Germany

The Jewish community in Germany numbered 100,000 in 2017, making it the eighth-largest Jewish community in the world, and the forth largest in Western Europe. Most Jews living in Germany today are originally from the former Soviet Union. The umbrella organization of German Jewry, the Zentralrat der Juden in Deutschland (Central Council of Jews in Germany), is the German affiliate of the World Jewish Congress.

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Zentralrat der Juden in Deutschland

Tel. +49 30 28 44 56 0
Fax +49 30 28 44 56 13
Email: info@zentralratderjuden.de
Website: www.zentralratderjuden.de

President: Dr. Josef Schuster, also a WJC Vice President

CEO: Daniel Botmann

 

Dr. Josef Schuster, Zentralrat President
& WJC Vice President


Community News


History

Jewish settlement in Germany dates to the 4th 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, Cologne, Mainz and Worms, became outstanding centers of Jewish life and learning.

Beginning with the First Crusade (1096 CE), Jews in the German lands suffered severe persecution, massacres and expulsion, including most notoriously the mass killings of Jews in Speyer (Spira), Worms and Mainz. In 1349, Jews throughout Europe were murdered after being accused of causing the “Black Death” pandemic, including thousands in Mainz, Cologne, and Erfurt, among other German cities and towns. Many Jews fled eastward, taking with them the Yiddish language that first developed in Germany. In the 17th century, conditions improved, and in the 19th century, Jews were granted emancipation, which found official expression in the 1871 Constitution.

It was the German Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn (1729-1786) who laid the foundation for the Haskala, the “Jewish Enlightenment,” which was to have a profound impact on Jewish thought. In fact, much of modern Jewish thinking originated in Germany. The Jewish Reform/Liberal religious movement was founded in Germany by Rabbi Abraham Geiger, and others 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 Zacharias Frankel, who headed the Jewish Theological Seminary in Breslau (today Wroclaw in Poland).

The Jews of Germany attained great success in all walks of life, including commerce, industry, art, and science. German Jewish Nobel Prize laureates between 1900 and 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).

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 that arose out of the ashes of imperial Germany—and many regarded the Weimar years as the golden age of German Jewry. However, anti-Semitism 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.

 

The Third Reich and the Years of the Holocaust

With the rise to power of the Adolf Hitler and 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. On April 1, 1933, a day-long boycott of Jewish-owned businesses proved to be the beginning of a diabolical process that culminated in 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 were 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, ever more discriminatory laws followed on both state and local 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 the night of November 9, 1938, which became known as “Kristallnacht” – the Night of the Broken Glass, 267 synagogues throughout Germany were destroyed, Jewish homes and businesses were ransacked and looted, as many as 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 war in exile decided to remain abroad, and only a small number returned to Germany. However, hundreds of thousands of survivors now considered 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 most 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), which was formed in 1950. 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, after services for Jewish communities, and other issues.

From 1990 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 were 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, most 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 today has 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.

More than 70 years after the end of World War II, there is an 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.

 

Demography

Hebrew University demographer Sergio Della Pergola estimated the German Jewish community to number 16,000 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 that are 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 consists of 23 regional associations and affiliated organizations, which in turn currently embrace 105 local Jewish communities. The spectrum of religious denominations within the communities covers a broad span from  orthodox via reform and conservative to progressive.

The Zentralrat fosters and promotes religious and cultural activities in the Jewish community. It provides  teaching material to the 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.

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.

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 program\es 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.
Major Jewish organizations, such as the World Zionist Organization, B'nai B'rith, and WIZO, as well as several student and youth movements are represented in Germany.

Religious and Cultural Life

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.

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 suppliers of kosher foods, both fresh and packaged products as well kosher restaurants, in many German cities. In March 2017, for the first time in Europe, the first European kosher festival, “Nosh Berlin,” was organized in the German capital. Over the course of a week, Jewish food lovers from across the globe came together for Nosh Berlin to celebrate Jewish cuisine with films, cooking demonstrations, talks, and pop-up dinners focused around Jewish food.

 

Jewish Education

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.

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 trained in the Berlin-based Hildesheimer Seminary were ordained in Munich, also for the first time in Germany in 70 years.

In the capital Berlin, 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 magnet 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, most 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 Jewish Communities in the different German cities and town have Jewish schools and other educational institutions ranging kindergartens to the high schools, as well Jewish continuing education programs. The Ronald S. Lauder Foundation opened two kindergartens in Berlin and in Leipzig, two primary schools in Berlin and in Cologne, youth centers in Berlin, Osnabruck, Leipzig and Wurzburg, and a Rabbinical Seminar in Berlin with a Yeshiva Ben Zion.

Currently there are Jewish kindergardens in almost 20 cities, nine elementary schools and seven secondary schools throughout Germany.

 

jewish media

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 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 (www.juedische-allgemeine.de).

A German and a Yiddish weekly are published in Munich. In Frankfurt, the quarterly Jewish magazine Jüdisches Europa is published.

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

 

Information for Visitors

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 many visitors. The beautiful Weißensee Cemetery there is the largest in Europe that is still in use.

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 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  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.

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 and is one of the most spectacular museum buildings in Germany, attracting large numbers of visitors. According to the Museum’s 2013-2014 report, “Since its founding in 2001, there has been no down time at the Jewish Museum Berlin. Over eight million people have visited the museum since it opened on 9 September 2001. In 2012, nearly 720,000 visitors made use of the services offered by the Jewish Museum Berlin. On average, 2,000 visitors per day frequented the ‘Kollegienhaus’ and the Libeskind Building on Lindenstraße. The number of visitors has remained constant compared to the previous year. Two thirds (67%) of visitors were from abroad. Children and young people continued to be strongly represented with 19% of the total visitors, and tours and workshops were attended by 3,574 school classes.”

The museum was design 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; a the Jewish Museum in 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  Frankfurt-am-Main (closed for renovation until 2019); The Jewish Museum in Emmendingen in Baden-Württenberg located in a former synagogue; the LVR-Cultural Centre Village Synagogue Rödingen in the town of Rödingen North Rhine-Westphalia also located in a former synagogue; the Jewish Museum in Worms, formerly the Rashi House; the Jewish Museum of Munich located in the new Jewish Center; and the Wörlitz Synagogue, built in 1790 and located within the Dessau-Wörlitz Garden Realm, which has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000.

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

Tel. +49 30 890 45 500
Website: http://berlin.mfa.gov.il
Email: botschaft@israel.de

 

updated

 

March 2018

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