Thursday, October 22, 2020

We Shall Become a Jewish Nest

In my blog following a guided tour on “Jewish life in Freiburg" on March 11, I gave my readers an overview of the history of the local Jewish community up to the year 1424 when Emperor Sigismund confirmed the city council decree of 1411, Daz dekein Jude ze Friburg niemmerme sin sol (That no Jew should ever be in Freiburg again) with an Eternal Expulsion. 

The talk Red Baron listened to on the evening of October 20, 2020
The date of my second blog about Jewish life in Freiburg coincides with the date of the Wagner-Bürckel-Aktion on October 22, 1940, when the Jews in Baden were deported to Gurs.

The 19th Century

In 1807, thanks to Napoleon‘s rule, Jews in Baden were recognized as citizens, and their religion was tolerated. They “enjoyed” protected citizenship but were denied local rights. Besides, they were allowed to settle only in communities where Jews were already residents. Within Freiburg‘s city boundaries, only temporary daily stays were permitted.

With the advent of a constitutional monarchy in Baden in 1818, the state parliament's two chambers again discussed the Jews' emancipation. During the “Jewish debates” in the Second Chamber in 1821, resistance was stirring. Freiburg's Karl von Rotteck made himself the spokesman for the members of parliament who demanded of Jews to earn their civil rights through increased integration.

Freiburg put up fierce resistance against freedom of movement. For fear of competition, the merchants wanted to retain the prohibition on Jews, the ban that had existed since 1424, and the city council had once more confirmed in 1809. A petition addressed to the Baden parliament stated, “Wir werden zum Judennest (We shall become a Jewish nest.”) 

With such hospitality, it is not unsurprising that the first Jewish family settled in Freiburg as late as 1850, and in 1861 only 37 Jews were counted within the city boundaries. 

           35 Jewish families and a preliminary synagogue
Allgemeine Zeitung des Judentums of September 6, 1864.
Jewish Communities)
Initially, the Jewish community had only a small prayer room on Münsterplatz that the Catholic Freiburgers regarded with suspicion.

Looking for a kosher butcher,
Ad in the journal Der Israelit on July 11, 1877.
Jewish Communities)
At the time of the formation of the Second Reich in 1871, 1.3% or 330 of Freiburg‘s citizens were Jews. This number increased to a maximum of 1399 or 1.6% in 1925. 

 On September 23, 1870, the new synagogue on Werthmannplatz was solemnly consecrated.

©Stadtarchiv Freiburg 
The Freiburger Zeitung of September 25, 1870, wrote, "The festive consecration of the new Israelite temple on the Rempart was celebrated last night. Like the small congregation, the beautiful Jewish house of worship, boldly rising in Moorish-Byzantine style, is a living example of how God is mighty even in miniature. Delayed many times by the disfavor of the time, the synagogue has lost nothing ... The colorfulness of the walls and ceiling is softened by the reflections of darkly painted windows ... Rabbi Reiß's sermon was dignified, and Cantor Sommer's beautiful and sonorous tenor filled the room of the small house of worship accordingly ... The auditorium, consisting of the members of the congregation, several guests of honor, including the heads of the authorities of the state, and the Protestant clergy, etc., followed the uplifting service with devotion ... ”

The Third Reich

With the advent of the Third Reich in January 1933, Jews started to leave the city so that in June, the census gave their number as 1138. In May 1940, at the beginning of the Second World War, only 600 Jews still resided in Freiburg. Following the Wagner-Bürckel Aktion in October 1940 (see below), their number dropped to 41; most of the remaining were living in mixed Jewish-Christian marriages.

Already in late March 1933, Freiburg’s Nazi newspaper Der Alemanne called for a national boycott of Jewish businesses, which was officially organized on a national scale for April 1. 

In the future, no German will buy from Jews! 
Remember well! Judah wanted to annihilate Germany!
The Freiburg Catholic St. Konradsblatt explained this measure as a reaction to the spread of atrocity reports about the massacre of thousands of Jews in the Anglo-American press, "As a punishment for these rumors from abroad, a movement has now formed in Germany with the aim of carrying out a general boycott of Jewish shops and at the same time limit the number of Jewish lawyers and doctors. This came into effect under the leadership of the NSDAP on Saturday, April 1, at 10:00 a.m. Reich Chancellor Hitler emphasized that this defense reaction had to be organized because otherwise, it would have come from and by the people and have taken undesirable forms! 

The Freiburgers only moderately followed the boycott of Jewish shops.

Other measures against Jewish citizens hurt more. On April 7, the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service came into force. The Arierparagraph stated: “Civil servants who are not of Aryan descent are to be retired.” The Nuremberg Race Laws of September 1935, i.e., the Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor, as well as the Reich Citizenship Law, followed the primitive logic of 1920 NSDAP's party program: ”Citizens can only be those who are Volksgenossen (comrades of the people). A Volksgenosse is of German blood, without regard to creed or denomination. No Jew can, therefore, be a Volkgenosse.”

The German Jews now fell under the Aliens Act. Thus all civil service was closed to them.

The persecution of Jews reached its spectacular climax on November 9, 1938, in the so-called Reich Pogrom Night, also known as Reichskristallnacht (Night of the Broken Glass). 

SS-Standartenführer Walter Gunst was identified as the arsonist of the Freiburg synagogue. On the night of November 9-10, 1938, Gunst ordered gasoline, smashed the door of the building, and with his helpers, emptied the canisters in the synagogue, while at the same time the Gestapo searched the basement for documents. 

When the fire broke out between three and four in the morning, it came to a violent verbal exchange between the unsuspecting Gestapo men and the kindling SS men. In a perfidious impulse, the SS had Rabbi Siegfried Scheuermann, Cantor David Ziegler, and teacher Loeb David Maier got out of bed and forced them to watch the synagogue fire.

After the war, Wolf Middendorff, a student of law at the time, wrote about the arrival of the fire brigade accompanied by an agent because of the suspicion of arson, "At the scene of the fire, the accompanying detective recognized two high-ranking SS officers, who harshly rejected him, so he could not take up his work. A colleague who passed the scene between five and six observed that the fire brigade restricted itself to protecting the neighboring buildings. He is also chased away, but he announced the fire to the Freiburg public prosecutor's office. When the office, in turn, reported the obvious arson to the Attorney General in Karlsruhe, the latter said that the fire in the Freiburg synagogue is no news. Synagogues all over Germany are burning, and he added, ‘Leave the paragraphs at home, this is a political issue.’”

Middendorff reported as an eyewitness and took a photo too, "When I was on my way to the university on the morning of November 10, 1938, I saw the synagogue half-destroyed. Obviously, it had burned down. The partially blackened outer walls were still standing, the square around the synagogue was cordoned off by SS men who denied all access and took strict care that no one took photographs.”

Freiburg's Synagogue on November 10, 1938, around noon.
Parts of the collapsed ceiling are clearly visible in the large window.
A police officer guards the staircase but does not disturb the photograph. 
(©Stadtarchiv Freiburg). 
Under the command of the city building inspector, SS-Untersturmbannführer, and demolition expert Wilhelm Kunzmann, the synagogue was "laid down" the following day. During the next months, the foundations of the synagogue were razed to the ground. 

During the same night and the following day, the Freiburg authorities arrested 137 male Jews over 18 years of age who were taken by train to the Dachau concentration camp north of Munich.

Schüblinge in Baden-Baden (©C. Kreutzmüller). 
Note that the Jewish men were forced to march bareheaded.
In the 1930s, even for a Christian,
walking hatless in the street was socially unacceptable. 
Above all, these deportations* were intended to force the Jews to emigrate. In Dachau alone, 185 people died in the first weeks of internment. After a few months, these Schüblinge (shifted people) were released, but only 60 Freiburgers returned home, starved, sick, and with severe frostbites. 
*about 30,000 Jews throughout the Reich

Stolpersteine (stumbling blocks)
Among the returnees was prisoner number 23221, Professor (ret.) Sigmund Fleischmann from Sternwaldstraße. At his address, I have a stumbling block set to his memory. Sigmund died at Freiburg in 1939 as a result of his internment in Dachau. His wife Lina was deported to Theresienstadt on August 22, 1942, and murdered in Auschwitz in May 1944. 

Following November 15, 1938, Jews were no longer allowed to attend German schools and universities, and since January 1, 1939, they were prohibited from conducting businesses. 

Freiburg was well ahead of this, for as early as April 1, 1937, the K.G. Fritz Richter operated the department stores of the Kaufhausjude (department store Jew) Sally Knopf.

Memorial in the form of a road sign at the Square of the Old Synagogue
As already mentioned, in 1940, about 600 Jews were still living in Freiburg. On October 22, 1940, in the framework of the Wagner-Bürckel Aktion, they were deported, together with other Jews from Baden, the Palatinate, and Saarland, to the Camp de Gurs in the Pyrenees. 

The secret instruction leaflet of the Wagner-Bürckel-Aktion  
(©C. Kreutzmüller).
Gurs was located in the part of France unoccupied by the Germans and ruled from Vichy.

The Warner-Brückle Aktion at Lörrach  (©C. Kreutzmüller).
The order of deportation took the Jews of Freiburg by complete surprise and took place, perfidiously, on a high Jewish holiday, the merry Feast of Tabernacles. Within hours, those affected had to pack up a few belongings and transfer their remaining possessions by signature to the Reich. In the following months, household contents and real estates were auctioned or sold to the Freiburg population - usually clearly undervalue.

A memorial plaque set up on the initiative of my friend Andreas Meckel at the Annakirchlein (St. Anna Church) in my part of town, the Wiehre.
 Jewish citizens who had to assemble here and
to wait for their transport to Freiburg's train station.
Citizens of the Jewish faith and those who were declared Jews according to the inhuman racial ideology were deported from Baden, the Palatinate, and Saarland on October 22, 1949, under the Nazi rule of terror.
From this place in the Wiehre, the deportation of the women, men, and children began in full view of everyone to Gurs concentration camp in southern France.
Most of the deportees succumbed at Gurs to the inhuman camp conditions or were later murdered.;

A Freiburg eyewitness writes, “Throughout October 22, Jewish citizens were driven out of their apartments. They had to wait at assembly points such as the Hebel School's courtyard in the Stühlinger quarter for hours and sometimes the whole night before they were eventually put on trains to Gurs. Seven trains brought 6538 women, men, and children from all over Baden and the Palatinate to the camp in southern France. Could such an event go unnoticed in Freiburg? Probably only by those who did not want to see. The Freiburg platforms were black with people ... “ 

To protect the “Catholic” Jews, Freiburg’s Archbishop Conrad Gröber asked the papal nuncio in Berlin for the pope's intervention. In vain, since in the Third Reich, being a Jew was not a question of religion but of race. 

Numbers of deportees furnished by Dr. Heinrich Schwendemann,
 the known expert in the field (©BZ)
Already on October 23, 1940, Gauleiter (governor) Robert Wagner proudly announced to his Führer: “The Upper Rhine is the first region of the Reich being free of Jews,” while the Freiburg journalist Karl Willy Straub applied his knowledge of history: "Freiburg is once again free of Jews”(read above).

The cruel transport by train through occupied and Vichy France to Gurs (©BZ)
Many people did not survive the stress of the three days and four nights of rail transport to Gurs. Those who managed were transported to the Auschwitz and Majdanek extermination camps in 1942.

Here are the links to two articles in German about the shameful anniversary published in the Badische Zeitung on October 21, "Territoriale Endlösung" and 22, "Ort des Schreckens."

The Post War Period

After the end of the Second World War, just ten Jews married "in mixed marriages" had survived in the city, and only five Jews born in Freiburg returned home. 

In September 1945, a Jewish service was held in Freiburg for the first time after the war. At the end of the same year, a new Jewish congregation was constituted, which was initially called the "Israelitische Landesgemeinde Südbaden" (Israelite community in the state of South-Baden). In the early 1950s, the Freiburg congregation had about 60 members who used a prayer room at Holbeinstraße

Due to the immigration of Russian Jews, the community's structure changed considerably. In 2007, more than 700 people belonged to the religious community.  

In November 1987, a new community center with a synagogue was inaugurated on the corner of Nussmann-/Engelstraße close to the cathedral. In the building, designed by Karlsruhe architects, the two oak wings from the synagogue's main portal, which was destroyed in 1938, were inserted. The community center comprises a community hall with 120 seats, a ritual bath, an exhibition room, the synagogue itself with 150 seats, rooms for the young people, and a kosher kitchen.

Red Baron participated in some of the activities of Freiburg’s Jewish community as there were the commemoration of the burning of the Synagogue and the Kippa Day.

Square of the Old Synagogue

So far, so good. But trouble started in 2016 when Freiburg shaped its new center creating the Square of the Old Synagogue. Red Baron blogged about the remains of the Old Synagogue and what happened to its memorial.

P.S. For this blog, I borrowed some information from the website „On the History of Jewish Communities in the German Language Area.“ 

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