Eisenach – Thuringia (English)

Location: Thuringia
About this community: Jewish presence in Eisenach was first documented around 1235. Jews lived in the so-called Judengasse in the center of the city (today Karlstrasse), and a synagogue was apparently established there. A well-known resident of Eisenach at that time, Jechiel ben Jaakov, composed synagogue poetry. In addition to a synagogue, a Jewish cemetery was located between the route to Langensalza and the road to Gotha. During the Black Death persecutions of 1348/49, Jews were forced out of the city. A few years later they returned to Eisenach and probably lived on Loebersgasse. They were expelled in the first half of the 15th century. From that point until the middle of the 19th century, Jewish settlement in Eisenach was rare.

Many Eisenach Jews made a living by trading. They worked as retailers, merchants and cattle dealers. In the second half of the 19th century, Eisenach was home to several Jewish lawyers, physicians (Dr. Isaak Ganz and Dr. Julius Fackenheim), bankers and business people. Among the latter were Jewish women as well, such as Sara Epstein, her daughter Johanna, and Betty Hamburger. Several traditional companies opened in the following decades, among them the women's fashion store Loewenstein and the menswear store Dreyfuss.

In 1850 territorial residence restrictions for Jews were officially lifted, and increasing numbers of Jews, mostly from Geisa and Lengsfeld, moved from the southern parts of present-day Thuringia to Eisenach. In 1862, sixteen families and two widows formed a religious community. The official founding took place two years later in 1864. The membership list of that year contains the following names: Dr. Mendel Hess, Salomon Backhaus, the Kayser family, Jakob Katzenstein, the Stiebel family, Siegwardt Rothschild, Selma Levy, Rudolf Heinemann, Manus Lind, Isaak Reiss, Samuel Lind, Benjamin Epstein, Jakob Heidungsfeld, and Dr. Moritz Levi Baumann. The central rabbinate of the Grand Duchy of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach had its seat in Eisenach from 1846 to 1876 and again from 1911/12. From 1827 to 1871, the rabbinate was headed by the honored Dr. Mendel Hess (1807-1871), who was strongly engaged in Jewish emancipation. He also published the journal "Der Israelit des 19. Jahrhunderts." One of his successors was Dr. Josef Wiesen (1866-1942) who was appointed as Chief Rabbi of the Grand Duchy of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach in 1898/1902. He first lived in Stadtlengsfeld and moved to Eisenach in 1911/12 when the rabbinate’s seat was returned to Eisenach. In 1877, the community received the status of an independent religious community. At that time, the Jewish population comprised 287 members and peaked at 440 in 1905.

On September 30, 1864 the Jewish community opened a prayer room in the rear building at 19 Jakobsplan. Official representatives of the municipality and the church participated in the event. Prior to 1864, prayer services had taken place in private homes, including Loeser Herz Kayser’s home on Georgenstrasse. Due to an increasing membership, services on High Holidays and weddings were held at the Hotel zum Loewen on Marienstrasse. In 1882, the grand-ducal regional office decided for safety reasons that no more than 100 people could enter the prayer room; women were therefore asked not to attend the services. In order to solve this problem, a committee for the erection of a new synagogue was formed, consisting of Moses Ehrlich, Heinrich Gruenstein, Ferdinand Stiebel, Joseph Weinstein, Salomon Stiebel, and Susmann Weinstein.

Several years later, the new building was completed. On January 8, 1885 the opening of the new synagogue took place at 26 Woerthstrasse (today Karl-Marx-Strasse). Rabbi Dr. Salzer held a festive service. Representatives of the municipality and the church attended the opening. The new synagogue was an impressive, Moorish-style building, drafted by the local architect Hermann Hahn. A women’s committee consisting of Mrs. Kayser, Kuh, Backhaus, Ehrlich and Stiebel had collected money for the synagogue’s interior, which included velvet curtains, silver decorations, Torah scrolls and covers. In 1928, the synagogue was renovated by the Leipzig architect Haller and equipped with a bronze monument in memory of 23 Jewish soldiers of the Eisenach community who had been killed in World War I. The synagogue building comprised rooms for community meetings and special events as well as a school where children received religious instruction. The synagogue was equipped with an organ and had a choir which had been founded in 1885 and was directed by Ferdinand Stiebel and Julius Heidungsfeld. Numerous contemporary witnesses praised the choir’s high quality.

Jakob Heidungsfeld (1830-1897) served the community as a teacher and cantor from November 1864 until 1897. A year after his employment (1865), a Jewish religious school was founded. At that time, eight schoolchildren received religious instruction at the prayer house. Later, religious instruction was given at a public school on Am Markt and from 1885 in the new synagogue. In 1890, the Jewish school consisted of two classes, comprising 53 students in total. Their number increased to 65 by the end of the 19th century. In 1897, Jakob Heidungsfeld was replaced by a new teacher, Ernst Meyer (1865-1923), who also worked as cantor and Hilfsprediger (curate).

Prior to 1868, Eisenach Jews buried their dead in Herleshausen. Subsequently, a new burial site was established, located in the municipal cemetery (Hauptfriedhof am Wartenberg). The first funeral (Loeb Stiebel) took place in March 1868 before the official opening. In 1910 or so, the community acquired an additional site in the municipal cemetery, which still exists today. A mikvah (ritual bath) also existed. It opened at 5 Clemensstrasse in 1879 and was part of Dobermann’s public baths.

In 1910, the Jewish community numbered 421 members. Landesrabbiner Dr. Josef Wiesen (1866-1942) served the community from 1898 until his retirement in 1930 and even after. In addition to his post, he maintained a school and nursing home for handicapped children. From the beginning of the community, several social and cultural associations had been founded, such as a society for the poor (Israelitischer Armen-Verein), a club for Jewish history as well as a men’s charitable and burial organization (Chebra-Gemilut-Chassadim, 1885) and a women’s association (Israelitischer Frauenverein). The latter’s long-termed president was Lydia Stiebel. After more than 30 years, she was replaced in 1914 by Marta Weinstein. After World War I, a local group of the Reichsbund Jüdischer Frontsoldaten (National Organization of Jewish Front-Line Soldiers) was established.

Latent antisemitism had always accompanied the development of the Jewish community. It turned into strident antisemitism in the 1890s. In 1891, the antisemitic organization Reformverein was founded in Eisenach. On several occasions, well-known representatives of German antisemitism, such as Max Liebermann von Sonnenberg (1897) and Adolf Stoecker (1905), came to the city to give speeches. In 1923 and 1925, the synagogue’s stained glass windows were destroyed. In June 1930, the Central Association of German Citizens of Jewish Faith organized an assembly of Thuringian Jews in Eisenach to protest the growing National Socialism movement in Thuringia.

In 1933, 378 Jews lived in Eisenach (56.9% of the total population). Although he had retired in 1930, Rabbi Dr. Josef Wiesen continued to serve the community and was the community’s last rabbi. Loewenthal, a cantor and teacher, provided religious instruction to Jewish schoolchildren. Two Jewish organizations, Chevra Kadisha (burial society) and Israelitischer Frauenverein, were still operating in the 1930s.

On Pogrom Night, in the late evening of November 9, 1938, SA men destroyed and plundered Jewish shops. They stormed into Jewish homes and mistreated and insulted the occupants. Furniture was damaged and precious collections were destroyed or stolen. The cemetery was vandalized. The synagogue was set on fire and burnt down. A day before, SA followers, as well as members of the Jungvolk, a subgroup of the Hitler Youth, had already destroyed the stained glass windows of the synagogue and used axes to destroy the furniture and the Aron haKodesh (Torah Ark), as well as the World War I memorial. Prayer books and other ritual objects were thrown into the street. However, the Torah scrolls remained unharmed and were later used in clandestine prayer services. The synagogue’s remains were blown up in January 1939. Many Jews were taken to the sports hall on today’s Goethestrasse. In the morning of November 10, the majority of the Jewish men were deported to the Buchenwald concentration camp near Weimar. Among them was Dr. Josef Wiesen, who was later released. In the following years, he hosted Jews at his home in Eisenach before they emigrated from Nazi Germany. He also provided prayer services in his private dining room. On September 19, 1942, he was deported to Theresienstadt, where he perished in November of the same year.

From 1933 to 1941, one third of the Jewish residents emigrated, mainly to Palestine and the USA. Many moved to other German cities. In May 1939, only 215 Jews resided in Eisenach. They were forced to live under very cramped conditions in so-called Judenhaeusern. On May 9 and September 19, 1942, most of them were gathered at the Sammelstelle (collecting point) at 48 Goethestrasse and taken to the train station. From there they were deported to the ghettos of Belzyce and Theresienstadt. Only very few of the deportees survived. Among the survivors were Therese Cohn, Renate Eckmann, Lina Rothschild, Hedwig Wolfermann, Dr. Erich Wiesen, Elisabeth Grienwaldt, Moritz Heinemann, Josef Kahn, and Rosa Pracht. At least 213 Eisenach Jews perished in the Shoah.

In 1945, a new Jewish community was founded in Eisenach. Due to migration and antisemitic measures, the community gradually ceased to exist (1951/52). In 1947, a memorial site was established on Karl-Marx-Strasse, commemorating the Pogrom Night and the deportation of Eisenach Jews.
Sources: Führer durch die jüdische Gemeindeverwaltung, 1932/33.
Brunner, Reinhold, Die Verfolgung, Vertreibung und Ermordung der jüdischen Menschen Eisenachs 1935 bis 1942, Eisenach, 1999.
Spector, Shmuel (Ed.), The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life before and during the Holocaust, New York, 2001.

Online sources: http://www.alemannia-judaica.de/eisenach_friedhof.htm
http://www.alemannia-judaica.de/eisenach_synagoge.htm
Located in: Thuringia