Population: 82 million
Jewish population: 125,000
Jewish settlement in Germany began in the fourth century and continued throughout successive centuries, resulting in flourishing communities, with an active and intellectual life in cities such as Worms The Ashkenazi (literally meaning: German) Jews descended from medieval Jewish communities along the Rhine from Alsace in the south to the Rhineland in the north. Ashkenaz is the medieval Hebrew name for Germany. During the 1930s, with the Nazis rising to power, the half a million Jews living in Germany found themselves rapidly excluded from the society. ‘Kristallnacht’ in 1938, when hundreds of Jews were killed and injured, tens of thousands arrested, synagogues set ablaze and Jewish homes and businesses ransacked, marked the beginning of what the Nazis termed the ‘Final Solution of the Jewish Question”. Some 180,000 German Jews perished in the Holocaust, and most others emigrated prior or after World War II, with only a small community remaining until the 1990s.
Today, following an influx of some 80,000 Jews from eastern Europe after the fall of the Iron Curtain, the German Jewish community is the only one in Europe that is growing again. The largest Jewish community is Berlin (11,000), followed by Munich (9,500) and Frankfurt (7,000). Around a hundred smaller communities are scattered throughout the country. Jewish life has seen a renaissance in recent years, and a large numbers of synagogues, community centers and Jewish museums were either renovated or newly built throughout the country.
The Jewish communities are united under an officially recognized umbrella body, the Central Council of Jews in Germany, which receives financial support from the German state.
Jewish settlement in Germany began in the fourth century and continued throughout successive centuries, resulting in flourishing communities, with an active and intellectual life. In the medieval period, the cities of the Rhineland, in particular Cologne, Mainz and Worms, became outstanding centers of Jewish life and learning. During the Crusades and thereafter, the Jews suffered massacres and expulsions. Many fled eastward, taking with them the Yiddish language that first developed in Germany. In the seventeenth century, conditions improved, and in the nineteenth century, Jews were granted emancipation, which found official expression in the 1871 Constitution.
It was the German Jew Moses Mendelssohn who laid the foundation for the Jewish Enlightenment, which was to have a profound impact on Jewish thought. In fact, much of modern Jewish thinking originated in Germany. The Reform / Liberal movement was founded in Germany in the early nineteenth century and spread to other parts of the Diaspora. The roots of modern Orthodoxy can also be traced back to such German Jews as Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch in Frankfurt and Dr. Azriel Hildesheimer in Berlin Conservative / Masorti Judaism was also conceived on German soil by Zecharias Frankel, who headed the Jewish Theological Seminary in Breslau (today Wroclaw).
The Jews of Germany attained great success in all walks of life, including commerce, industry, art, and science. German Jewry included representatives of many streams of Judaism, from the devoutly Orthodox to those who desired total integration with the German nation and its culture and ultimately converted to Christianity. Some 12,000 lost their lives fighting for Germany in World War I, a higher percentage than any other ethnic, religious or political group in that country. Jews were prominently represented among the founders of the Weimar Republic that arose out of the ashes of imperial Germany—and many regarded the Weimar years as the golden age of Geman Jewry. However, antisemitism continued to flourish and the assassination in 1922 of Germany's Jewish-born Foreign Minister, Walter Rathenau (the scion of the family that founded the AEG concern), sent shockwaves through the Jewish community.
With the rise to power of the Nazi party in 1933, the 503,000 Jews living in Germany found themselves rapidly excluded from the German society of which they had felt so much a part. In 1935, the Nuremberg Racial Laws were enacted, effectively excluding Jews from German society. Beginning in 1938, their exclusion from the economy was more strongly enforced. On the night of November 9, 1938, which became known as ‘Kristallnacht’, hundreds of Jews were killed and injured and tens of thousands were arrested. Most of the synagogues in Germany were put to the torch, and many Jewish homes and businesses were ransacked.
In 1938 demand for emigration increased, but despite the convening of the Evian Conference in France, immigration to most countries remained difficult and often became almost impossible. For the most part, those who remained in Germany were unable to save themselves. In October 1941, the deportations to the death camps began. It is estimated that some 180,000 German Jews perished in the Holocaust.
Most German Jews who survived the war in exile decided to remain abroad, and only a small number returned to Germany. However, hundreds of thousands of survivors displaced persons (DPs) found themselves in Germany. The great majority of those Jews left the country for Palestine/Israel, North and South America, Australia and other countries in Europe. The Jewish community in Germany was reconstituted, but eastern European DPs accounted for the majority of its members. The local Jewish communities united under the umbrella organization the Zentralrat der Juden in Deutschland (the Central Council of Jews in Germany). Following the reunification of Germany in 1990, the small Jewish community of East Germany was gradually integrated into the larger German Jewish community. The council is the official representative of German Jewry and looks after Jewish political interests, matters of restitution, and other issues.
From 1989 onwards, 190,000 people arrived in Germany as what were called “quota refugees” from the former Soviet Union countries. 80,000 of them were integrated into Jewish communities in Germany. These immigrants are relatively young and well-educated but have scant knowledge of Jewish tradition. Their presence has injected new life into the aging community. In places such as Berlin, Bremen, Hamburg, Potsdam or Schwerin, over half of the Jews are now native Russian-speakers.
Thus, the majority of the Jews in living in present-day Germany are not descendants of the original pre-war community, but rather recent arrivals from the former Soviet Union and Eastern European Jews who came after the war, or their progeny. There are also several thousand Israelis living in Germany. Due to the large influx of Jews from the countries of the former Soviet Union, Germany has today the fourth largest Jewish population in Europe, after France, Britain and Russia. It is by far the fastest growing community in Europe and one of the most dynamic.
The largest Jewish community in Germany is Berlin (11,000), followed by Munich (9,500) and Frankfurt (7,000) Some 100 medium-sized and small communities are scattered throughout Germany.
From 1989 onwards 190,000 people arrived in Germany as what were called “quota refugees” from the former Soviet Union countries. 80,000 of them were integrated into Jewish communities in Germany. These immigrants are relatively young and well-educated but have scant knowledge of Jewish tradition. Their presence has injected new life into the aging community. In places such as Berlin, Bremen, Hamburg, Potsdam or Schwerin, over half of the Jews are now native Russian-speakers.
The majority of the Jews in living in today’s Germany are not descendants of the original pre-war community, but eastern European Ashkenazim who came after the war. There are also several thousand Israelis. Due to the large influx of Jews from the countries of the former Soviet Union, Germany has today the fourth largest Jewish population in Europe, after France, Britain and Russia. It is by far the fastest growing community in Europe.
The Jewish communities have local organizations that are united under the umbrella organization, the Central Council of Jews in Germany. The council is the official representative of German Jewry and looks after Jewish political interests, matters of restitution, and other issues. Major Jewish organizations, such as the Zionist Organization, B'nai B'rith, WIZO, and several student and youth movements are represented in Germany. Fifty years after the end of World War II, there is a new openness and readiness within German society to confront and deal with its Nazi past.
Holocaust denial is illegal and is punishable by stiff prison sentences.
However, extreme-right groups and organizations have been on the rise in recent years, especially in eastern Germany. Anti-Semitic activities in Germany include desecration of cemeteries and attacks against synagogues, memorial sites, and Jewish property. A special office under the Federal Interior Ministry keeps a watchful eye on such activities and publishes an annual report on the activities of hate groups.
Most communities have their own rabbis. There are synagogues, cemeteries, community centers, and offices of Jewish organizations in over 100 cities and towns. Kosher food is available in the major cities.
A crucial moment for the Jewish community in Germany occurred on 9 November 2006, the 68th anniversary of ‘Kristallnacht’, when in the presence of German President Horst Köhler and World Jewish Congress President Edgar Bronfman the newly constructed Ohel Jakob Synagogue in Munich was dedicated. The city was once the capital of the Nazi movement. The adjacent buildings contain a large community center.
In 2006, the Berlin-based Abraham Geiger College, which is part of the Liberal Movement, for the first time since the Shoah ordained a class of rabbis in Dresden’s New Synagogue. Three years later, two Orthodox rabbis were ordained in Munich, also for the first time in Germany in 70 years.
In the capital Berlin in particular, Jewish life is prospering. Several synagogues were renovated and reopened, and Berlin’s annual Week of Jewish culture and the Jewish Cultural Festival featuring concerts, exhibitions, public readings and discussions prove a magnets for visitors.
In 1993 a Jewish high school in Berlin was reopened for the first time since World War II. Due to an increase in interest in Judaic studies, particularly among non-Jewish students, there are more than five such programs in universities throughout Germany. In many of these programs, the majority of students and faculty are non-Jews. Such is the situation in the new Mendelssohn Center of Potsdam University. In Heidelberg there is a special, autonomous School of Jewish Studies that offers academic degrees. The school curriculum in German high schools includes Holocaust studies.
The main Jewish newspaper in Germany is the weekly Jüdische Allgemeine. It is published by the Central Council of Jews in Germany. The paper follows in the footsteps of the Allgemeine Zeitung des Judenthums, founded in 1837.
After World War II, Jüdische Allgemeine was launched in Düsseldorf as the organ of the Jewish community in the North Rhine Province and Westphalia. It was later published in Bonn as Allgemeine Jüdische Wochenzeitung. Since 2002 it has been known under its present name, and it appears every Thursday, also available as e-paper on its website. In March 2003 Jüdische Allgemeine was awarded a prize for excellent newspaper design.
The paper’s publishing house Jüdische Presse also runs the online Leo Baeck Bookshop, offering a wide range of Jewish literature.
A German and a Yiddish weekly are published in Munich. In Frankfurt the quarterly Jewish magazine Jüdisches Europa is published.
Zentralrat der Juden in Deutschland (Central Council of Jews in Germany)
The Central Council is the official Jewish representative body recognized by the German state, and the affiliate of the World Jewish Congress in Germany. It consists of 23 regional associations and affiliated organizations, which in turn currently embrace 107 local Jewish communities. The spectrum of religious denominations within the communities covers a broad span from strictly orthodox via reform and conservative to progressive.
The council is headed by a nine-member Presidium, which is currently headed by Charlotte Knobloch, the chairwoman of Munich’s Jewish community.
The Central Council of Jews in Germany fosters and promotes religious and cultural activities in the Jewish community. It has founded a number of organizations and institutions with a considerable outreach in the public and social life of the country (see below). Every year, the council awards its Leo Baeck Prize to a political or community leader who played an outstanding role in defending the Jewish community.
The College of Jewish Studies in Heidelberg was founded in 1979 to revitalize research and study in the field of Jewish culture, history and religion in Germany, following in the tradition of the Academy for the Science of Judaism in Berlin. It is also a centre of training for scholars, teachers of Jewish religion and rabbis. It is run by the Central Council of Jews in Germany and enjoys public status as an education provider.
The College of Jewish Studies, which is open to applicants of any religious denomination, works in close partnership with the University of Heidelberg. It also maintains academic relations with various universities abroad, especially in Israel and the United States. It regularly organizes international conferences and publishes an academic journal (Trumah). The college’s library contains about 50,000 volumes, the principal themes being the Bible and biblical archaeology, Jewish theology and philosophy, anti-Semitism, prayers, customs, rabbinic literature, Jewish art, Hebrew and Yiddish philology and literature, the history of the Jewish people, contemporary Judaism and sociology. It is one of the outstanding German collections in the field of Jewish studies.
The Central Welfare Office for Jews in Germany (ZWST) holds overall responsibility for helping Jewish communities to carry out their social tasks and for running and coordinating youth work. As a non-political institution uniting the communities, it is their second body of public representation alongside the Central Council of Jews.
The association was founded in 1917 as the Central Welfare Agency for German Jews to co-ordinate the social institutions set up by the Jewish community and to care for Jewish war veterans or their widows and orphans. Under the Nazis the task of the ZWST was to assist Jews leaving the country and to provide social care or emergency support to persecuted Jews. In 1939 ZWST was closed down by the Nazis and its staff deported to the concentration camps. After the war, ZWST was revived by the Central Council of Jews.
A bulletin published every two months (ZWST informiert) reports on events and new developments in the communities, projects in progress and diary dates. There is also a book of guidance in German and Russian for Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union, full of advice designed to help them start their new lives. The Social Department offers various courses and events aimed at the vocational and social integration of immigrants, including leisure and further training opportunities in their local areas or hostels. The leisure options are above all intended to cater for the older generation.
ZWST’s Youth Department offers both advice and a range of activities for every age group from Jewish children to young adults. The Education Center is a focal point of exchange for information material, activities and programmes relating to Jewish education in Germany. The literature and film archives are regularly updated, and teaching aids on specific themes – such as Israel, feast days and Judaism – are compiled and published for the use of youth centres, communities and schools. In 1993, the ZWST opened its Eden Park Hotel in Bad Kissingen, the only certified kosher guesthouse in Germany.
Zentralwohlfahrtsstelle der Juden in Deutschland
D-60318 Frankfurt am Main
Tel.: +49 69 9443710
Fax: +49 69 494817
The most famous of the ancient Jewish sites in Germany are the synagogue in Worms (1034), in south-west Germany, the adjoining mikva (1186), and the Rashi Chapel (1624). All have been reconstructed since the war. The medieval Worms cemetery was saved from destruction. In nearby Speyer one can see the oldest mikva in Germany, built in the 11th century. Friedberg has a mikva from 1260, and in Andernach on the Rhine, there is a 14th century mikva. There is an historic synagogue in Odenbach with baroque paintings, and there are ancient cemeteries in Würzburg, Heidingsfeld, Hochburg, and Frankfurt. In Berlin the impressive New Synagogue on Oranienburgerstraße has been reconstructed as a Jewish center, attracting a large number of visitors. The beautiful Weißensee Cemetery there is the largest in Europe that is still in use.
Memorials can be found at the sites of the former Nazi concentration camps Buchenwald, Bergen-Belsen, Dachau and Sachsenhausen-Ravensbrück. The Wannsee Villa near Berlin, where the machinery of the Final Solution was set in motion in 1941, has also been turned into museums.
The most famous Holocaust commemoration site on German soil, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, opened in Berlin in 2005. Located in central Berlin near the site of Hitler’s bunker, it consists of a field of 2,700 concrete slabs (Field of Stelae) arranged in a grid pattern and accessible day and night. It was designed by the American architect Peter Eisenman and an underground Information Center.
There are over 30 museums that wholly or partially have sections dealing with Judaism. While Cologne is still planning and discussing the design of its new Jewish museum, the Jewish Museum of Berlin already chronicles two millennia of German Jewish history. It is one of the most spectacular museum buildings in Germany. Since the beginning it has been a magnet for the public, attracting 350,000 people even as an empty shell before it opened in fall 2001. The design by New York’s architect Daniel Libeskind, who added a modern structure to the existing 18th-century Kollegienhaus, was undoubtedly the cause for this initial popularity.
Together with the news synagogue, Munich now also boasts a new Jewish Museum which traces the difficult history of Jews in Germany’s third-largest city.
In 1951 West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer declared before the Bundestag in Bonn his readiness to enter negotiations with representatives of the Jewish people and Israel about reparations and in 1952, together with Nahum Goldmann, president of the World Jewish Congress, and Moshe Sharett, foreign minister of Israel, signed the Luxembourg Indemnification Agreement. Diplomatic relations were established in 1965.
From its establishment in 1949 until its collapse in 1990, East Germany assumed a hostile stance toward Israel and refused to acknowledge its people's moral responsibility for the Holocaust. Moreover, it furnished military aid to Arab states and terrorist organizations.
Since reunification in 1990, Germany has been a close ally of Israel and repeatedly stressed its special relationship with, and responsibility for, the Jewish state.
Following are contact details for Jewish communities across the country. Most of them, though not all, have a rabbi and hold regular Shabbat services.
Israelitische Kultusgemeinde Amberg
Tel: +49 9621 131 40
Jüdische Kultusgemeinde Bad Kreuznach
55543 Bad Kreuznach
Tel: +49 671 26 991
Jüdische Gemeinde Bad Segeberg
23795 Bad Segeberg
Israelitische Kultusgemeinde Bamberg
Tel: +49 951 29787 0
Israelitische Kultusgemeinde Bayreuth
Tel: +49 921 64 389
Israelitische Synagogengemeinde zu Berlin
Tel: + 49 30 28 13 135
Jüdische Kultusgemeinde Bielefeld
Detmolder Straße 107
Tel: +49 521 12 30 83
Email: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
Jüdische Gemeinde Bochum-Herne-Hattingen
Tel: +49 234 41 75 60 0
Tel: +49 228 21 35 60
Jüdische Gemeinde Brandenburg
Große Münzenstr. 15
Tel: +49 3381 70 26 22
Jüdische Gemeinde Braunschweig
Tel: +49 0521 455 36
Jüdische Gemeide Celle
Im Kreise 24
Tel: +49 5141 740896
Jüdische Gemeinde Chemnitz
Stollberger Straße 28
Tel: +49 371 35 59 70
Jüdische Gemeinde Delmenhorst
Tel: +49 4221 180 11
Jüdische Gemeinde Dessau
Tel: +49 340221 51 07
Jüdische Gemeinde zu Dresden
Tel: +49 351 65 6070
Jüdische Landesgemeinde Erfurt/Thüringen
Tel: +49 361 562 49 64
Jüdische Gemeinde Elmshorn
25336 Klein Nordende
Tel: +49 4121 78 83 94
Jüdische Kultusgemeinde Essen
Tel: +49 201 959 96 0
Israelitische Gemeinde Freiburg
79098 Freiburg im Breisgau
Tel: +49 761 38 30 967
Jüdische Gemeinde Fulda
Tel: +49 661 702 52
Jüdische Gemeinde Gießen
Tel: +49 641 932 890
Jüdische Gemeinde Göttingen
Tel: +49 551 687 37
Jüdische Gemeinde Hagen
Tel: +49 2331 132 89
Jüdische Gemeinde Hanau
Postfach 16 41
Tel: +49 6181 18 00 761
Jüdische Kultusgemeinde Heidelberg
Tel: +49 6221 587144
Jüdische Gemeinde Hildesheim
Einumer Straße 37
Tel: +49 5121 70 49 62
Israelitische Kultusgemeinde Hof
Oberkotzauer Straße 66
Tel: +49 9281 517 41
Jüdische Gemeinde Kassel
Bremer Straße 3
Tel: +49 561 788 09 30
Jüdische Gemeinde Kiel und Region
Tel: +49 431 73 99 096
Jüdische Gemeinde Koblenz
Tel: +49 261 42 223
Synagogen-Gemeinde Köln (Cologne) - Orthodox
Tel: +49 221 921560 0
Jüdische Gemeinde Königs Wusterhausen
15711 Königs Wusterhausen
Tel: +49 3375 21 55 78
Jüdische Gemeinde Lörrach
Tel: +49 7621 166 186
Synagogen-Gemeinde zu Magdeburg / Landesverband Sachsen-Anhalt
39106 Alte Neustadt/Magdeburg
Tel: +49 391 561 66 75
Liberale Israelitische Kultusgemeinschaft Mainz
Am Karthäuserhof 13
Tel: +49 6131 581253
Jüdische Kultusgemeinde Minden und Umgebung
Tel: +49 571 234 37
Jüdische Kultusgemeinde Mönchengladbach
Tel: +49 2161 238 79
Jüdische Kultusgemeinde der Rheinpfalz/Kaiserslautern
Tel: +49 6321 26 52
Israelitische Kultusgemeinde Nürnberg (Nuremberg)
Tel: +49 91156250
Jüdische Gemeinde in Oldenburg
Tel: +49 441 131 27
Jüdische Gemeinde Osnabrück
In der Barlage 43
Tel: +49 541 48 42 0
Israelitische Kultusgemeinde Pforzheim
Postfach 10 04 42
Jüdische Gemeinde Pinneberg
Oeltingsallee 20 a
Tel: +49 4101 835 036
Jüdische Kultusgemeinde Kreis Recklinghausen
Am Polizeipräsidium 3
Tel: +49 2361 184678
Jüdische Gemeinde Rostock
Tel: +49 381 4590724
Jüdische Gemeinde Rottweil-Villingen-Schwenningen
Tel: +49 741 942 08 78
Jüdische Gemeinde Schwerin
Schlachtermarkt 3 - 5
Tel: +49 385 55 07 345
Jüdische Gemeinde Seesen
Danziger Str. 10
Tel: +49 511 85 64078
Israelitische Kultusgemeinde Straubing
Tel: +49 9421 13 87
Jüdische Gemeinde Trier
Tel: +49 651 994 55 75
Jüdische Gemeinde Weiden
Tel: +49 96132 79 4
Jüdische Gemeinde Wiesbaden
Friedrichstraße 31 - 33
Tel: +49 611 93 33 03 0
Orthodoxe Jüdische Gemeinde zu Wolfsburg
Tel: +49 5361 30 81 66
Jüdische Kultusgemeinde / Bergische Synagoge Wuppertal
Gemarker Straße 15
Tel: +49 202 371 18 41
Israelitische Gemeinde Würzburg und Unterfranken
Tel: +49 931 404 140
Other Jewish community organizations in Germany
Chabad Lubavitch Berlin
Ballenstedter Straße 16a
Tel: +49 30 8912531
Chabad Lubavitch Cologne
Tel: +49 221 921 560 30
Chabad Lubavitch Munich
Tel: +49 894706355
Chabad Lubavitch Offenbach
63065 Offenbach am Main
Tel: +49 69 82368546
Chabad Lubavitch Potsdam
Gutenberg Straße 60
Tel: +49 331 270 50 90
For up to date information on Kosher restaurants and locations please see the Shamash Kosher Database
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