A History of the Jewish Community in Germany
The German Jewish community is the third largest in Europe, coming after that of France and the United Kingdom. The community today numbers approximately 100,000 Jews, with an additional 50-80,000 unaffiliated who are from mixed marriages. The Jews consititute a very small minority of the total German population, which numbers 87 million. In many of the local German Jewish communities, over 70% of the Jews are native Russian speakers.
Historically speaking, Jews first came to the Germanic lands in the fourth century. Rashi and other famous Jewish commentators and thinkers lived and worked in its various communities; the Jewish population of the Rhineland suffered major destruction during the Crusades, but later re-established itself. The Germanic lands gave rise to Ashkenazi Jewry, and Medieval German gave rise to the Yiddish language that migrated into Eastern Europe. The German Jewish community organized nationally in the 19th century, and Germany was the cradle from which the main modern Jewish movements emerged, including Reform, Conservative Judaism, and neo-Orthodoxy. By the Second World War, there were approximately 500,000 Jews living in Germany, which did not include the large Jewish population living in areas that were ceded by Germany to France, Czechoslovakia, etc., after defeat in the First World War.
Germany's pre-war Jewish population was almost entirely annihilated in the Shoah and the new community is relatively young (see next slide). 70% originate from Russia, Ukraine and the Baltic states, having arrived in Germany both before and especially since the collapse of Communism, the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and Reunification in 1990. (Under a special clause in the German constitution that guarantees citizenship to people persecuted under the Nazi regime or deprived of citizenship, including relatives and offspring). They were attracted by favorable immigration conditions that included financial support, work permits and the granting of permanent residence status, with the option to eventually become full citizens.
There are 84 Jewish communities, or synagogue-based communities, throughout Germany - some them very small; there is a marked difference of size between the communities in what was formerly West Germany and those in what was formerly East Germany, which remain tiny. The largest community is in Berlin (approximately 12,000), followed by Munich and Bavaria (around 9,000), then Frankfurt (7,000). Hamburg and Cologne each have about 5,000 members in the Jewish community. There are also several thousand Israelis living in Germany, primarily in Berlin and Frankfurt.
Significant historical factors that impacted on the inflow or outflow of Jews to and from Germany
Two major historical events have shaped the Jewish community into what it is today:
Of the 560,000 Jews in Germany on the eve of the Shoah, only about 12,000 survived the war in Germany itself, many of whom emigrated. Approximately 11,000 Holocaust survivors returned to Germany – many of whom left again, because of the hatred they still had to face in Germany. Out of the formerly vibrant Jewish community before the rise of Nazism, in the 1950s there remained about 15,000 Jews in West Germany and about 600 affiliated Jews in East Germany.
The post-war West German Jewish community grew through the arrival of Jews from Hungary (1956) and from Czechoslovakia (1968) after abortive liberal revolutions in those countries. In the mid 1960s, around 6,000 German Jews came back in order to benefit from the strict laws for receiving reparations. The number of Jews remained stable at between 25,000 and 30,000 up until the late 1980's, although many of the young people emigrated. The community aged markedly in demographic terms.
The Fall of Communism:
Following the collapse of Communism in 1989 and the reunification of Germany in 1990, Germany opened its doors to a larger wave of Jewish immigration reaching Germany from other parts of Eastern Europe, offering favorable conditions, partly because it considered itself duty-bound to help Jews, and because it felt that a large Jewish community in Germany would benefit its image as a country that had learned lessons from its terrible past.
The German Jewish community today numbers approximately 110,000 Jews, with the overwhelming majority from Russia and Ukraine. Immigration since 1990 has created a more normal demographic spread for the Jewish people.
Economic Profile, Occupations and Professions
Throughout the centuries, Jews in Germany played an outstanding role as merchants and bankers in the commercial life of the country - in the main, because they were excluded from many of the professions until the mid-19th century.
After emancipation in 1871, the formerly forbidden professions opened up to them and they entered almost all the professions, succeeding notably in fields, such as: law, medicine, academia and journalism, although others remained in trade. There was a huge number of employees, craftsmen and shop-owners, who formed part of the growing middle class.
The Jews who remained in West Germany after the Shoah preferred to own their own businesses, rather than work in German-managed corporations. The Jewish immigration from Eastern Europe changed this state of affairs and today, many Jews are employed in a wide range of economic sectors, including government service. Among the Russian Jews who have arrived in Germany, over 60% have a university degree, many of them are qualified as engineers, teachers and musicians.
All the modern streams of Judaism were essentially born in Germany, although there were also many secular Jews who assimilated into non-Jewish society. After the Shoah, almost all Jews were non-Orthodox, but the central Jewish communal organization, the Central Council of Jews in Germany, considered itself a traditional framework (representing liberal, modern Orthodoxy).
In November 2005, the Liberal and Progressive movement was recognized by the Central Council of Jews and its community members, therefore making them eligible for government funding towards cultural heritage and welfare, under the 2003 agreement between the CCJ and the Federal Government.
The new German Jewish community, the majority of whom came from Russia and Ukraine, lacks knowledge of Jewish tradition, as they did not have any opportunities for Jewish education under the communist regime in the USSR.
In an opinion poll carried out in the Berlin Jewish community in 2002, Jews were asked about the personal significance of religion:
- 29% stated that they defined themselves as Liberal;
- 14% as Conservative-traditional;
- 16% as Reform-orientated;
- 8% as Orthodox;
- 12% as atheist.
- 16% felt unable to answer this question.
- The survey also showed that only about one third went to synagogue regularly; many are "three times a year" Jews, going to the synagogue on the Days of Awe.
- The poll also showed a clear generation gap between the older and younger members of the community: the older generation, raised under Communism, have no interest in religious life. The younger generation, however, grew up in Germany in a pluralistic religious environment, and expresses an interest in becoming acquainted tradition and the existence of religious lifestyle, albeit to a limited extent. For example, most are interested in having a Bat/Bar Mitzvah.
While Jewish infrastructure in Germany has improved, there are still relatively few kosher shops in Germany, one of the difficulties of a traditional Jewish life in Germany.
Education & Culture
Before the Second World War and the Shoah, there were more than 160 Jewish schools of various kinds in Germany. The German Jewish community's educational and cultural activity today is reflected in its Jewish schools in the larger cities, its small network of Jewish kindergartens, its Jewish clubs and the various universities that offer courses in Jewish Studies. In addition, the communities publish a number of journals related to the Jewish community and Jewish heritage.
Today, there are six Jewish primary schools – in Berlin, Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Cologne, and Munich. In 1993, a Jewish High School was opened in Berlin, for the first time since the Second World War, and others have opened since. The general curriculum is similar to that in German public schools; however, History classes place emphasis on Jewish History, while Ivrit and Jewish Studies form part of the compulsory curriculum. These schools are also open to non-Jewish students; in Berlin, around 40% of the High School students are non-Jewish.
There are several Universities offering Jewish Studies, but most of the students in those faculties are not Jewish. The "Moses Mendelssohn Center" at Potsdam University is one of the most famous and active departments of Jewish Studies in Germany. In Heidelberg there is an autonomous College of Jewish Studies that offers academic degrees and is opening a non-denominational Rabbinical College, while the Liberal Rabbinical Abraham Geiger College has also recently opened in Berlin. Berlin now has an Orthodox Yeshiva, Beit Midrash d'Berlin, whose students are primarily young Jews from countries of the CIS.
Young Jews in the larger communities like Munich, Frankfurt and Cologne or Berlin have long had the chance to go to a youth center of the kind which were, and are today, still mainly connected to the Zionist Organization of Germany, which are generally run by Shlichim from Israel. In addition, young Jews have the chance to spend their holidays in summer camps, or go on trips with the Zionist Organization to meet young Jews from France, Italy, Israel, etc.
There are various journals and one main Jewish newspaper in Germany:
- The “Juedische Allgemeine” is published in Berlin and belongs to the Central Council.
- In Berlin, the “Juedische Korrespondenz” appears monthly in German and in Russian.
- The “Frankfurter Juedische Nachrichten”, is published several times a year, and has been known over the decades for its intellectual focus.
- The “Tribuene”, is also published in Frankfurt, where it first appeared in 1961, and its major goal is to create awareness about Jewish issues and Israel.
Most of the Jewish communities have their own papers, which address wider issues, but their main purpose is to inform the local community about community activities, cultural events, and exhibits.
There are more than 30 museums, some of them public museums with sections or collections dedicated to Judaism and local Jewish history.
- The Frankfurt Jewish Museum, which opened in 1988, was the first Jewish Museum in Germany since the war.
- The Berlin Jewish Museum opened to the public in 2001; it is a large combined structure, with a distinctive architecture.
- The Berlin Holocaust Memorial, commemorating Berlin's Jewish victims of the Shoah, opened its doors in May 2005.
There are many journalists and authors, as well as filmmakers and other artists, who have Jewish roots, but do not necessarily address their Judaism or Jewish issues. Whether or not they are part of the Jewish cultural scene is a matter for debate.
The “Zentralwohlfahrtsstelle” (ZWST), or Central Welfare Office of the Jews in Germany, was founded in 1951 as an organization dedicated to providing assistance for Jews in need, care of the elderly, youth and children. It engages in social welfare, and education, as well as trying to help in cases of drug or alcohol abuse, or delinquency.
The immigrants from the FSU are the ZWST's largest client group – and their needs are not only financial support, but also psychological support, as many of them cannot work in their professions in Germany and have to contend with loss of status. The ZWST helps them also with language classes and courses about Judaism. The approach is to assist the immigrants in building a new life in Germany and to lay the path for them towards a greater Jewish involvement.
The intermarriage rate in Germany is one of the highest in the Jewish Diaspora. Before the rise of Nazism, intermarriage was perceived by many German Jews to he a step on the path to complete integration into the German people. However, the Shoah proved this an illusion and that realization still echoes in the community today. The Jewish community attaches great importance to preservation of Jewish frameworks, although it is not entirely successful in these endeavors.
In the survey of the Berlin Jewish Community, more than 50% of the respondents expressed a strong wish for their children to marry someone Jewish. With respect to this question, it is worth noting that there was almost no difference between Jews from the former Soviet Union and those who were raised in Germany. Around 20% had no interest in the question about the religious affiliation of their children's future life partner.
Physical Security and Antisemitism
If there were those who hoped that Antisemitism would disappear in a wave of national remorse after the Holocaust, this is not what happened. Indeed, in recent years, there has been a strong overt resurgence of this phenomenon. What is new, however, is the blunt and open expression of Antisemitism that has become mainstream political thought, gathering momentum from left wing and right wing, liberal and conservative streams, both independently and enhanced by anti-American and anti-Israel sentiments in public opinion, together with open anti-Zionism.
In April 2002, the Sigmund Freud Institute in Frankfurt am Main and the University of Leipzig published a joint study, confirming the new rise of Antisemitism:
- In their survey, 20% of the respondents felt that “Jews are to blame for the major conflicts in the world” and another 26% shared this opinion "to some extent".
Studies from 2003 estimated overt Antisemitism at around 23%, with covert Antisemitism as existing among 30%-40% of the German public:
- A 2003 study by the University of Bielefeld showed a significant rise in right-wing positions among 25% of the general German population (compared to 19.6% in 2002).
A survey by the Stern magazine at the end of 2003, found that:
- 23% of respondents hold antisemitic views, which represents an increase of 3% on the figures for 1998.
- 19% of respondents felt that Jews were responsible for their own fate (compared to 17% in 1998), while 28% believed that Jews had influence that was disproportionate to their ratio to the population (compared to 22% in 1998).
The number of antisemitic incidents in the first quarter of 2004, as defined by the German Police, was greater than the figure of 83 incidents of physical assault against Jews, for the entire year of 2003. In addition, there are other forms of antisemitic activity, such as desecration of graves and memorials to victims of the Shoah. Most of the violent incidents were perpetrated by extremists from the 3 million strong Muslim community.
The threat also comes from a large contingent of extreme right-wing fascist groups in Germany, who deny the Shoah. However, as Holocaust denial is illegal in Germany, most of their Hate activity is conducted via the Internet, or covertly.
Another highly significant factor going hand in hand with Holocaust denial and impacting on German public opinion is the legally permissible and overt mainstreaming of the claim that Germany was itself a victim, rather than the perpetrator, of the Second World War. This has made a dramatic contribution to the public's recent change of perspective on Nazism, the Shoah, by fostering German national pride, and encouraging covert Holocaust denail, through evasion and distortion of the underlying historical facts and issues.
Despite strenious efforts by the German government to address Antisemitism, the German Jewish community feels threatened by these developments.
The Community Agenda
The major problem addressed by the Jewish communities in Germany is that of “new” Antisemitism - whether it comes from extremist Muslim hatred fro Israel and the Jews, or from the political right and left-wings – and how it can be fought.
Other issues on the community agenda, such as:
- Social services and welfare for immigrants;
- Questions regarding the future self-definition of Jews in Germany;
- Issues relating to community structure and activities appear secondary, in relation to countering Antisemitism.
The Future of the Community
After the Shoah, there were many Jews who refused to even visit Germany, but attitudes have softened and changed with time. The German government committed itself to Holocaust commemoration and introduced the subject into the school curriculum, and this contributed in no small measure to the restoration of Jewish confidence in the German establishment, and to their continued presence in the country.
There has not been a significant departure of Jews from Germany in recent years, certainly not in connection with the rise of Antisemitism. However, if Antisemitism continues to rise, there may be some Jews who decide to seek their future elsewhere.
Another issue that will impact on the future of the community is assimilation. If the rate of intermarriage continues to rise, as it has done, the Jewish community will lose its ability to maintain a framework for Jewish life.
The Connection to Israel
After the war, many Jewish inmates in the Displaced Persons Camps decided to make a new start in Eretz Yisrael, but most went to the West. Those who stayed in West Germany were often involved in collecting money within their communities for Israel, and supporting Israel, but were wary of being considered disloyal to Germany. Those Jews who stayed in the GDR (East Germany), however could not show any love or approval towards Israel, because the communist regime was anti-Zionist and hostile to Israel.
The Jews who currently live in Germany understand the importance of the idea of a Jewish state and therefore try and show loyalty to Germany while supporting Israel. Germany, however, does not have a long experience with multicultural societies and Jews who openly support Israel, are often labeled as acting in a manner disloyal to Germany.
Nowadays, there is only a trickle of Aliyah to Israel. However, between 1948 and 1995, more than 17,000 Jews emigrated from Germany to Israel.
The Jewish Community's Contribution to Germany
From the time of the Emancipation in the mid-nineteenth century until 1933, German Jews made a significant contribution to Germany, in the areas of culture, society, economics and politics.
They contributed as lawyers, intellectuals, doctors, painters, musicians, journalists, academics, as well as professionals in many other fields, and they left their imprint on German culture. In those years, however, this contribution went largely unrecognized by Germany, which continued to consider Jews as aliens.
Among the many great German Jewish names of the 19th century were:
Heinrich Heine, the poet, considered by many to be the greatest of all German poets;
Ludwig Boerne, the writer and liberal political philosopher;
Felix Mendessohn-Bartholdy, the composer, and many more.
The great figures of the early 20th century were:
Max Liebermann, the leading Impressionist painter;
Kirt Tucholsky and Else Lasker-Schueler, writers and poets;
Martin Buber, philosopher;
Walter Rathenau, a political leader;
Albert Gottheiner, Bruno Arends, Erwin Gottkin, Oskar Kaufmann, Moris Ernst Lesser and Erich Mendelsohn, famous Bauhaus architects, among the 500 or so Jewish architects in the Bauhaus architectural movement in early twentieth century Germany.
German Jews were also active in of social welfare and other areas of philanthropy, creating numerous charitable foundations, and and acting to develop the academic intrastructure of universities and other important institutions, making a contribution far over and beyond their limited numbers.
Following the Second World War, German Jewry focused primarily on rebuilding the community and institutions that were destroyed during the Shoah. There was an absence of Jewish culture in Germany and the new community's contribution to the country is on a more modest scale. Since the mid-1980s, Jewish authors, actors, and other celebrities have emerged who do not conceal their Jewishness. Nevertheless, the relationship between Jews and Germany cannot be considered "normal" 60 years after the Shoah, and this affects all Jews in the public eye - be they cultural, political, or economic figures.
Timeline of Geman Jewish history to 1938 http://www.geocities.com/vienna/strasse/5960/timeline.html Insights from the Exhibits at the Berlin Jewish Museum online http://www.juedisches-museum-berlin.de/site/EN/01-Exhibitions/01-Permanent-Exhibition/permanentexhibition00-02.php
General History, from origins to today
Overview of History http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/vjw/germany.html
Informative book review – historical models http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/Strate/Discus/2002-12-05CraigOnElon.htm
Germany as a Museum of Jewish History and Laboratory… http://www.umass.edu/judaic/anniversaryvolume/articles/04-A2-Adelman.pdf
New Jewish Community
20th century History http://www.zentralratdjuden.de/en/topic/132.html
Jews in Germany - Background, Critical issues http://www.dickinson.edu/glossen/heft16/stern.html
"Phoenix over Germany" http://www.shma.com/nov03/wladirmir_struminski.htm
World Jewish Congress: Select > Germany http://www.worldjewishcongress.org/comm_west.html
Berlin Holocaust Memorial, quicktime movie http://29fragiledays.blogspot.com/2005/10/berlin-holocaust-memorial.html
BHM Picture, articles:
Rewriting Germany's Nazi Past http://www.jcpa.org/jl/vp530.htm
Jewish Political Studies Review 16:3-4 (Fall 2004), Antisemitism in Germany Today http://www.jcpa.org/phas/phas-urban-f04.htm
Roth Institute, TAU, Annual Report 2003-4
Synagogues in Germany – A Virtual Reconstruction
Synagogue Internet Archive http://www.synagogen.info/ [click on flag for English]
or go to http://cad-cook.architektur.tu-darmstadt.de/synagogen/en_main.php?SYN=b9c30c883096295121f2a5195c9f72bc&page=&alpha=A&start=0&SYN=b9c30c883096295121f2a5195c9f72bc