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Germany during the Holocaust - Berlin


The City and the Holocaust



Kaiser Wilhelm I in Berlin circa 1871

Berlin was the capital of Prussia and then from 1871 to 1945 and again today, the capital of Germany. On the eve of the Second World War Berlin had a population of 4.34 million, and it was the second largest city in Europe.


Jews had been living in Berlin since the end of the thirteenth century; in 1573 they were expelled, and a hundred years later, in 1671, Jews again came to settle in the city.


In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the Jewish population kept growing – despite efforts by the kings of Prussia to limit their number – and by the middle of the nineteenth century it had risen to two thousand.


Berlin was the first centre of Haskalah, the Jewish cultural enlightenment movement, its most renowned exponent Moses Mendlessohn, lived there. It was in Berlin, in 1778, that the Judische Freischule was established, the first Jewish institution of learning in which the German language was taught and general subjects were included in the curriculum.


In the nineteenth century and early years of the twentieth century the Jewish population of Berlin increased greatly- from 3,300 in 1812 to 142,000 in 1910. The rapid rise was the result of a mass influx of Jews from the provincial towns; from the eastern provinces of Imperial Germany, especially from Posen (today Poznan, Poland) and from Eastern Europe.


A high percentage of the Berlin Jewish population was therefore made up of Ostjuden – Jews from the East – a situation that had considerable impact on both the Jewish and the non-Jewish population of Berlin.


Jews in Berlin were prominent in various aspects of the city’s economic, intellectual and cultural life. The city was also the seat of the head offices of most of the national Jewish organisations – such as the Central –Verein Deutscher Staatsburger Judischen Glaubens (Central Union of German Citizens of Jewish Faith), the Ezra Society, the Zentralwohlfahrtstelle der Deutschen Juden (Central Welfare Organisation of German Jews), and the Central Lodge of B’NAI B’RITH in Germany – and of most of the Jewish periodicals published in Germany.


Up to the end of the First World War, control of the Jewish community was in the hands of wealthy liberals; after the war the Judische Volkspartei, or Jewish People’s Party – an alignment of the Zionists, including Mizrahi and the Union of Eastern European Jewish Organisations – gained in strength in the Jewish community organisations and in 1928 a representative of that party, Georg Kareski, was elected president of the community.


Jewish owned shop in Berlin circa 1930

In 1930 the liberals were returned to power and Wilhelm Kleeman became president. The spokesman for the positions taken by liberal Jews was Leo Baeck, Berlin’s leading liberal rabbi.


In 1923 the Berlin community took the initiative for the formation of a Preussischer Landesverband Judischer Gemeinden (Union of Jewish Communities in Prussia), in order to strengthen its own status among the other communities and to facilitate contacts with the government authorities.


In the early 1930’s Berlin is estimated to have had 115 Jewish houses of prayer, the community itself maintained seventeen synagogues with a seating capacity of 25,000; on the high holidays extra halls were rented that doubled the available seating capacity, the services being either liberal or traditional.


The community also supported dozens of religious congregations, including Orthodox prayer houses and a Sephardic synagogue. In the 1930’s the community school system consisted of fifteen kindergartens, several elementary schools, two junior high schools and one secondary school.


Adas Israel, the separatist Orthodox community maintained its own elementary and secondary school and a girls’ school. By the late 1920’s one-seventh of all the Jewish children were attending Jewish schools.


There were differences of opinion among the Jews concerning the educational role of the community – whether it should maintain a separate Jewish school system, based on Jewish values or whether it should prefer a national German framework, with a minimum emphasis on Jewish elements.


For the Jewish students attending the public schools, the community provided forty-eight Religionsschulen (Hebrew Schools).


Bernard Grunberg, who came to England on a kindertransport recalled his time in a Berlin technical re-training school:


“As life was becoming worse for the Jews year by year, my father decided it was a waste of time for me to continue at school. After spending one year at home, I went in April 1938 to a technical re-training school in Berlin with a view later to emigrating to Israel.


After giving me some training in joinery and metalwork, the Instructor decided I was best suited to general woodwork. But in July 1938 a group of Nazi SS entered the grounds of the school and held everyone at the entrance while they set fire to the joinery workshop. Everything – including the valuable woodworking machinery – was destroyed. I remember helping to clear up the workshop, which could never be used again.”   


Jewish youth movements were active in Berlin, supported by the various Jewish politically oriented organisations. The community maintained youth centres, provided summer vacations in the country for thousands of children , arranged foster homes and made vocational training facilities available.


Read more here: www.holocaustresearchproject.org/nazioccupation/berlin.html


The Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team



Copyright Carmelo Lisciotto H.E.A.R.T 2010

Copyright Carmelo Lisciotto H.E.A.R.T 2010

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