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Apr 2003 Journal

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Legacy of the Jews of Leipzig - Part 2

The development of Leipzig into a great city owed much to the achievements of the city’s Jews. Jewish entrepreneurs erected imposing, modern commercial buildings, often on the sites of the small shops where they had begun their business careers.

The struggle of the Jews in Germany for civil rights was long and painful. But only under National Socialism did they face physical annihilation. The Jewish community in Leipzig, which had numbered over 13,000, was reduced by August 1938 to some 10,500. A further 1,300 Jews with Polish nationality were deported to Poland in October 1938.

During Kristallnacht 553 Jewish men were arrested in Leipzig, centres of Jewish communal life were destroyed, and business premises looted or burnt out. Around 2,700 members of the community managed to emigrate in 1938/39, but very few in 1940.

The deportations from Leipzig began on 21 January 1942. The remaining Jews were sent in nine ‘waves’ to their deaths in camps in the East. On 13 February 1945 the 220 Jews remaining in Leipzig were compelled to assemble in a school. Two days later they were deported to Theresienstadt. They survived.

After 1945 the Jewish community was reconstituted, thanks to the efforts of the few survivors who returned from the camps or emerged from hiding places in Leipzig. Twenty-four members attended the first postwar meeting.

The Brodyer Synagogue at Keilstrasse 4 – the only synagogue in Leipzig to survive Kristallnacht, because there had been ‘Aryan’ tenants in the building’s upper stories – was restored and re-consecrated. The two cemeteries and the ceremonial hall of the Neuer Israelitischer Friedhof were restored.

In 1949 the community numbered 368 members. But in the early years of the DDR anti-Semitism led to the flight of the leaders of the Leipzig community and of many younger members. The situation improved only after 1956. Until 1990 the congregation was overseen by the East Berlin Rabbinate. Werner Sander was its cantor until his death in 1972.

After unification, membership grew, mainly through the immigration of Jews from the former Soviet Union. Since January 1998 Leipzig has had a rabbi again. Rabbi Salomon Almekias-Siegl is in charge of the three Saxon congregations, Dresden, Leipzig and Chemnitz. Leipzig has the largest community. Since 1992 Rolf Isaacsohn has been its tireless president.

Gratifying though the growth of the Leipzig community is – in October 2002 it numbered 840 members – today’s community cannot be compared with the former community, one of the six largest in Germany. Social problems, unemployment and difficulties with a new language hinder the integration of new members. To identify with a new community in a new city is difficult, especially as many have to be taught the religious practices. Services on the high holidays are held in Hebrew, German and Russian.

The process of integration is helped by the Gemeindeblatt der Israelitischen Religionsgemeinde zu Leipzig, which has appeared monthly since January 2001 in Russian and German and is the shared responsibility of new and ‘old-established’ members. It carries information on many aspects of Jewish life.

Few traces of the former richness of Jewish life in Leipzig remain. But to the survivors of the Holocaust these documents and photos are precious - often their only possessions from the past - while to the younger generations they provide a unique link to family members.

Only in December 1999 did the Stadtgeschichtliches Museum Leipzig set up a collection of Jewish documents and artifacts. This would have been impossible without the assistance of citizens of Leipzig both past and present. The Museum is also grateful to the AJR Journal for publicising its collection.

The first part of this article appeared in the March issue of AJR Journal.
Andrea Lorz

previous article:Obituary - Felix Huttrer