Mar 2003 Journal

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Legacy of the Jews of Leipzig

Part 1

Last September, I spent two weeks in London, Manchester and Hebden Bridge visiting former residents of Leipzig. The personal contacts were all the more important to me as these former citizens of Leipzig have been most helpful in my efforts to build up a Jewish Documentation Centre in Leipzig’s Stadtgeschichtliches Museum. They have also helped by making my project more widely known. But no letters or telephone calls, however heartfelt, can replace personal contact. So I take this opportunity to thank most warmly those who contributed to the preparation and successful outcome of my visit.

I was very moved by the warm welcome I received everywhere, with the ensuing conversations taking me right back into the childhood and youth of my hosts. The closer the conversations came to the Nazi years in Leipzig, leading up to the enforced emigration, the more painful I found them.

We passed from uniformly loving memories of happy childhood years in Leipzig to the bitter experiences of discrimination, persecution and enforced emigration. This experience of marginalisation and exclusion was incomprehensible to the children for whom Leipzig had hitherto been their hometown.

I was also able to visit the editors of the AJR Journal, World Jewish Relief, the Wiener Library, and the Art Loss Register. My special thanks go to Richard Grunberger, Ronald Channing and Anthony Grenville, who gave generously of their time for detailed discussions with me, answered my questions patiently, and showed great interest in matters relating to Leipzig.

We discussed not only the strengthening of contacts with former citizens of Leipzig, but also the development of Leipzig’s Jewish community after 1945 and the Museum’s need for exhibits that document - to take just two examples - the achievements of Jewish doctors in Leipzig and the organisation of the life-saving Kindertransports from Leipzig to London.

These are two areas in which we have as yet nothing in the Museum to show visitors. So there remains much to be done to create a complete historical representation of this chapter of events. Given that Leipzig’s Jewish community was one of the most prominent in Germany, this is all the more important.

What are the principal landmarks in the development of the Jewish community in Leipzig, officially founded on 2 June 1847 as the Israelitische Religionsgemeinde zu Leipzig? The first written reference to a Jewish settlement in Leipzig and the existence of a synagogue dates to around 1230. The last mention of the Jewish community in medieval times occurs in the mid-fifteenth century. We do not know whether the Jews were then expelled from the city, as elsewhere.

Only in 1837 were the Jews of Leipzig and Dresden permitted by law to practise their religion in the Kingdom of Saxony. Full citizenship was granted them only after 1868. Once the residential restrictions on Jews were lifted, trade and industry in Leipzig flourished. Their industry and dedication caused the Jews to rise to prominence in many fields. They significantly influenced Leipzig’s development as a university town and a centre of trade, music and culture, were active in its social life, and the imposing office buildings they erected graced the city’s skyline.

One could cite innumerable names to represent the multiplicity of the achievements of Leipzig’s Jews in art and culture, medicine, science and commerce, as in the city’s society as a whole. Entrepreneurs, scientists, doctors, artists and businessmen - all felt committed to the good of their city.

Dr Lorz is the Director of the Jewish Documentation Centre in the Leipzig City Museum. The article was translated from the German by Marianne Herz. The second and final part will appear in the April issue of AJR Journal.
Andrea Lorz

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