodus from the city. On Pogrom Night (Nov. 9, 1938), the interior of the main synagogue was plundered; the building was not set on fire because it was adjacent to the city’s post office. The cemetery and chapel were vandalized, as was the Caputh School. Jewish men were arrested and sent to Sachsenhausen Nazi concentration camp. After the pogrom, the post office appropriated the gutted synagogue building, which was eventually destroyed in a bombing raid during the war. Potsdam’s last 40 Jews were deported in 1942, leaving a few survivors in the community’s Jewish retirement home who were, presumably, deported to Theresienstadt Nazi concentration camp. The cemetery and its adjacent chapel were restored 30 years after Pogrom Night, and memorial plaques have been affixed to former Jewish communal buildings.

In the 1990s, Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe founded a new congregation in Potsdam; by 2006, the city was home to 1,400 Jews. A new synagogue complex is being built on the grounds of the old house of worship; it will contain a community center, a retirement home and the Abraham Geiger rabbinic seminary, the last of which is associated with Potsdam University.

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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:
City
ID Number:
247788
Written by researchers of ANU Museum of the Jewish People
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POTSDAMER

POTSDAM, POTSDAMER, POTSDAMMER

Surnames derive from one of many different origins. Sometimes there may be more than one explanation for the same name. This family name is a toponymic (derived from a geographic name of a town, city, region or country). Surnames that are based on place names do not always testify to direct origin from that place, but may indicate an indirect relation between the name-bearer or his ancestors and the place, such as birthplace, temporary residence, trade, or family-relatives.

This name is derived from Potsdam, a city on the outskirts of Berlin, Germany. First Jewish presence in Potsdam is documented in 1630. Places, regions and countries of origin or residence are some of the sources of Jewish family names. But, unless the family has reliable records, names based on toponymics cannot prove the exact origin of the family.

Potsdammer is documented as a Jewish family name with Helena Potsdammer, born in Hoogeveen, The Netherlands, in 1925, who perished in the Holocaust.

Herzfeld, Gustav (1861-1942), lawyer, born in New York, USA, but brought up and educated in Germany. In 1908 he converted to Protestantism. He opened a legal office in Potsdam, Germany, in 1909. Herzfeld’s son Joachim, born in Boston, MA., USA, was an officer in the German army in World War I and was killed in action.

During the hard economic times of the 1920s, Herzfeld was known as a socially conscious lawyer who often gave his services for poor people without charge. When the Nazis came to power he was considered to be a Jew despite his conversion, but since he had started to practice law before 1914 he was permitted to continue to work until 1938.

Deprived of an income he was forced to sell his house, but was allowed to live in a small attic room. In 1941 he was obliged to move to a Jewish old age home in the Bergstrasse in Babelsberg neighbourhood of Berlin, where he tried to commit suicide. He deported to Theresienstadt in October 1942 where he died after 2 weeks.

Israil (Israel) Bercovici (1921-1988), playwright, director, biographer and Yiddish poet, born in Botosani, Romania. He received traditional Jewish education in Botosani. During the Holocaust he was recruited to forced labor until 1944. He started his career as a journalist at various Yiddish languages publications, particularly at Revista Cultului Mozaic din R.P.R (“Journal of the Jewish Religion in the People's Republic of Romania”). He started working for the Jewish State Theater (TES) in Bucharest as a literary secretary in 1955. He turned the theater into a contemporary theater and not one dedicated to performing only old heritage repertoire. Bercovici translated into Yiddish plays from the world literature.

He also wrote original plays in Yiddish, among them Un cîntec şi o glumă / A lid mit a vitz ("A Song and a Joke", 1958), O seară de folclor evreiesc / An ovnt fun idishen folklor ("An Evening of Yiddish Folklore", 1962), Purim-shpil ("Purim play",1963), Der goldener fodem ("The Golden Thread", 1963), a play about Abraham Goldfaden, the founder of Yiddish theater, A shnirl perl ("A String of Pearls", 1967), Barasheum '72 (1972). He published three books of Yiddish poetry: In di oygn fun a shvartser kave ("In the Eyes of a Black Coffee", 1974), Funken iber doyres ("Sparks Over Generations", 1984), Fliendike oysies ("Flying Letters", 1984). Bercovici’s literary production also includes books about Yiddish theater history and the translation into Romanian (along with Nina Cassian) of Izik Manger’s work. His library of 3,000 books in Yiddish is kept at the University Library in Potsdam, Germany.

Israil Bercovici was married to Miriam Bercovici, a physician and author.

Berlin

The largest city in Germany. The capital of Germany until 1945. After the Second World War and until 1990 the city was divided into West Berlin and East Berlin.

Jews are first mentioned in a letter from the Berlin local council of October 28, 1295, forbidding wool merchants to supply Jews with wool yarn. Jews lived primarily in a Jewish quarter, but a number of wealthier Jews lived outside this area. The Berlin Jews engaged mainly in commerce, handicrafts, money-changing, and money-lending. They paid taxes for the right to slaughter animals ritually, to sell meat, to marry, to circumcise their sons, to buy wine, to receive additional Jews as residents of their community, and to bury their dead. During the Black Death (1349-1350), the houses of the Jews were burned down and the Jewish inhabitants were killed or expelled from the town.

From 1354, Jews settled again in Berlin. In 1446 they were arrested with the rest of the Jews in Brandenburg, and their property was confiscated. A year later Jews again began to return there, and a few wealthy Jews were admitted into Brandenburg in 1509. In 1510 the Jews were accused of desecrating the host and stealing sacred vessels from a church in a village near Berlin. 111 Jews were arrested and subjected to examination, and 51 were sentenced to death; of these 38 were burned at the stake in the new market square together with the real culprit, a Christian, on July 10, 1510. All the accused were proved completely innocent at the diet of Frankfort in 1539 through the efforts of Joseph (Joselmann) b. Gershom of Rosheim and Philipp Melanchthon. In 1571, when the Jews were again expelled from Brandenburg, the Jews of Berlin were expelled "forever". For the next 100 years, a few individual Jews appeared there at widely scattered intervals. About 1663, the court Jew Israel Aaron, who was supplier to the army and the electoral court, was permitted to settle in Berlin. After the expulsion of the Jews from Vienna in 1670, the elector issued an edict on May 21, 1671, admitting 50 wealthy Jewish families from Austria into Brandenburg for 20 years. Frederick William I (1713-1740) limited (in a charter granted to the Jews on May 20, 1714) the number of tolerated Jews to 120 householders, but permitted in certain cases the extension of letters of protection to include the second and third child. The Jews of Berlin were permitted to engage in commerce almost without restriction, but were forbidden to trade in drugs and spices, in raw skins, and in imported woolen and fiber goods, and were forbidden to operate breweries or distilleries. Land ownership by Jews had been prohibited in 1697 and required a special license which could be obtained only with great difficulty.

The Jews in Berlin in the 18th century were primarily engaged as commercial bankers and traders in precious metals and stones. Some served as court Jews. Members of the Gomperz family were among the wealthiest in Berlin.

During the reign of Frederick the Great (1740-1786), the economic, cultural, and social position of the Jews in Berlin improved. During the seven years' war, many Jews became wealthy as purveyors to the army and the mint and the rights enjoyed by the Christian bankers were granted to a number of Jews. The number of Jewish manufacturers, bankers, and brokers increased. In 1791, the entire Itzig family received full civil rights, becoming the first German Jews to whom they were granted.

As a concomitant of economic prosperity, there appeared the first signs of cultural adaptation. Under the influence of Moses Mendelssohn, several reforms were introduced in the Berlin community, especially in the sphere of education. In 1778 a school, Juedische Freischule (Chinnukh Ne'arim), was founded, which was conducted along modern comprehensive principles and methods. Mendelssohn and David Friedlander composed the first German reader for children. The dissemination of general (non-Jewish) knowledge was also one of the aims of the Chevrat Doreshei Leshon Avar (association of friends of the Hebrew language), founded in 1783, whose organ Ha-me'assef began to appear in Berlin in 1788. The edict of 1812 finally bestowed Prussian citizenship upon the Jews; all restrictions on their residence rights in the state, as well as the special taxes they had to pay, were now abolished.

In the 1848 revolution the Jews played an active role as fighters on the barricades and members of the civic guard, as orators and journalists, and the like. About one-fifth of Berlin's newspapers were owned by Jews. Berlin Jews played an important role in literature, the theater, music, and art. Their successes aroused fierce reaction among the more conservative elements and Berlin became a center of anti-Semitism. The "Berlin movement" founded by Adolf Stoecker incited the masses against the Jews by alleging that they were the standrad-bearers of capitalism and controlled the press.

From 1840 to 1850 a teachers' seminary functioned under the direction of Leopold Zunz. A teachers' training institute was established in 1859 under the rectorship of Aaron Horowitz. Aaron Bernstein founded the reform society in 1845, and later the reform congregation, which introduced far-flung liturgical reforms, especially during the rabbinate of Samuel Holdheim (1847-1860). At first, divine worship was held both on Saturdays and Sundays and later only on Sundays. The reform congregation was unsuccessful in its attempt to secede from the official community. The Berlin community was again violently shaken when many of its members pressed for the introduction of an organ and modification of the liturgy in the new synagogue. The appointment of Abraham Geiger as rabbi of the Berlin community met with strong opposition from orthodox circles, and in 1869 Azriel (Israel) Hildesheimer and his adherents left the main community and established the Adass Yisroel congregation, which received official recognition in 1885. Geiger founded an institute for Jewish research while Hildesheimer opened a rabbinical seminary. For about 80 years the liberals were predominant in the Berlin community. But liberals and orthodox worked together in full harmony in the central organizations in which, at least for a period, the Zionists also participated. The Berlin rabbi S. Maybaum was among the leaders of the "protest rabbis" who opposed political Zionism.

After the murder of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg in January 1919, anti-Semitic propaganda in Berlin increased. The Kapp putsch (March 1920) had blatant anti-Jewish undertones. Walter Rathenau, the German foreign minister, was assassinated by anti-Semitic nationalists on June 24, 1922. In 1926, after the appointment of joseph Goebbels as Gauleiter in Berlin, anti-Jewish rabble-rousing increased. At the time the Nazis seized power, Berlin's organized Jewish community numbered 172,000 persons. In 1933 the Nazi boycott (April 1) affected Jewish shop owners; legislation against non-Aryans led to dismissal of Jewish professionals, while "Aryanization" of Jewish firms and the dismissal of their Jewish employees was carried out by the exertion of steady economic pressure. The Jewish officials not affected by these measures were eventually ousted under the provisions of the Nuremberg Laws (1935). In these initial years, when the members of the Jewish community were being methodically deprived of their economic standing and civil rights, Jewish religious and cultural life in Berlin underwent a tremendous upsurge. Until November 1938 Jewish newspapers and books were published on an unprecedented scale. Notable among the newspapers was the Berliner Juedisches Gemeindeblatt, a voluminous weekly published by the community. Zionist work was in full swing, especially that of He-chalutz, and in February 1936, a German Zionist convention was held in Berlin (the last to meet there), still reflecting in its composition the vigorous party life of German Zionists.

In June 1938, mass arrests of Jews took place on the charge that they were "asocial", e.g. had a criminal record, including traffic violations, and they were imprisoned in Sachsenhausen concentration camp. On November 9-10, Kristallnacht marked a turning point in the affairs of Berlin Jewry: synagogues were burned down, Jewish shops destroyed, and 10,000 Jews from Berlin and other places were arrested and imprisoned in Sachsenhausen. The "Bannmeile" was decreed, which restricted Jews to an area within a certain radius from their place of residence.

Jewish newspapers had to cease publication. The only paper was the new Das Medische Narchrichtenblatt which was required to publish Gestapo directives to the Jews.

After the outbreak of war, the living conditions and situation of the Jews worsened. Emigration was still permitted and even encouraged, and existing organizations and institutions (Kulturbund, Jewish schools) were able to continue functioning. However, Jews were drafted for forced labor at wages far below the prevailing rate and with no social benefits, but this at least provided them with a minimum income and delayed their deportation. In the spring of 1940 Heinrich Stahl was removed from his post in the Reichsvereinigung by the Nazi authorities and replaced by Moritz Henschel, a former attorney. In september 1941, a drastic turn for the worse came about. First the Judenstern ("Jewish star", i.e. yellow badge) was introduced. Two weeks later, on the day of atonement, in the middle of a sermon by Rabbi Leo Baeck, the president of the community was summoned to the Gestapo and told that the community would have to prepare for a partial evacuation from the city.

Between October 23 and the end of the year only 62 persons managed to leave, and in 1942 only nine Jews were permitted to go abroad. Then began five major phases in the process of deportation. Eventually, the deportations came to include groups of community employees, and from the fall of 1942, only those Jewish laborers who were employed in vital war production were still safe from deportation.

Those Jews who had gentile wives were taken to a special camp for onward deportation, but when their wives carried out violent street demonstrations, the Gestapo yielded and set their husbands free. On May 13, 1942, an anti-Jewish exhibition, "Soviet Paradise", was opened in Berlin, and was attacked by a group of Jewish communists, led by Herbert Baum. The group was caught and hardly any of them survived. Two hundred and fifty Jews – 50 for each German who had been killed in the attack – were shot, and another 250 were sent to Sachsenhausen and perished there. The community offices were closed down on June 10, 1943, and six days later the "full" Jews among the members of its executive council were deported to Theresienstadt.

At the beginning of 1946, the community had a registered membership of 7,070 people, of whom 4,121 (over 90% of all married members) had non-Jewish spouses, 1,321 had survived the war by hiding, and 1,628 had returned from concentration camps. The Jews were dispersed throughout Berlin, a third of them living in the Soviet sector. Several synagogues were opened, the Jewish hospital resumed its work (although most of its patients and staff were not Jews), and three homes for the aged and a children's home were established. There was no local rabbi or religious teachers, but American Jewish army chaplains volunteered their services.

There are four synagogues in Berlin. In 1959, the city of Berlin erected a large Jewish community center on Fasanenstrasse at the site of which one of Berlin's most magnificent synagogues had stood until 1938. In 1954 the Zionist organization and the Israel appeal renewed their activities in Berlin. There exists an active Jewish women's organization, a B'nai B'rith lodge, a Jewish students' organization, and a youth organization. In 1954 the community had a membership of about 5,000 and by January 1970 this figure had risen to 5,577. The demographic composition of the community is marked by relatively high average age (4,080 are above the age of 41), a low birthrate, and a great number of mixed marriages.

In 1997 there were 10,000 Jews living in Berlin, and it was the largest Jewish community in Germany.

Brandenburg an der Havel

Brandenburg/Havel

A town west of Berlin in Brandenburg, Germany.

First Jewish presence: 14th century; peak Jewish population: 483 in 1925; Jewish population in 1933: 200

The earliest available reference to a Brandenburg Jew is dated 1313. The town was home to a synagogue as early as 1322, but its location is not known. Although Jews were expelled from Brandenburg/Havel after the Black Death persecutions of 1348, they established a new presence there in 1372. By 1490, the town was home to a Judengasse (probably presentday Lindenstrasse); records from the late 15th century also mention a Jewish cemetery. Jews were expelled from the town yet again in 1573, and it was not until 1671 that the forefathers of the modern community moved to Brandenburg. In order to accommodate the growing population, the community built two synagogues—one in 1781, the other in 1883; the latter, located on 15 Grosse Muenzenstrasse, was renovated in 1903. Although the community had maintained a Jewish cemetery before 1720, a second one was consecrated in 1747. A rabbi and chazzan were hired in 1859, and we also know that local Jews were served by a shochet, a teacher of religion and a servant, the last of which, together with his wife, cared for the sick and dying. Brandenburg was also home to a mikveh. By the end of the 19th century, Brandenburg Jews were involved in a wide array of professions; many were merchants, but others worked as dentists, lawyers and chemists. On Pogrom Night (Nov. 9, 1938), SA men burned down the synagogue. The cemetery was desecrated, and the mortuary (built in 1770) torn down. Jewish-owned stores were damaged and looted, and Jews were assaulted, one of whom, a woman, committed suicide. Ninety Jews were deported to the Nazi concentration camps in Eastern Europe in the early 1940s; twenty-eight were sent to the Warsaw Ghetto in April 1942. Ten Jews, presumably protected by marriages to Gentiles, survived the war in Brandenburg. A memorial plaque was later affixed to the wall of the destroyed synagogue on Grosse Muenzenstrasse.

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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.

The capital of the state of Saxony-Anhalt, Germany.

 

21st CENTURY

The area around the memorial has been renamed An der Alten Synagoge (“At the Old Synagogue”). Additionally, two memorial stones have been unveiled at the Jewish cemetery.

In 2005, there were 635 members of the Jewish community in Magdeburg, due to the immigration of Jews from the former Soviet Union.

 

HISTORY

The Jewish community of Magdeburg is one of the oldest in Germany, with the earliest record of Jewish life dating to 965 CE. The early Jewish community maintained a synagogue and a yeshiva; a cemetery was consecrated during the 13th century. Local Jews lived in the Judendorf (“Jews’ village”) Quarter in the southern part of the town, and traded in the "clothing-court" (kleiderhof) in the Merchants' Quarter and beyond the Oder river. The Judendorf was destroyed in 1213 by Otto IV’s soldiers.

The Jews of Magdeburg suffered several persecutions during the 14th century, most of which took place after the Black Death epidemic (1348-1349). Eventually, in 1493 they were expelled. The synagogue was converted into a chapel, and the cemetery was destroyed.

Jews were readmitted to Magdeburg in 1671, but a new community was only established in the early 19th century, a result of the hostility Jews faced from the city council. The new community founded a religious school in 1834, a chevra kaddisha in 1839, and a synagogue with an organ and choir in 1851.

The community grew steadily, from 255 in 1811, to 330 in 1817. In 1840 Magdeburg’s Jewish population was 559 in 1840. Nearly 20 years later, in 1859, there were 1,000 Jews living in Magdeburg. In 1885 the Jewish population was 1,815.

Prominent Jewish figures from Magdeburg included Rabbi Ludwig Philippson, a leader of Liberal Judaism in Germany and an editor of the newspaper of Liberal German Judaism, Allgemeine Zeitung des Judentums; Rabbi Moritz Guedemann and Rabbi Moritz Spanier, both of whom wrote a history of the community; and Eduard Lasker and Otto Landsberg, both of whom were repeatedly elected to Parliament.

The community became prosperous, and included 45 doctors (who founded their own club in 1903). By 1933 there were also about 20 active social, cultural, and charitable organizations.

In 1910 the Jewish population of Magdeburg was 1,843. In 1928 the Jewish population was approximately 3,200.

 

THE HOLOCAUST

After the Nazis came to power in 1933, anti-Jewish violence and legislation increased in Magdeburg and throughout Germany as a whole. The Jewish population in Magdeburg dropped to 1,973 people as Jews began to immigrate.

The synagogue was burned down during the Kristallnacht pogrom (November 9-10, 1938). That night, 375 men were arrested and interned in Buchenwald.

By 17 May 1939, only 679 Jews remained in Magdeburg. Most were eventually deported to concentration camps.  Ownership of the synagogue building was transferred to the municipality, which ordered that the building be blown up.  

On July 1, 1944, there were still 185 Jews living in Magdeburg, mainly partners of mixed marriages, who managed to survive the war.

 

POSTWAR

A new community was founded in Magdeburg in 1947. In 1965, there were approximately 100 Jews living in the city.

In November 1988, a memorial was erected near the former synagogue.

 

Rathenow

A town in the district of Havelland in Brandenburg, Germany.

First Jewish presence: 14th century; peak Jewish population: 112 in 1925; Jewish population in 1933: 110

The town’s first Jewish residents were expelled in 1571. The nucleus of the modern community arrived in Rathenow in or around the year 1700, mostly from Vienna. Although most Jews were small-time merchants, one prominent businessman, Levin Pintus, was a textile contractor for the army. The community attained official status in the mid-18th century, but it was not until 1926, prior to which services were conducted in a private residence, that the community built a synagogue. The cemetery, whose oldest tombstone is dated 1692, was replaced by a new burial ground in 1905. Rathenow’s rabbi and several local Jews were arrested in 1933. As a result of its proximity to other buildings, the synagogue was not burned down on Pogrom Night (Nov. 9, 19238); instead, the thugs contented themselves with wrecking its interior and burning the Torah scrolls. Homes were wrecked, and Jewish men were taken to Sachsenhausen Nazi concentration camp. In 1941, 29 Jews, crammed into so-called “Jews’ houses” from which they would later be deported, lived in Rathenow. Plaques were later unveiled at the cemetery and at the former synagogue, the latter of which is now a children’s home.

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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.

Oranienburg

A town and the capital of the district of Oberhavel in Brandenburg, Germany. 

First Jewish presence: 1680; peak Jewish population: 131 in 1925; Jewish population in 1933: 105

The Jewish community of Oranienburg established several institutions during the 19th century: a modest synagogue on Havelstrasse (either at no. 6 or 58) was in use by 1838, and a cemetery was consecrated on Kremmenerstrasse in 1815. The congregation chose to retain its own synagogue after the community was incorporated, in 1920, into Berlin’s official Jewish community. Although the Oranienburg Jews were mostly merchants, others gained recognition in other professions. Louis Blumenthal was the town’s first banker, and Nachum Oppenhaimer founded a prominent charity. All Jewish properties were attacked on Pogrom Night (Nov. 9, 1938), but the main targets were the synagogue and Jewish-owned businesses. The ruins of the synagogue and community center were destroyed by bombs during the war, and government buildings were later built on the site. Sachsenhausen, the second largest Nazi concentration camp in Germany, was located in the Oranienburg district. Werner Michael Blumenthal, a Jewish Oranienburg native, served as Jimmy Carter’s treasury secretary in the late 1970s, after which he was appointed director of the Jewish museum in Berlin. Oranienburg’s new Jewish congregation was founded in 2000. A memorial plaque has been unveiled at the former synagogue site.

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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.

Luckenwalde

A town and the capital of the Teltow-Fläming district in Brandenburg' Germany.

First Jewish presence: 13th century; peak Jewish population: 128 in 1895; Jewish population in 1933: 113

Jews probably lived in the area around Luckenwalde in 1243, as records from that year mention a case of alleged Host desecration. After an absence, Jews returned to the town in 1735 (under the protection of King Frederick William I), but were expelled in 1754. In 1870, the Luckenwalde Jewish community established a statute. Local Jews conducted services in private residences until 1897, when they inaugurated a synagogue on Carlstrasse (present-day 36 Puschkinstrasse). The Jewish cemetery on Gruener Weg was established in 1814, the mortuary in 1914. Many members of this Liberal community were merchants, factory owners, physicians and lawyers. In Luckenwalde, a teacher instructed Jewish children in religion. In October 1938, the town’s Polish Jews were deported. One month later, on Pogrom Night (Nov. 9, 1938), the synagogue was demolished; Jewish shops were vandalized, and Jewish men were sent to Sachsenhausen Nazi concentration camp. The cemetery was destroyed in 1943. At least 28 Luckenwalde Jews perished in the Shoah. A commemorative plaque was later unveiled at the former synagogue site. The Luckenwalde municipality renovated the cemetery, now a memorial garden, in 2006.

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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.

Nauen

A town in the Havelland district in Brandenburg, Germany.

First Jewish presence: 14th century; peak Jewish population: 84 in 1892; Jewish population in 1933: 45

Very little is known about Nauen during the Middle Ages. A Jewish cemetery, named "Juedenkirchhof" (Jewish Churchyard), existed in Brandenburg Nauen. However, it is not clear in which year or century it had been established. In 1315, Margrave Waldemar presented two Jews as a "gift" to the municipality; the two protected Jews had to pay taxes (protection money). Further evidence of a Jew living in Nauen, Mr. Mendele, dates from 1509. After a show trial for an alleged desecration, he was burnt at the stake at the Berlin court together with 37 other Jews. It was not until around 1700 that several Jewish families were allowed to settle in the town.

Later, in modern times, Nauen Jews used to hold their prayer services in a small prayer room. In 1800 the community established a synagogue at 11 Potsdamerstrasse (today Goethestrasse). A chazzan (cantor), shochet (kosher butcher) and teacher were employed to serve the community. In 1819, a cemetery was opened on Am Weinberg. A mortuary was established there as well. Prior to that, Nauen Jews had buried their dead in Berlin. The town’s connection to the railroad network had attracted many Jewish merchants, cattle dealers and doctors to settle permanently in Nauen in the middle of the 19th century. While the Jewish community consisted of 53 members in 1813, its number increased to a peak of 84 Jews in 1892. From the spring of 1855 until 1894, a regional synagogue community was formed consisting of the three small congregations Nauen, Kremmen and Spandau. Nauen and Spandau had each a teacher and a chazzan who also served as shochet. Kremmen’s Jewish congregation operated a cemetery, which was located next to the Christian churchyard, separated by a wall.

In 1933 between 34 and 45 Jews lived in Nauen. Rafael Hirsch was the community's chazzan at that time. Two Jewish children received religious instruction. On the evening of March 31, 1933, one day before the official nationwide anti-Jewish boycott, SA men, members of the NS Motor Corps and the NSBO (NS Factory Cell Organization) marched through Nauen's streets to the music of the SS and SA-band. They carried banners calling for a boycott of Jewish shops.

During Pogrom Night on November 9/10, 1938, the synagogue was destroyed. Its interior was damaged and ritual objects desecrated. Nazis also destroyed the Jewish cemetery that night. The following day at noon, the two remaining shops still owned by Jews were vandalized and their windows smashed. Ten Jewish men were temporarily arrested. In 1939 and 1941, the municipality appropriated the synagogue building and the cemetery. Several Jews managed to emigrate. At least five local Jewish families perished in the Shoah.

A memorial plaque commemorating the destroyed Jewish community has been affixed to at the former synagogue in 1988 and a sculpture was erected in the Jewish cemetery. In November 2000, the memorial was vandalized. Today the former synagogue building serves as a workshop.

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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.

Genthin

A town in Jerichower Land district, in Saxony-Anhalt, Germany.

At the time of the rampant plague wave around 1349, Jews were also persecuted and expelled in Genthin. At the end of the century Jews settled again, but then their traces are lost until 1697. In this year they settled again and bought the city's protection rights. Jews have only been permanently residing in the city since the beginning of the 19th century. In 1843 nine Jews lived in Genthin, 28 in 1856 and 51 in 1881. They were mostly shopkeepers and merchants. In 1860 the community owned its first synagogue on Brandenburger Strasse on the property of the community chairman Simon Birnbaum. As the lease expired the community had a second prayer house built on Schenkestrasse (today Dattelner Strasse) in 1928. This second synagogue, a red brick building with a dome, was only used for a few years. In 1937 it was converted into a residential building.

The community's first cemetery was outside the city east of Karower Strasse and was called "Judenkirchhof". In 1829 the second cemetery (apparently in the same place) was laid. The last funeral was held in 1933. The cemetery was destroyed and leveled during the Nazi era. In 1949 it was converted into a memorial with a memorial stone and became a protected monument. In 1930, 29 Jews lived in the village, in 1939 - after the Night Pogrom of November 9, 1938 - only three were left.

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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. 

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The Jewish Community of Potsdam

Potsdam

A city on the border of Berlin in Brandenburg, Germany.

First Jewish presence: 1630; peak Jewish population: 600 in 1929; Jewish population in 1933: 565

In 1671, the Great Elector of Brandenburg allowed 50 persecuted Jewish families from Vienna, Austria, to settle in the city, after which Potsdam’s Jewish community developed quickly. In 1731, David Hirsch won a monopoly on the kingdom’s velvet trade, an accomplishment that prompted other Jewish entrepreneurs to enter the silk industry. The Jews of Potsdam acquired a cemetery in 1743 and employed their first rabbi, Jehiel Michel of Poland, in 1760. The construction of Potsdam’s first synagogue, inaugurated in 1767 in the presence of the Prince and Princess of Prussia, was made possible by a loan from Frederick the Great. The ground on which the synagogue was built, however, proved too marshy to support the large structure; accordingly, a new synagogue was built on Wilhelmstrasse in 1802. Until 1776, the Jewish community was forced to pay exorbitant taxes and was required by law to purchase—this applied to each new Jewish household—costly china from royal factories. After these crippling taxes were lifted, the community showed its gratitude by donating the synagogue’s silver ornaments to the Napoleonic war fund and, much later, by sending volunteers to the Franco-Prussian War. In 1903, a new house of worship in the Reform style was built on the site of the original synagogue (by then the marsh had been properly drained). By this time, prominent Potsdam Jews included industrialists, professionals and councilmen. A home for Jewish girls was opened in 1929 and, in 1932, a boarding school for Jewish children from families in distress was established in nearby Caputh.

The Nazis’ victory in the 1933 elections and the subsequent economic boycott of Jews triggered a Jewish exodus from the city. On Pogrom Night (Nov. 9, 1938), the interior of the main synagogue was plundered; the building was not set on fire because it was adjacent to the city’s post office. The cemetery and chapel were vandalized, as was the Caputh School. Jewish men were arrested and sent to Sachsenhausen Nazi concentration camp. After the pogrom, the post office appropriated the gutted synagogue building, which was eventually destroyed in a bombing raid during the war. Potsdam’s last 40 Jews were deported in 1942, leaving a few survivors in the community’s Jewish retirement home who were, presumably, deported to Theresienstadt Nazi concentration camp. The cemetery and its adjacent chapel were restored 30 years after Pogrom Night, and memorial plaques have been affixed to former Jewish communal buildings.

In the 1990s, Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe founded a new congregation in Potsdam; by 2006, the city was home to 1,400 Jews. A new synagogue complex is being built on the grounds of the old house of worship; it will contain a community center, a retirement home and the Abraham Geiger rabbinic seminary, the last of which is associated with Potsdam University.

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Written by researchers of ANU Museum of the Jewish People

Genthin
Nauen
Luckenwalde
Oranienburg
Rathenow
Magdeburg
Brandenburg an der Havel
Berlin

Genthin

A town in Jerichower Land district, in Saxony-Anhalt, Germany.

At the time of the rampant plague wave around 1349, Jews were also persecuted and expelled in Genthin. At the end of the century Jews settled again, but then their traces are lost until 1697. In this year they settled again and bought the city's protection rights. Jews have only been permanently residing in the city since the beginning of the 19th century. In 1843 nine Jews lived in Genthin, 28 in 1856 and 51 in 1881. They were mostly shopkeepers and merchants. In 1860 the community owned its first synagogue on Brandenburger Strasse on the property of the community chairman Simon Birnbaum. As the lease expired the community had a second prayer house built on Schenkestrasse (today Dattelner Strasse) in 1928. This second synagogue, a red brick building with a dome, was only used for a few years. In 1937 it was converted into a residential building.

The community's first cemetery was outside the city east of Karower Strasse and was called "Judenkirchhof". In 1829 the second cemetery (apparently in the same place) was laid. The last funeral was held in 1933. The cemetery was destroyed and leveled during the Nazi era. In 1949 it was converted into a memorial with a memorial stone and became a protected monument. In 1930, 29 Jews lived in the village, in 1939 - after the Night Pogrom of November 9, 1938 - only three were left.

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Nauen

A town in the Havelland district in Brandenburg, Germany.

First Jewish presence: 14th century; peak Jewish population: 84 in 1892; Jewish population in 1933: 45

Very little is known about Nauen during the Middle Ages. A Jewish cemetery, named "Juedenkirchhof" (Jewish Churchyard), existed in Brandenburg Nauen. However, it is not clear in which year or century it had been established. In 1315, Margrave Waldemar presented two Jews as a "gift" to the municipality; the two protected Jews had to pay taxes (protection money). Further evidence of a Jew living in Nauen, Mr. Mendele, dates from 1509. After a show trial for an alleged desecration, he was burnt at the stake at the Berlin court together with 37 other Jews. It was not until around 1700 that several Jewish families were allowed to settle in the town.

Later, in modern times, Nauen Jews used to hold their prayer services in a small prayer room. In 1800 the community established a synagogue at 11 Potsdamerstrasse (today Goethestrasse). A chazzan (cantor), shochet (kosher butcher) and teacher were employed to serve the community. In 1819, a cemetery was opened on Am Weinberg. A mortuary was established there as well. Prior to that, Nauen Jews had buried their dead in Berlin. The town’s connection to the railroad network had attracted many Jewish merchants, cattle dealers and doctors to settle permanently in Nauen in the middle of the 19th century. While the Jewish community consisted of 53 members in 1813, its number increased to a peak of 84 Jews in 1892. From the spring of 1855 until 1894, a regional synagogue community was formed consisting of the three small congregations Nauen, Kremmen and Spandau. Nauen and Spandau had each a teacher and a chazzan who also served as shochet. Kremmen’s Jewish congregation operated a cemetery, which was located next to the Christian churchyard, separated by a wall.

In 1933 between 34 and 45 Jews lived in Nauen. Rafael Hirsch was the community's chazzan at that time. Two Jewish children received religious instruction. On the evening of March 31, 1933, one day before the official nationwide anti-Jewish boycott, SA men, members of the NS Motor Corps and the NSBO (NS Factory Cell Organization) marched through Nauen's streets to the music of the SS and SA-band. They carried banners calling for a boycott of Jewish shops.

During Pogrom Night on November 9/10, 1938, the synagogue was destroyed. Its interior was damaged and ritual objects desecrated. Nazis also destroyed the Jewish cemetery that night. The following day at noon, the two remaining shops still owned by Jews were vandalized and their windows smashed. Ten Jewish men were temporarily arrested. In 1939 and 1941, the municipality appropriated the synagogue building and the cemetery. Several Jews managed to emigrate. At least five local Jewish families perished in the Shoah.

A memorial plaque commemorating the destroyed Jewish community has been affixed to at the former synagogue in 1988 and a sculpture was erected in the Jewish cemetery. In November 2000, the memorial was vandalized. Today the former synagogue building serves as a workshop.

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Luckenwalde

A town and the capital of the Teltow-Fläming district in Brandenburg' Germany.

First Jewish presence: 13th century; peak Jewish population: 128 in 1895; Jewish population in 1933: 113

Jews probably lived in the area around Luckenwalde in 1243, as records from that year mention a case of alleged Host desecration. After an absence, Jews returned to the town in 1735 (under the protection of King Frederick William I), but were expelled in 1754. In 1870, the Luckenwalde Jewish community established a statute. Local Jews conducted services in private residences until 1897, when they inaugurated a synagogue on Carlstrasse (present-day 36 Puschkinstrasse). The Jewish cemetery on Gruener Weg was established in 1814, the mortuary in 1914. Many members of this Liberal community were merchants, factory owners, physicians and lawyers. In Luckenwalde, a teacher instructed Jewish children in religion. In October 1938, the town’s Polish Jews were deported. One month later, on Pogrom Night (Nov. 9, 1938), the synagogue was demolished; Jewish shops were vandalized, and Jewish men were sent to Sachsenhausen Nazi concentration camp. The cemetery was destroyed in 1943. At least 28 Luckenwalde Jews perished in the Shoah. A commemorative plaque was later unveiled at the former synagogue site. The Luckenwalde municipality renovated the cemetery, now a memorial garden, in 2006.

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Oranienburg

A town and the capital of the district of Oberhavel in Brandenburg, Germany. 

First Jewish presence: 1680; peak Jewish population: 131 in 1925; Jewish population in 1933: 105

The Jewish community of Oranienburg established several institutions during the 19th century: a modest synagogue on Havelstrasse (either at no. 6 or 58) was in use by 1838, and a cemetery was consecrated on Kremmenerstrasse in 1815. The congregation chose to retain its own synagogue after the community was incorporated, in 1920, into Berlin’s official Jewish community. Although the Oranienburg Jews were mostly merchants, others gained recognition in other professions. Louis Blumenthal was the town’s first banker, and Nachum Oppenhaimer founded a prominent charity. All Jewish properties were attacked on Pogrom Night (Nov. 9, 1938), but the main targets were the synagogue and Jewish-owned businesses. The ruins of the synagogue and community center were destroyed by bombs during the war, and government buildings were later built on the site. Sachsenhausen, the second largest Nazi concentration camp in Germany, was located in the Oranienburg district. Werner Michael Blumenthal, a Jewish Oranienburg native, served as Jimmy Carter’s treasury secretary in the late 1970s, after which he was appointed director of the Jewish museum in Berlin. Oranienburg’s new Jewish congregation was founded in 2000. A memorial plaque has been unveiled at the former synagogue site.

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Rathenow

A town in the district of Havelland in Brandenburg, Germany.

First Jewish presence: 14th century; peak Jewish population: 112 in 1925; Jewish population in 1933: 110

The town’s first Jewish residents were expelled in 1571. The nucleus of the modern community arrived in Rathenow in or around the year 1700, mostly from Vienna. Although most Jews were small-time merchants, one prominent businessman, Levin Pintus, was a textile contractor for the army. The community attained official status in the mid-18th century, but it was not until 1926, prior to which services were conducted in a private residence, that the community built a synagogue. The cemetery, whose oldest tombstone is dated 1692, was replaced by a new burial ground in 1905. Rathenow’s rabbi and several local Jews were arrested in 1933. As a result of its proximity to other buildings, the synagogue was not burned down on Pogrom Night (Nov. 9, 19238); instead, the thugs contented themselves with wrecking its interior and burning the Torah scrolls. Homes were wrecked, and Jewish men were taken to Sachsenhausen Nazi concentration camp. In 1941, 29 Jews, crammed into so-called “Jews’ houses” from which they would later be deported, lived in Rathenow. Plaques were later unveiled at the cemetery and at the former synagogue, the latter of which is now a children’s home.

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The capital of the state of Saxony-Anhalt, Germany.

 

21st CENTURY

The area around the memorial has been renamed An der Alten Synagoge (“At the Old Synagogue”). Additionally, two memorial stones have been unveiled at the Jewish cemetery.

In 2005, there were 635 members of the Jewish community in Magdeburg, due to the immigration of Jews from the former Soviet Union.

 

HISTORY

The Jewish community of Magdeburg is one of the oldest in Germany, with the earliest record of Jewish life dating to 965 CE. The early Jewish community maintained a synagogue and a yeshiva; a cemetery was consecrated during the 13th century. Local Jews lived in the Judendorf (“Jews’ village”) Quarter in the southern part of the town, and traded in the "clothing-court" (kleiderhof) in the Merchants' Quarter and beyond the Oder river. The Judendorf was destroyed in 1213 by Otto IV’s soldiers.

The Jews of Magdeburg suffered several persecutions during the 14th century, most of which took place after the Black Death epidemic (1348-1349). Eventually, in 1493 they were expelled. The synagogue was converted into a chapel, and the cemetery was destroyed.

Jews were readmitted to Magdeburg in 1671, but a new community was only established in the early 19th century, a result of the hostility Jews faced from the city council. The new community founded a religious school in 1834, a chevra kaddisha in 1839, and a synagogue with an organ and choir in 1851.

The community grew steadily, from 255 in 1811, to 330 in 1817. In 1840 Magdeburg’s Jewish population was 559 in 1840. Nearly 20 years later, in 1859, there were 1,000 Jews living in Magdeburg. In 1885 the Jewish population was 1,815.

Prominent Jewish figures from Magdeburg included Rabbi Ludwig Philippson, a leader of Liberal Judaism in Germany and an editor of the newspaper of Liberal German Judaism, Allgemeine Zeitung des Judentums; Rabbi Moritz Guedemann and Rabbi Moritz Spanier, both of whom wrote a history of the community; and Eduard Lasker and Otto Landsberg, both of whom were repeatedly elected to Parliament.

The community became prosperous, and included 45 doctors (who founded their own club in 1903). By 1933 there were also about 20 active social, cultural, and charitable organizations.

In 1910 the Jewish population of Magdeburg was 1,843. In 1928 the Jewish population was approximately 3,200.

 

THE HOLOCAUST

After the Nazis came to power in 1933, anti-Jewish violence and legislation increased in Magdeburg and throughout Germany as a whole. The Jewish population in Magdeburg dropped to 1,973 people as Jews began to immigrate.

The synagogue was burned down during the Kristallnacht pogrom (November 9-10, 1938). That night, 375 men were arrested and interned in Buchenwald.

By 17 May 1939, only 679 Jews remained in Magdeburg. Most were eventually deported to concentration camps.  Ownership of the synagogue building was transferred to the municipality, which ordered that the building be blown up.  

On July 1, 1944, there were still 185 Jews living in Magdeburg, mainly partners of mixed marriages, who managed to survive the war.

 

POSTWAR

A new community was founded in Magdeburg in 1947. In 1965, there were approximately 100 Jews living in the city.

In November 1988, a memorial was erected near the former synagogue.

 

Brandenburg an der Havel

Brandenburg/Havel

A town west of Berlin in Brandenburg, Germany.

First Jewish presence: 14th century; peak Jewish population: 483 in 1925; Jewish population in 1933: 200

The earliest available reference to a Brandenburg Jew is dated 1313. The town was home to a synagogue as early as 1322, but its location is not known. Although Jews were expelled from Brandenburg/Havel after the Black Death persecutions of 1348, they established a new presence there in 1372. By 1490, the town was home to a Judengasse (probably presentday Lindenstrasse); records from the late 15th century also mention a Jewish cemetery. Jews were expelled from the town yet again in 1573, and it was not until 1671 that the forefathers of the modern community moved to Brandenburg. In order to accommodate the growing population, the community built two synagogues—one in 1781, the other in 1883; the latter, located on 15 Grosse Muenzenstrasse, was renovated in 1903. Although the community had maintained a Jewish cemetery before 1720, a second one was consecrated in 1747. A rabbi and chazzan were hired in 1859, and we also know that local Jews were served by a shochet, a teacher of religion and a servant, the last of which, together with his wife, cared for the sick and dying. Brandenburg was also home to a mikveh. By the end of the 19th century, Brandenburg Jews were involved in a wide array of professions; many were merchants, but others worked as dentists, lawyers and chemists. On Pogrom Night (Nov. 9, 1938), SA men burned down the synagogue. The cemetery was desecrated, and the mortuary (built in 1770) torn down. Jewish-owned stores were damaged and looted, and Jews were assaulted, one of whom, a woman, committed suicide. Ninety Jews were deported to the Nazi concentration camps in Eastern Europe in the early 1940s; twenty-eight were sent to the Warsaw Ghetto in April 1942. Ten Jews, presumably protected by marriages to Gentiles, survived the war in Brandenburg. A memorial plaque was later affixed to the wall of the destroyed synagogue on Grosse Muenzenstrasse.

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Berlin

The largest city in Germany. The capital of Germany until 1945. After the Second World War and until 1990 the city was divided into West Berlin and East Berlin.

Jews are first mentioned in a letter from the Berlin local council of October 28, 1295, forbidding wool merchants to supply Jews with wool yarn. Jews lived primarily in a Jewish quarter, but a number of wealthier Jews lived outside this area. The Berlin Jews engaged mainly in commerce, handicrafts, money-changing, and money-lending. They paid taxes for the right to slaughter animals ritually, to sell meat, to marry, to circumcise their sons, to buy wine, to receive additional Jews as residents of their community, and to bury their dead. During the Black Death (1349-1350), the houses of the Jews were burned down and the Jewish inhabitants were killed or expelled from the town.

From 1354, Jews settled again in Berlin. In 1446 they were arrested with the rest of the Jews in Brandenburg, and their property was confiscated. A year later Jews again began to return there, and a few wealthy Jews were admitted into Brandenburg in 1509. In 1510 the Jews were accused of desecrating the host and stealing sacred vessels from a church in a village near Berlin. 111 Jews were arrested and subjected to examination, and 51 were sentenced to death; of these 38 were burned at the stake in the new market square together with the real culprit, a Christian, on July 10, 1510. All the accused were proved completely innocent at the diet of Frankfort in 1539 through the efforts of Joseph (Joselmann) b. Gershom of Rosheim and Philipp Melanchthon. In 1571, when the Jews were again expelled from Brandenburg, the Jews of Berlin were expelled "forever". For the next 100 years, a few individual Jews appeared there at widely scattered intervals. About 1663, the court Jew Israel Aaron, who was supplier to the army and the electoral court, was permitted to settle in Berlin. After the expulsion of the Jews from Vienna in 1670, the elector issued an edict on May 21, 1671, admitting 50 wealthy Jewish families from Austria into Brandenburg for 20 years. Frederick William I (1713-1740) limited (in a charter granted to the Jews on May 20, 1714) the number of tolerated Jews to 120 householders, but permitted in certain cases the extension of letters of protection to include the second and third child. The Jews of Berlin were permitted to engage in commerce almost without restriction, but were forbidden to trade in drugs and spices, in raw skins, and in imported woolen and fiber goods, and were forbidden to operate breweries or distilleries. Land ownership by Jews had been prohibited in 1697 and required a special license which could be obtained only with great difficulty.

The Jews in Berlin in the 18th century were primarily engaged as commercial bankers and traders in precious metals and stones. Some served as court Jews. Members of the Gomperz family were among the wealthiest in Berlin.

During the reign of Frederick the Great (1740-1786), the economic, cultural, and social position of the Jews in Berlin improved. During the seven years' war, many Jews became wealthy as purveyors to the army and the mint and the rights enjoyed by the Christian bankers were granted to a number of Jews. The number of Jewish manufacturers, bankers, and brokers increased. In 1791, the entire Itzig family received full civil rights, becoming the first German Jews to whom they were granted.

As a concomitant of economic prosperity, there appeared the first signs of cultural adaptation. Under the influence of Moses Mendelssohn, several reforms were introduced in the Berlin community, especially in the sphere of education. In 1778 a school, Juedische Freischule (Chinnukh Ne'arim), was founded, which was conducted along modern comprehensive principles and methods. Mendelssohn and David Friedlander composed the first German reader for children. The dissemination of general (non-Jewish) knowledge was also one of the aims of the Chevrat Doreshei Leshon Avar (association of friends of the Hebrew language), founded in 1783, whose organ Ha-me'assef began to appear in Berlin in 1788. The edict of 1812 finally bestowed Prussian citizenship upon the Jews; all restrictions on their residence rights in the state, as well as the special taxes they had to pay, were now abolished.

In the 1848 revolution the Jews played an active role as fighters on the barricades and members of the civic guard, as orators and journalists, and the like. About one-fifth of Berlin's newspapers were owned by Jews. Berlin Jews played an important role in literature, the theater, music, and art. Their successes aroused fierce reaction among the more conservative elements and Berlin became a center of anti-Semitism. The "Berlin movement" founded by Adolf Stoecker incited the masses against the Jews by alleging that they were the standrad-bearers of capitalism and controlled the press.

From 1840 to 1850 a teachers' seminary functioned under the direction of Leopold Zunz. A teachers' training institute was established in 1859 under the rectorship of Aaron Horowitz. Aaron Bernstein founded the reform society in 1845, and later the reform congregation, which introduced far-flung liturgical reforms, especially during the rabbinate of Samuel Holdheim (1847-1860). At first, divine worship was held both on Saturdays and Sundays and later only on Sundays. The reform congregation was unsuccessful in its attempt to secede from the official community. The Berlin community was again violently shaken when many of its members pressed for the introduction of an organ and modification of the liturgy in the new synagogue. The appointment of Abraham Geiger as rabbi of the Berlin community met with strong opposition from orthodox circles, and in 1869 Azriel (Israel) Hildesheimer and his adherents left the main community and established the Adass Yisroel congregation, which received official recognition in 1885. Geiger founded an institute for Jewish research while Hildesheimer opened a rabbinical seminary. For about 80 years the liberals were predominant in the Berlin community. But liberals and orthodox worked together in full harmony in the central organizations in which, at least for a period, the Zionists also participated. The Berlin rabbi S. Maybaum was among the leaders of the "protest rabbis" who opposed political Zionism.

After the murder of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg in January 1919, anti-Semitic propaganda in Berlin increased. The Kapp putsch (March 1920) had blatant anti-Jewish undertones. Walter Rathenau, the German foreign minister, was assassinated by anti-Semitic nationalists on June 24, 1922. In 1926, after the appointment of joseph Goebbels as Gauleiter in Berlin, anti-Jewish rabble-rousing increased. At the time the Nazis seized power, Berlin's organized Jewish community numbered 172,000 persons. In 1933 the Nazi boycott (April 1) affected Jewish shop owners; legislation against non-Aryans led to dismissal of Jewish professionals, while "Aryanization" of Jewish firms and the dismissal of their Jewish employees was carried out by the exertion of steady economic pressure. The Jewish officials not affected by these measures were eventually ousted under the provisions of the Nuremberg Laws (1935). In these initial years, when the members of the Jewish community were being methodically deprived of their economic standing and civil rights, Jewish religious and cultural life in Berlin underwent a tremendous upsurge. Until November 1938 Jewish newspapers and books were published on an unprecedented scale. Notable among the newspapers was the Berliner Juedisches Gemeindeblatt, a voluminous weekly published by the community. Zionist work was in full swing, especially that of He-chalutz, and in February 1936, a German Zionist convention was held in Berlin (the last to meet there), still reflecting in its composition the vigorous party life of German Zionists.

In June 1938, mass arrests of Jews took place on the charge that they were "asocial", e.g. had a criminal record, including traffic violations, and they were imprisoned in Sachsenhausen concentration camp. On November 9-10, Kristallnacht marked a turning point in the affairs of Berlin Jewry: synagogues were burned down, Jewish shops destroyed, and 10,000 Jews from Berlin and other places were arrested and imprisoned in Sachsenhausen. The "Bannmeile" was decreed, which restricted Jews to an area within a certain radius from their place of residence.

Jewish newspapers had to cease publication. The only paper was the new Das Medische Narchrichtenblatt which was required to publish Gestapo directives to the Jews.

After the outbreak of war, the living conditions and situation of the Jews worsened. Emigration was still permitted and even encouraged, and existing organizations and institutions (Kulturbund, Jewish schools) were able to continue functioning. However, Jews were drafted for forced labor at wages far below the prevailing rate and with no social benefits, but this at least provided them with a minimum income and delayed their deportation. In the spring of 1940 Heinrich Stahl was removed from his post in the Reichsvereinigung by the Nazi authorities and replaced by Moritz Henschel, a former attorney. In september 1941, a drastic turn for the worse came about. First the Judenstern ("Jewish star", i.e. yellow badge) was introduced. Two weeks later, on the day of atonement, in the middle of a sermon by Rabbi Leo Baeck, the president of the community was summoned to the Gestapo and told that the community would have to prepare for a partial evacuation from the city.

Between October 23 and the end of the year only 62 persons managed to leave, and in 1942 only nine Jews were permitted to go abroad. Then began five major phases in the process of deportation. Eventually, the deportations came to include groups of community employees, and from the fall of 1942, only those Jewish laborers who were employed in vital war production were still safe from deportation.

Those Jews who had gentile wives were taken to a special camp for onward deportation, but when their wives carried out violent street demonstrations, the Gestapo yielded and set their husbands free. On May 13, 1942, an anti-Jewish exhibition, "Soviet Paradise", was opened in Berlin, and was attacked by a group of Jewish communists, led by Herbert Baum. The group was caught and hardly any of them survived. Two hundred and fifty Jews – 50 for each German who had been killed in the attack – were shot, and another 250 were sent to Sachsenhausen and perished there. The community offices were closed down on June 10, 1943, and six days later the "full" Jews among the members of its executive council were deported to Theresienstadt.

At the beginning of 1946, the community had a registered membership of 7,070 people, of whom 4,121 (over 90% of all married members) had non-Jewish spouses, 1,321 had survived the war by hiding, and 1,628 had returned from concentration camps. The Jews were dispersed throughout Berlin, a third of them living in the Soviet sector. Several synagogues were opened, the Jewish hospital resumed its work (although most of its patients and staff were not Jews), and three homes for the aged and a children's home were established. There was no local rabbi or religious teachers, but American Jewish army chaplains volunteered their services.

There are four synagogues in Berlin. In 1959, the city of Berlin erected a large Jewish community center on Fasanenstrasse at the site of which one of Berlin's most magnificent synagogues had stood until 1938. In 1954 the Zionist organization and the Israel appeal renewed their activities in Berlin. There exists an active Jewish women's organization, a B'nai B'rith lodge, a Jewish students' organization, and a youth organization. In 1954 the community had a membership of about 5,000 and by January 1970 this figure had risen to 5,577. The demographic composition of the community is marked by relatively high average age (4,080 are above the age of 41), a low birthrate, and a great number of mixed marriages.

In 1997 there were 10,000 Jews living in Berlin, and it was the largest Jewish community in Germany.
Israil Bercovici
Herzfeld, Gustav
Lemm, Manfred

Israil (Israel) Bercovici (1921-1988), playwright, director, biographer and Yiddish poet, born in Botosani, Romania. He received traditional Jewish education in Botosani. During the Holocaust he was recruited to forced labor until 1944. He started his career as a journalist at various Yiddish languages publications, particularly at Revista Cultului Mozaic din R.P.R (“Journal of the Jewish Religion in the People's Republic of Romania”). He started working for the Jewish State Theater (TES) in Bucharest as a literary secretary in 1955. He turned the theater into a contemporary theater and not one dedicated to performing only old heritage repertoire. Bercovici translated into Yiddish plays from the world literature.

He also wrote original plays in Yiddish, among them Un cîntec şi o glumă / A lid mit a vitz ("A Song and a Joke", 1958), O seară de folclor evreiesc / An ovnt fun idishen folklor ("An Evening of Yiddish Folklore", 1962), Purim-shpil ("Purim play",1963), Der goldener fodem ("The Golden Thread", 1963), a play about Abraham Goldfaden, the founder of Yiddish theater, A shnirl perl ("A String of Pearls", 1967), Barasheum '72 (1972). He published three books of Yiddish poetry: In di oygn fun a shvartser kave ("In the Eyes of a Black Coffee", 1974), Funken iber doyres ("Sparks Over Generations", 1984), Fliendike oysies ("Flying Letters", 1984). Bercovici’s literary production also includes books about Yiddish theater history and the translation into Romanian (along with Nina Cassian) of Izik Manger’s work. His library of 3,000 books in Yiddish is kept at the University Library in Potsdam, Germany.

Israil Bercovici was married to Miriam Bercovici, a physician and author.

Herzfeld, Gustav (1861-1942), lawyer, born in New York, USA, but brought up and educated in Germany. In 1908 he converted to Protestantism. He opened a legal office in Potsdam, Germany, in 1909. Herzfeld’s son Joachim, born in Boston, MA., USA, was an officer in the German army in World War I and was killed in action.

During the hard economic times of the 1920s, Herzfeld was known as a socially conscious lawyer who often gave his services for poor people without charge. When the Nazis came to power he was considered to be a Jew despite his conversion, but since he had started to practice law before 1914 he was permitted to continue to work until 1938.

Deprived of an income he was forced to sell his house, but was allowed to live in a small attic room. In 1941 he was obliged to move to a Jewish old age home in the Bergstrasse in Babelsberg neighbourhood of Berlin, where he tried to commit suicide. He deported to Theresienstadt in October 1942 where he died after 2 weeks.
David POTSDAM
Charles Potsdam
Herman POTSDAM
POTSDAMER

POTSDAMER

POTSDAM, POTSDAMER, POTSDAMMER

Surnames derive from one of many different origins. Sometimes there may be more than one explanation for the same name. This family name is a toponymic (derived from a geographic name of a town, city, region or country). Surnames that are based on place names do not always testify to direct origin from that place, but may indicate an indirect relation between the name-bearer or his ancestors and the place, such as birthplace, temporary residence, trade, or family-relatives.

This name is derived from Potsdam, a city on the outskirts of Berlin, Germany. First Jewish presence in Potsdam is documented in 1630. Places, regions and countries of origin or residence are some of the sources of Jewish family names. But, unless the family has reliable records, names based on toponymics cannot prove the exact origin of the family.

Potsdammer is documented as a Jewish family name with Helena Potsdammer, born in Hoogeveen, The Netherlands, in 1925, who perished in the Holocaust.

Lemm, Manfred