Erfurt – Thuringia (English)

Location: Thuringia
About this community: Records indicate a temporary Jewish presence in Erfurt during the 9th century. However, a flourishing medieval community developed from the second half of the 12th century. It operated two synagogues, a mikvah (ritual bath), a cemetery, and a yeshiva (educational institute for Talmud studies) with several well-known, respected rabbis and scholars. During the Black Death persecutions of 1348/49 more than 100 Jews were murdered. Jews resettled in Erfurt in 1354 and were again forced to leave in 1453/54. It was not until 1768 that Jews were permitted to trade and live temporarily in Erfurt.

In the early 19th century, a small Jewish settlement developed in Erfurt. The first Jewish citizen of Erfurt was David Salomon Unger from Coswig (1754-1825), who moved there in 1806 and opened a jewelry and antique shop. He provided the newly founded Jewish community with a prayer room at his private residence. Due to an increase of membership in the 1820s, a new, larger prayer room had to be opened. Thus, the Jewish community purchased a house at the plot no. 2433 behind the city hall (today 5 An der Stadtmuenze). It was a two-story building with a neo-classical façade, where the new spacious prayer hall was established. Furthermore, a mikvah was located in the basement. Only a decade later, the dilapidated building had to be torn down. A new synagogue, later called Small Synagogue, was erected at the same site. It was inaugurated by Rabbi Ludwig Philippson of Magdeburg in July 1840. A mikvah was attached. When this synagogue was also deemed insufficient for the growing Jewish community – numbering 546 Jews in 1880 (1 percent of the total) – it was decided to sell the building to a merchant and build a new synagogue at 14 Karthaeuser Ring (today’s Juri-Gagarin-Ring). The new Great Synagogue was consecrated by Rabbi Dr. Kroner and Rabbi Dr. Karo in September 1884. The reform-oriented Great Synagogue was designed by Frankfurt architect Siegfried Kusnitzky. It was a splendid red-brick building accommodating 500 people. It had a copula and was richly decorated with colored paintings. A number of Orthodox families (approximately 10 families) separated from the community and established their own prayer hall. Nevertheless, Erfurt's Jewish community prospered. Among its members were factory owners, doctors, lawyers, town councilors and several national politicians. The Jewish community comprised a chevra kadisha (burial society), several women’s charity committees and cultural societies as well as a local branch of the Central Union of German Citizens of Jewish Faith. A religious school was established in 1854.

In 1811/12, the Jewish community established a cemetery near the Bruehler Tor at the beginning of today's Cyriakstrasse. It was in use until 1878. In order to open a new cemetery, a plot of land was purchased at 3 Werner-Seelenbinder-Strasse in 1871. The first funeral took place there in 1878. This cemetery is still in use until today. A tahara hall (mortuary) was added in 1897.

In the 1920s antisemitism strongly surfaced in Erfurt. Young locals attacked Jews in the street and dragged them out of cafes. The windows of private Jewish homes were smashed. The synagogue was smeared all over with NS propaganda. At another time, the synagogue's windows were smashed during a prayer service. The Jewish cemetery was desecrated in 1926.

Despite these antisemitic assaults, the number of Erfurt's Jewish population grew slightly, from 819 in 1925 to its peak of 831 (0.6% of total) in 1933. Rabbi Dr. Max Schueftan served the congregation. Teacher Hermann Schacher, who also worked as chazzan (cantor), provided religious instruction to Jewish children. Several welfare associations, founded in the 19th century, took care of the sick. The communal library was still in use at 4 Goethestrasse. Furthermore, a local B'nai B'rith lodge and a branch of the Jewish History and Literature Society were active in Erfurt.

Jewish businesses were boycotted on April 1, 1933. In the following years approximately 250 Erfurt Jews left the city; most went overseas. Nevertheless, numerous Jewish-owned shops and businesses were still operating in 1937. However, more and more stores and companies were closed down or sold to a non-Jewish owner due to the massive pressure by the Nazis. For example, David Littmann had bought a pharmacy in Erfurt, the so-called Moor's Pharmacy, at Schloesserstrasse in 1928, which became the most modern pharmaceutical facility in the city. "Like so many other Jewish businesses in Erfurt [on April 1, 1933], the pharmacy became a target of antisemitic attacks. SA men positioned themselves in front of the pharmacy and on their signs and leaflets, which they distributed to the pedestrians, it read: 'Whoever buys Jewish products is a traitor to the nationalist cause'." In November 1935, David Littmann did not see any other solution than selling his pharmacy and leaving the city. He emigrated to Italy in 1936 and later to the United States.

In October 1938, the Polish Jews were deported to Poland. On Pogrom Night in November 1938, the synagogue was set on fire. A Catholic clergyman managed to save two Torah scrolls and hide them during the Nazi era. (Today they are in the possession of the current-day community.) Jewish properties were vandalized. The Jewish cemetery was desecrated. Nearly 200 Jewish men were arrested and taken to the Humboldt School, where they were interrogated and mistreated. Others were taken to the Buchenwald concentration camp. Shortly after the pogrom, the Jewish community was charged for the costs of the demolition of the synagogue ruins. In 1939, the city of Erfurt acquired the synagogue site and erected a warehouse there.

In September 1941, 188 Jews lived in Erfurt. Deportations began in May 1942 and until January 1944, more than 150 local Jews were deported to the annihilation camps in Eastern Europe. The remaining Jews, probably protected by marriage to non-Jews, were deported to Theresienstadt in January 1945. Most of Erfurt Jews perished in the Shoah. Only a few Jews returned to Erfurt.

After 1945, a new community was formed. A synagogue was constructed and inaugurated at Juri-Gagarin-Ring (former Karthaeuser Ring) in the summer of 1952. At that time, the Erfurt Jewish community was the second largest in East Germany. A memorial plaque has been placed in the synagogue's entrance hall, commemorating the former Great Synagogue, which was destroyed in November 1938.
Sources: Schwierz, Israel: Zeugnisse juedischer Vergangenheit in Thueringen. Eine Dokumentation. Erfurt, 2007.
Spector, Shmuel (ed.): The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before and During the Holocaust, Yad Vashem and New York University Press, 2001.
Synagogue Memorial "Beit Ashkenaz": Pogrom Night 1938: A Memorial to the Destroyed Synagogues of Germany, Jerusalem, 2013.
Zentralwohlfahrtsstelle der Deutschen Juden (Ed.): Führer durch die Jüdische Gemeindeverwaltung und Wohlfahrtspflege in Deutschland 1923-1933 [1933/34].
Schoeps, Julius (ed.), Neues Lexikon des Judentums, Bertelsmann Verlag, Guetersloh, 1992.

Online sources: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erfurt
http://juedisches-leben.erfurt.de/jl/en/19-century/great_synagogue/
http://wiki-de.genealogy.net/B%C3%BCrgerbuch_der_Stadt_Erfurt_1761-1833/322
http://www.alemannia-judaica.de/erfurt_friedhof.htm
http://www.alemannia-judaica.de/erfurt_synagoge.htm
http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/judaica/ejud_0002_0006_0_06049.html
http://www.jüdische-gemeinden.de/index.php/gemeinden/e-g/574-erfurt-thueringen
http://www.lzt-thueringen.de/files/fates_of_jewish_families.pdf (Fates of Jewish Families in Thuringia, 1933-1945, ed. Monika Gibas)
Located in: Thuringia