Community in Germany - World Jewish Congress

With 118,000 members, the German Jewish community is the fourth largest in Western Europe and the eighth largest in the world as of 2023. The majority of Jews who currently reside in Germany were born in the former Soviet Union (USSR).

The umbrella organization of German Jewry, the Central Council of Jews in Germany (Zentralrat der Juden in Deutschland), is the German affiliate of the World Jewish Congress.

WJC Affiliate
Zentralrat der Juden in Deutschland
Daniel Botmann

+49 30 28 44 56 0
+49 30 28 44 56 13

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Zentralrat President & WJC Vice President: Dr. Josef Schuster

The Jewish settlement in Germany dates to the fourth century and continued throughout successive centuries, resulting in communities flourishing under actively intellectual lifestyles. 

Beginning with the First Crusade in 1096 C.E., Jews in the German lands suffered severe persecution that resulted in mass expulsion and, most notoriously, the massacres in Speyer (Spira), Worms, and Mainz. In 1349, thousands of Jews throughout Europe, including communities in Mainz, Cologne, and Erfurt, were murdered after being accused of causing the Black Death pandemic.

Many Jews fled eastward, picking up the Yiddish language that initially developed in Germany. In the 17th century, conditions improved, and by the 19th century, Jews were granted emancipation, which found official expression in the 1871 Constitution.

In the medieval period, the cities of the Rhineland, Cologne, Mainz, and Worms, became outstanding centers of Jewish life and learning. The German Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn (1729 to 1786) laid the foundation for the Haskala, the “Jewish Enlightenment,” which profoundly impacted Jewish thought; much of modern Jewish thinking originated in Germany. The Reform/Liberal religious movement was founded in the early 19th century by German Rabbi Abraham Geiger, and others, before eventually spreading to other parts of the European diaspora. The roots of Modern Orthodoxy can also be traced back to German Jews such as Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch in Frankfurt, and Dr. Azriel Hildesheimer in Berlin. Masorti (Conservative) Judaism was also conceived on German soil by Zacharias Frankel, who headed the Jewish Theological Seminary in Breslau (today, it is located in Wrocław, Poland).

Some 12,000 Jews 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, which arose out of the ashes of imperial Germany; many regarded the Weimar years as the 'golden age of German Jewry'. However, antisemitism continued to flourish, as the 1922 assassination of Germany's Jewish-born Foreign Minister, Walter Rathenau (the scion of the family that founded the Allgemeine Elektrizitäts-Gesellschaft (AEG; General Electricity Company), particularly sent shockwaves through the Jewish community.

The Jews of Germany have attained great success in all walks of life, including commerce, industry, art, and science. German Jewish Nobel Prize laureates, who were active from 1900 to 1933, included Paul Ehrlich (Medicine, 1908), Richard Willstätter (Chemistry, 1915), Fritz Haber (Chemistry, 1918), Albert Einstein (Physics, 1921), Otto Meyerhof (Medicine 1922), and James Franck (Physics, 1925).

The Third Reich and the Years of the Holocaust

With the rise to power of Adolf Hitler's Nazi Party in 1933, the 503,000 Jews living in Germany found themselves rapidly excluded from the German society they once belonged to. On April 1, 1933, a day-long boycott of Jewish-owned businesses proved to be the beginning of the diabolical process that eventually culminated in the deportation of Jews to the gas chambers of Auschwitz-Birkenau. In short order, Jews were excluded from the state civil service, and an April 1933 law restricted the number of Jewish students at German schools and universities; in Munich, Jewish doctors were barred from treating non-Jewish patients.

The 1935 Nuremberg Laws effectively excluded Jews from German society: They were deprived of their German citizenship and prohibited from marrying or having sexual relations with individuals of “German or German-related blood.” A 'Jew' was defined as anyone with three Jewish grandparents, regardless of whether he or she practiced the Jewish religion. Other, more discriminatory laws followed on both local and state levels and Jews were excluded from most of German economic life, with the “Aryanization” of Jewish property dramatically reducing the number of Jewish-owned businesses across Germany.

By 1938, the exclusion of Jews from virtually all aspects of German life had made their existence precarious in the extreme. Jews with non-Jewish first names had to add “Israel” (for men) and “Sara” (for women) to their given names, and Jewish passports were stamped with the letter “J”. On November 9, 1938, known as Kristallnacht, "the Night of the Broken Glass", 267 synagogues throughout Germany were destroyed and Jewish homes and businesses were ransacked and looted, while approximately 30,000 Jews were arrested and at least 91 were killed. In the aftermath of Kristallnacht, the German government forced the Jewish community to pay for all the damages that had been inflicted on them.

In 1938, demand for emigration increased, but despite the convening of the Evian Conference in France, immigration to most countries remained difficult, and in many cases almost impossible. For the most part, those Jews who remained in Germany at the beginning of World War II were unable to save themselves. The systematic deportation of Jews from the Greater German Reich, including Austria and German-seized parts of Czechoslovakia, primarily to ghettos in Poland and the Baltic states, and what is today Belarus, began in October 1941. After late October 1942, most of the Jews who were still in Germany were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau or Theresienstadt. It is estimated that between 160,000 and 180,000 German Jews were murdered in the Holocaust.

After the Holocaust

Most German Jews who survived the Holocaust in exile decided to live abroad, while hundreds of thousands of survivors, now considered 'displaced persons', remained in Germany. The great majority of emigrating Jews left for Palestine/Israel, North and South America, Australia, and other European countries. The Jewish community in Germany was reconstituted, Eastern European displaced persons accounting for most of its members.

Following the reunification of Germany in 1990, the small Jewish population of East Germany was gradually integrated into the larger German Jewish community. The local Jewish communities united under the umbrella organization Zentralrat der Juden in Deutschland (the Central Council of Jews in Germany), founded in 1950. The Council is the official representative of German Jewry and looks after Jewish political interests, services for Jewish communities, and other issues.

From the year 1990 onwards, 190,000 people, known as "quota refugees", arrived in Germany from the former Soviet Union countries; 80,000 of them were integrated into Jewish communities in Germany. These immigrants were relatively young and well-educated but had scant knowledge of Jewish tradition. Their presence injected new life into the aging region; in German cities such as Berlin, Bremen, Hamburg, Potsdam, and Schwerin, over half of the Jews are now native Russian speakers.

Thus, most Jews living in present-day Germany are not descendants of the original pre-war community but descend 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 today has the fourth largest Jewish population in Europe, after France, Britain, and Russia. It is by far the fastest-growing and one of the most dynamic European communities.

More than 70 years after the end of the Holocaust, there is an openness and readiness within German society to confront and deal with its Nazi past. Holocaust denial is now illegal and is punishable by elongated prison sentences.


Hebrew University demographer Sergio Della Pergola estimated the German Jewish community to have approximately 116,000 people in 2016. The Jewish Community places the number at 100,000. The largest Jewish community in Germany is in Berlin (10,000), followed by Munich (9,500), and Frankfurt (7,000) Some 100 medium-sized and small communities are scattered throughout Germany.

Community Life

The Jewish communities have local organizations united under an umbrella organization, the Zentralrat der Juden in Deutschland (Central Council of Jews in Germany). The Zentralrat is the official Jewish representative body recognized by the German state. It has 23 regional associations and affiliated organizations, embracing 105 local Jewish communities.

The Zentralrat fosters and promotes religious and cultural activities in the Jewish community. It provides teaching material to Jewish communities and schools for religious education. Together with the Central Welfare Office for Jews in Germany, it organizes annual training seminars for religious education and Hebrew teachers. It awards its annual Leo Baeck Prize to a political or community leader who played an outstanding role in defending the Jewish community.

In the capital Berlin, Jewish life is prospering. Several synagogues have been renovated and reopened. The annual Week of Jewish Culture and the Jewish Cultural Festival in Berlin features concerts, exhibitions, public readings, and discussions and is a magnet for visitors.

The Central Welfare Office for Jews in Germany (ZWST) is responsible for helping Jewish communities carry out their social tasks 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 in Germany.

Kosher Food

As the Jewish communities have grown substantially over the last decades, especially in large urban centers such as Berlin, Munich, and Frankfurt, one can find many fresh and packaged products and kosher restaurants in countless German cities. In 1993, the ZWST opened its Eden Park Hotel in Bad Kissingen, Germany's only certified kosher guesthouse.

In March 2017, for the first time in Europe, the first European kosher festival, “Nosh Berlin,” was organized in the German capital. For one week a year, Jewish food lovers from across the globe came together for "Nosh Berlin," a celebration of Jewish cuisine with films, cooking demonstrations, speaking events, and pop-up dinners focused on Jewish culture.

Religious and Cultural Life

Most communities have designated rabbis. There are synagogues, cemeteries, community centers, and offices of Jewish organizations in over 100 cities and towns. The spectrum of religious denominations within the communities covers a range of religious denominations, including Reform, Conservative, Progressive, and Orthodox Judaism.

However, extreme-right groups and organizations have been rising recently, especially in eastern Germany. Antisemitic activities in Germany include the 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.

Jewish Education

The Ronald S. Lauder Foundation has opened two kindergartens in Berlin and Leipzig and two primary schools in Berlin and Cologne, in addition to youth centers in Berlin, Osnabruck, Leipzig, and Wurzburg, and a Rabbinical Seminar in Berlin with a Yeshiva Ben Zion.

Kindergartens: Jewish kindergartens operate in almost 20 cities, nine elementary schools, and seven secondary schools throughout Germany.

High Schools: In 1993, a Jewish high school in Berlin was reopened for the first time since World War II. Due to an increased 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, most students and faculty are non-Jews. Many German high school curriculums in German high schools include Holocaust studies.

Colleges/Universities: The College of Jewish Studies in Heidelberg was founded in 1979 to revitalize research and study in Jewish culture, history, and religion in Germany, following the tradition of the Academy for the Science of Judaism in Berlin. It is also a training center for scholars, teachers of Judaism, 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, open to applicants of any religious denomination, partners with the University of Heidelberg, maintaining 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, antisemitism, 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 Jewish studies.

The Mendelssohn Center of Potsdam University accepts many non-Jewish students and faculty.

Rabbinical Seminaries: In 2006, for the first time since the Shoah (the Holocaust), the Berlin-based Abraham Geiger College, part of the Liberal Movement, ordained a class of rabbis in Dresden’s New Synagogue. Three years later, two Orthodox rabbis trained in the Berlin-based Hildesheimer Seminary were ordained in Munich, for the first time in Germany in 70 years.


ZWST’s Youth Department offers a range of activities for every age group from Jewish children to young adults. The Education Center is a focal point for the materials, activities, and programs 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 youth centers, communities, and schools. 

Other major Jewish organizations in Germany include the World Zionist Organization, B'nai B'rith, and WIZO, as well as several student and youth movements.

Jewish Media

The main Jewish newspaper in Germany is the weekly Jüdische Allgemeine, operated by the Central Council of Jews in Germany. The paper follows in the footsteps of the Allgemeine Zeitung des Judentums, founded in 1837. After World War II, the 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 on its website.

Since 2012, a quarterly English-language newspaper, the Jewish Voice from Germany, has been published in Berlin.

A German and a Yiddish newsletter is published in Munich every week. In Frankfurt, the Jewish magazine Jüdisches Europa is published quarterly.

Information for Visitors

Cemeteries: The beautiful Weißensee Cemetery is the largest operating cemetery in Europe. The medieval Worms cemetery was saved from destruction.

Mikvahs: In Speyer, visitors can find the oldest mikvah (Jewish ritual bathhouse) in Germany, built in the 11th century. Friedberg has a mikvah that was created in 1260, and in Andernach on the Rhine, there is a mikvah from the 14th century.

Synagogues: Some famous, ancient Jewish sites in Germany are the synagogue in Worms, built in 1034, and the Rashi Chapel (1624). Both have been reconstructed since the Holocaust. There is a historic synagogue in Odenbach with Baroque paintings and ancient cemeteries in Würzburg, Heidingsfeld, Hochberg, and Frankfurt. In Berlin, the impressive New Synagogue on Oranienburger Straße has been reconstructed as a Jewish center, attracting many visitors.

Both the Jewish Museum in Emmendingen in Baden-Württenberg is located in a former synagogue and the LVR-Cultural Centre Village Synagogue Rödingen, in the town of Rödingen North Rhine-Westphalia, are located in former synagogues. The Wörlitz Synagogue, built in 1790, is located within the Dessau-Wörlitz Garden Realm; it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000.

Museums: There are over 30 museums that wholly or partially have sections dealing with Judaism. The Jewish Museum of Berlin chronicles two millennia of German Jewish history. According to the Museum’s 2013-2014 report, “Since its founding in 2001, there has been no downtime at the Jewish Museum Berlin. Over eight million people have visited the museum since it opened on 9 September 2001... On average, 2,000 visitors per day frequented the ‘Kollegienhaus’ and the Libeskind Building on Lindenstraße."

The museum was designed by New York’s architect Daniel Libeskind, who added a modern structure to the existing 18th-century Kollegienhaus. Other Jewish museums in Germany include the Jewish Museum of Augsburg, the Jewish Museum in Dorsten, Westfalia, the Alte Synagogue in Essen, which was transformed into the House of Jewish Culture, the Jewish Museum of Franconia in Fürth, The Frankfurter Judengasse, and the Jewish Museum in Worms, formerly the Rashi House.

Holocaust commemoration sites: Memorials and museums can be found at the sites of the former Nazi concentration camps such as Bergen-Belsen, Buchenwald, Bergen-Belsen, Dachau, Dora-Mittelbau, and Sachsenhausen-Ravensbrück. The Wannsee Villa near Berlin, where the machinery of the Final Solution was set in motion in 1941, has since been turned into a museum.

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 the Brandenburg Gate, 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 includes an underground Information Center.

Relations with Israel

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 both the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany and the World Jewish Congress, and Israel Foreign Minister Moshe Sharett signed the Luxembourg Reparations Agreements. Formal diplomatic relations between West Germany and Israel 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.

Embassy of the State of Israel
Auguste-Viktoria-Straße 74
D-14193 Berlin

Telephone: +49 30 890 45 500



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