The Jewish Community in Hamburg 1860-1943
Hohenzollern Empire - Weimar Republic - National Socialist State
III. The Deutsch-Israelitische Gemeinde/German-Israelite Community in the Weimar Republic:The manifold social, economic and political consequences of the First World War affected Hamburg Jews as it did other Germans. Traditional structures and values lost their legitimacy. The attempt made by the Weimar Republic to create a new and improved social and economic stability with the assurance of liberal freedoms in a situation of moral uncertainty was for many an insoluble contradiction.
Also within the Jewish community it was sensed that a new era had dawned in which economic risk and opportunity were closely connected. The solidarity of the Jewish community offered security in a time of radical change. This could have led to a strong new community life but for some members traditional Jewish values seemed out of keeping with the time.
The community experienced these conflicts in various ways, further intensified by the new generation of members. The community was able to make compromises the majority could accept. For many Hamburg Jews the Weimar Republic appeared to be the heyday of German Judaism in comparison with earlier and later periods.
1. Demographic Structure:
The community's 1926 survey revealed that there were 20,749 Jewish community members. Of these around 6,500 men and 3,200 women were characterized as head of household. The survey further identifies around 3,700 wives and around 6,900 children. The official national census of 1925 revealed how many citizens of Hamburg described themselves as being of the Jewish faith, which establishes that almost all practicing Jews were members of the community. The fact that such a high proportion of Hamburg Jews were members of the community is evidence that the "Hamburg System" was seen as being a tolerant institution. It also enabled the community to represent Hamburg Jews officially in public and legal affairs. However, these figures do not show the proportion of acculturated Jews. It was only during the Nazi period that these so-called "Rassejuden"/"racial Jews" were identified as individuals and recorded statistically.
The continued existence of the community only appeared demographically secure. A more detailed
analysis reveals that there had been a stagnation in the growth of the Jewish population for
some time. The decline in the birth rate of Jews had been previously compensated for by a lower
infant mortality rate and a longer life expectancy. This led to a shift in the age structure
of the community. There was an over proportion of Jews in the older generations.
2. Acculturation - Mixed Marriages - Membership Lost to the Community
Danger of Acculturation:
3. Community Leadership and Policy
The Bid for Community Leadership:
The administration comprised between 60 and 70 persons. There was a 9 member board, a 21 member council of representatives, and 16 permanent committees making a further demand on personnel. In addition there were corresponding positions in the three religious associations, and in numerous Jewish organisations. This resulted in a personnel intensive community organisation which is evidence of a commitment on behalf of Hamburg Jews to their community and its numerous institutions.
The 21 member council of representatives constituted the central decision making power. They elected the board which was dependent on their approval in all essential matters. There were areas of dispute: the census bound right to vote, the introduction of proportional representation, particlarly demanded by the Zionists, a permanent conflict concerning the active and passive vote for women, whose introduction was fiercely combatted by the orthodox Jews. The passive womens vote (women could become candidates) was first introduced in the 1930 community election, with the result that three women were elected.
The "Political" Election Campaign:
4. School System
The educational interests of the orthodox Jews was represented by the Talmud Torah Realschule. The educational standard of the school was recognized by the Hamburg education authority and was grant aided. The good reputation of the school was due to the commitment of its headmaster Dr. Joseph Carlebach, the future chief rabbi of Altona and later Hamburg. The Hamburg education authority generally supported the Jewish communities educational aspirations. With the help of the education authority the Talmud Torah Realschule became a combined Volksschule, Realschule, and Oberrealschule (elementary, secondary, and sixth form school), and then in 1932 it gained the right to award A-Level certificates i.e. university entrance qualifications. This fulfilled the aspiration of the Hamburg Jewish community in that they finally had their own school that prepared children for university, which removed the necessity for children to transfer to state schools on the ground of educational qualifications.
The final qualifications that Jewish girls' schools offered was initially more limited. The sole Jewish community girls' school initially had the standard of a Volksschule (Secondary Modern School). In 1928 it attained the status of a Realschule (Secondary School) with the ability to award the mitteler Reife (roughly GCE O-Level) . The Jewish community were proud of this development especially when seen in relation to the state school system. When the two private Jewish schools were closed due to financial problems the community's girls' school attained the status of a Realschule with the ability to award the Obersekundareife (seventh year of the German secondary school certificate - roughly the first year of the two year sixth form).
During this period the two Jewish community schools together had around 1,200 pupils. The maintenance of the two schools cost the Jewish community one third of its revenue.
5. The Jewish Religious Associations:
The Importance of the Religious Associations in the "Hamburg System":
In general wealthy Hamburg Jews were likely to be members of the Temple Association whereas poorer Jews were likely to be less committed religiously.
Although only around 40% of all community members were members of any one of the three religious associations they were over-proportionately represented on the council of representatives, as is shown in the diagram below:
The Deutsch-Israelitische Synagogenverband Hamburg/Hamburg German-Israelite Synagogue Association:
6. Economic Depression - Occupational Restructuring - Self Help
The economic dependency of Hamburg Jews on Hamburg's economic structure made itself manifest during the 1923 Inflation, but was overcome with a certain composure. Although Jews lost their assets and capital there was an expression of economic optimism, especially among the middle class. This was conspicuous in comparison to the reaction of the Hamburg community and its members regarding the difficulties encountered during the 1929-1933 Depression. The community tried to adjust to the situation with a flexibility and sense of solidarity, and organised career's guidance, the search for jobs, help with occupational restructuring, self-help and the search for apprenticeships, with significant success. Jewish self-help, always directed towards educational advancement, was especially effective in surmounting the economic crisis. Self reliance also appeared a possible answer to the growing political, social, and now economic antisemitism.
7. Antisemitism - Open Terror - Jewish Resistence
The Hamburg Jewish community began to formulate a defence to the explicit antisemitism and open terror. However, no effective answer was found for what was taking place within the society. Strategy documents were draw up and, in an extraordinary committee meeting, measures were discussed and resolved regarding an internal policy. Open discussion within the community was discouraged in an attempt to prevent further disquiet. All discussion concerning antisemitism was omitted from the semi-official community news-letter.
At the beginning of 1931 the Jewish cemetery in Rentzelstraße in the Grindel quarter was desecrated, and then in the summer of 1931, for the first time in Hamburg, a synagogue was desecrated. The seriousness of the situation could no longer be concealed. At the beginning of 1932 the cemetery in Rentzelstraße was again desecrated. The Hamburg judiciary was at this time still independent when it came to the sentencing of offenders. From the summer of 1932 onwards the open terror against "Jews" became commonplace. The community had to request police protection, and the religious associations could only advise their members to depart the synagogue, quickly and quietly, directly after the service, and not as was customary to linger longer. When, at the beginning of 1932, the public prosecutor declined to prosecute antisemitic aggitators the Jewish community leadership reacted by prohibiting any provocation, or radical reaction towards antisemitic acts.
In August 1932 the Hamburg Senat repealed its ban of the NSDAP. Hamburg Jews saw this as the beginning of
a tolerance of antisemitism by the state of Hamburg. Despite this development the community leadership
rejected any form of active self defence; the offer of support by the social democratic Reichsbanner
was rejected. There were isolated, unofficial instances of self defence and resistence by Jewish youth
groups and individual local zionist organizations, but these were ultimately insignificant.
German text: Prof. Dr. Ina S. Lorenz, Institut für die Geschichte der deutschen Juden