Cologne / Köln (Koeln)

General information: First Jewish presence: Roman Era under Emperor Constantine (reigned 306-337); peak Jewish population: 16,093 in 1925
Summary: The Destruction of the Second Temple and the Diaspora
When the Romans destroyed the Second Temple during the siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE, Jews were forced out of their holy city. Many traveled to other parts of the Roman Empire, some because they were sold into slavery, others in search of a place to settle and make a living in safety. The first to arrive in Germany, the country known as �Ashkenaz� in the Hebrew of the time, were merchants, who established themselves in towns founded by the Romans along the Rhine River. Cologne is one such town, and is mentioned in the earliest source documenting organized Jewish community life in the territories of today's Germany. The source is a decree issued by the Roman Emperor Constantine in 321 CE, stipulating that Jews were no longer exempt from sitting on the city council. A second decree by Constantine, issued ten years later, exempted officials within the Jewish community from some obligations of citizens of the lower social strata. From the 4th century until the Middle Ages, there is no evidence suggesting that Jews maintained a continuous presence in Cologne or indeed in anywhere in the German territories.

The Middle Ages
Evidence of Jewish life in Germany re-emerges in the High Middle Ages (1000 to 1300 CE). As the Kingdom of the Franks expanded eastwards, Jewish traders from southern Europe established themselves on Germany’s trade routes and major rivers, particularly on the west bank of the Rhine, in cities such as Mainz, Speyer, Worms, and the trading hub of Cologne. A synagogue was built in Cologne in or around the year 1000 CE; by 1075, the town had a designated Jewish quarter. In 1090 Cologne’s Jewish community had approximately 1,000 members. Throughout the Middle Ages, the Jews of Cologne played a significant role in the development of Jewish-German culture. The city’s medieval Jewish community was the largest and one of the most influential in Ashkenaz. Nonetheless, the social and legal status of Jews was lower than that of Christians, and they were regarded as aliens. Because Jews brought economic value to the towns in which they settled, bishops and emperors were willing to grant them certain rights, and issued orders guaranteeing their protection. These early years of relative peace and prosperity did not last long. As was the case in Cologne, the history of Germany’s Jewish communities—from medieval times until Pogrom Night in 1938—was a cycle of rebuilding and growth, punctuated by expulsion, pogroms and destruction. The First Crusaders, full of religious zeal, carried out the earliest of the anti- Jewish pogroms in 1096. First they attacked the Jews of the Rhine Valley, where, in Cologne, Jews were massacred and the community’s synagogue was destroyed. Some Jewish communities resisted the attacks, while certain bishops and ordinary Christians, and the indeed the emperor himself, attempted to protect them, but the Crusaders’ onslaught was overpowering. Many Jews chose a martyr’s death, some through suicide, over forced conversion to Christianity. Cologne’s Jewish community was destroyed, although some of its members survived in hiding. Similar pogroms occurred repeatedly during the Middle Ages, prompting Jews to spread out from southern Germany to the north and east, reaching cities such as Berlin and Hamburg, among others, in search of safety. The First Crusade was a turning point in the history of the German Jews because it made physical attacks on them more or less acceptable, even justified, in the minds of the general public, particularly during periods of social, religious, or economic instability. Jews were expendable; the property of whichever German ruler offered them protection and, as such, their lives often depended on the whim of a single nobleman. Despite the fear and uncertainty this caused them, Jews returned to the cities after the massacres; life in the re-established Jewish community in Cologne continued uninterrupted for approximately 250 years. The economic and social situation of Germany’s Jews fluctuated in the 12th and 13th centuries. Having been forced out of trade and commerce by city guilds, many Jews made a living as money lenders and pawn brokers, because the Church forbade Christians to work in these occupations. Money lending was essential for economic development and funding warfare and, given their lack of professional options, a lifeline for many Jews. Ironically, the very thing that enabled Jews to survive this social discrimination also made them hated by Christian nobility and townspeople who struggled to pay their debts. Their discontent fueled the fires of Jew-haters who publicly accused Jews of accepting stolen goods and “sucking the lifeblood” of Christian debtors. Nevertheless, where Jews could be useful, they were granted certain rights and privileges. In Cologne they were given permission to bear arms, and in 1106 were entrusted with the defense of one of the city’s gates, the Porta Judaeorum (“The Gate of the Jews”). They were also allowed to own houses in the Jewish quarter (there were 30 Jewish property owners in 1135; 70 in 1340), and used a synagogue and cemetery established before the First Crusade. There was a separate synagogue for women, called the Frauenschule. Cologne’s Jewish community flourished from the mid-13th century until the beginning of the 14th, running a Talmud Torah school, a mikveh, a bakery and a hospital. The Jews were granted increasing legal autonomy over their internal affairs. The title of the leader of the Cologne community was the episcopus Judaeorum (the “Bishop of the Jews”) who served as head of a ruling council of up to 12 members. The rabbinical court had jurisdiction over the community’s internal legal matters; only the most serious cases went before the Christian archbishop. In 1331, Cologne’s rabbinical court was granted authority to rule on financial claims against Jews, meaning that Christian plaintiffs were sometimes obliged to appear before a Jewish court. One of the main functions of Jewish leaders was to regulate the spiritual life of their communities. Jewish scholars and ruling councils would draft and issue takkanot: regulations governing Jews’ behavior, not only regarding issues of religion but many different spheres of life, including business. Cologne’s Jews and Jews all over the country were decisively influenced by the takkanot of the religious leaders of the so-called “Shum” communities: Speyer, Worms, and Mainz. The Shum communities were respected for their high standards of scholarship and strict adherence to Orthodox Jewish doctrine. Through their takkanot, they encouraged Jews to study the Torah, keep the Sabbath, and observe the laws of sexual purity. Their regulations also obliged Jews to pay tax and keep the law of the land. Cologne too was home to a number of noteworthy rabbis who promoted scholarship and Torah study in the 12th to the 14th centuries, such as Eliezer ben Yoel ha-Levi (1160- 1235), Asher ben Yehiel ha-Rosh (1250-1327), and Asher’s son, Yaakov ben Asher (1269-1343). The social and religious persecution of Jews never ceased. There was a Second Crusade in 1146; that campaign did not claim as many Jewish lives as did the first, for Jews acted on previous experience and sought shelter in the castles of the nobility. Despite the protection Jews received from local rulers, the Church enacted discriminatory measures against them in the early 13th century by ordering clergymen to restrict business transactions between Christians and Jews. Jews were also forced to wear a distinctive yellow badge (a discriminatory tactic the Nazis reintroduced in 1939 in occupied Poland, and in 1941 in Germany itself); to pay heavy taxes; and were forbidden to hold public office. In 1235 the first incident of blood libel (the accusation that Jews killed Christian children to use their blood in a religious ceremony) occurred in the town of Fulda. Such accusations, alongside those of well-poisoning and desecration of the host, were recycled during the 13th and 14th centuries, fueling pogroms and violence that claimed many Jewish lives: the Judenschlacht (“slaughter of the Jews”) in Frankfurt am Main in 1241 was in reaction to the Jewish community’s attempts to prevent one of its members converting to Christianity; in 1298, amid civil war in southwest Germany, 140 Jewish communities in the region were annihilated in the Rindfleisch massacres (named after the nobleman who led the mob); and in 1336/1337, the Armleder massacres destroyed a further 110 Jewish communities. Some Jews offered unsuccessful resistance during these pogroms; many chose death over conversion. The situation of Cologne’s Jews began to deteriorate in the first half of the 14th century. First the city’s goldsmiths began refusing to work with Jews, then walls were put up around the Jewish quarter. In the 1320s, large gates, kept locked at night, were installed in the gaps in the walls, increasing the separation of Jews and Christians. The pogroms reached Cologne in the mid-14th century: the town was one of 300 in which Jews were slaughtered during the Black Death persecutions of 1348/1349 – they had been accused of deliberately spreading the disease by poisoning wells. After the killings Jews were allowed back into towns and cities to perform the vital function of money lending. Jews returned to Cologne in 1372, but immediately faced more discriminatory laws, including restrictions on their clothing. From 1393 onwards, the city council was increasingly reluctant to renew the Jews’ protection orders. In 1424, as a pretext for not doing so, the authorities accused local Jews of fomenting poverty and crime, and ordered them to leave “for all eternity.” Jewish properties were confiscated and the synagogue was turned into a church. Some Jews expelled from Cologne formed a community in neighboring Deutz; others joined the community at Muelheim. For the next 400 years, even Jewish traders, doctors and court bankers coming to Cologne on business were often refused permission to stay overnight. The 15th-century experience of Cologne’s Jews was typical of that of Jews all over the country. They faced further oppression, an extremely heavy tax burden, expulsions, and anti-Jewish violence. Jews in smaller towns in the east (which was a route to Poland, where many Jews ended up) and in the south, where there were fewer towns and the economy was less developed, found it easier to make a living. Jews in the south branched out of money lending into different professions; they traded in wine, wool and flax, and became active in agriculture and commerce. Nevertheless, many Jews were extremely poor. From the time of the Reformation (16th century) until the late 18th century, the blood libels, threats, attacks, heavy taxes (sometimes imposed by two or even three authorities at once), and exclusion from the large cities continued.

Enlightenment to Emancipation (18th to the early 20th centuries)
The liberal values of the French Revolution, which brought more freedoms and rights for Jews, were introduced in Germany in 1794 when the German states on the west bank of the Rhine, including Westphalia where Cologne is located, became part of the French Republic. The Jews in that area were now French citizens. The restriction on Jewish settlement in Cologne was lifted officially in 1797; the first Jewish family to return arrived in 1798. As Napoleon conquered more German states, the situation of Jews all over the country improved. When he was defeated in 1814/1815, many of his liberal reforms were revoked; once again anti-Jewish feeling increased in Germany. Nevertheless, the reversal of official decrees guaranteeing Jewish rights were not enough to stop the growth of Cologne’s Jewish community (officially re-established in 1801): in the year of Napoleon’s defeat there were 211 Jews in the city, by 1840 there were 615, and by 1861 the Jewish population had reached 2,322, making Cologne’s the fifth largest Jewish community in Germany at that time. Under Napoleon, Jews had been allowed to engage freely in commerce. This, alongside Cologne’s trading hub status, attracted many Jews to the city and created a foundation for their increasing wealth and social success. Despite continuing anti- Semitism and even anti-Jewish violence (notably the murderous Hep Hep Riots of 1819, motivated by general discontent at the Jews’ social and economic accomplishments) Cologne’s Jews succeeded in business and became more prosperous. The Jewish Enlightenment (Haskalah) movement emerged at the end of the 18th century, inspired by the ideas of Moses Mendelssohn, a German Jewish philosopher who stressed the importance of secular education for Jews alongside their religious studies. Jews were becoming more educated, more politically involved and more capable of arguing for their full emancipation in German society. The Enlightenment, however, also played a divisive role in the Jewish community, as Jews who favored assimilation and viewed themselves primarily as Germans of Jewish faith clashed with those who thought Germany Jewry should continue to adhere to the separatist, Orthodox practices of its ancestors. This conflict led to the opening of new synagogues in Cologne as break away groups of Orthodox Jews, many of whom arrived from Eastern Europe at the beginning of the 19th century, rejected proposals to reform the liturgy or install musical instruments in the synagogue. As Jewish emancipation progressed, large numbers of Jews completed their assimilation by converting to Christianity, particularly during the first decades of the 19th century when attitudes to Jews hardened following Napoleon’s defeat. As industrialization gathered pace, many Jews left their small towns and moved to the cities in search of work. By the end of the 19th century, most, but not all, the country’s Jews had become city dwellers (living in Breslau, Leipzig, Hamburg, Frankfurt, Berlin, and Cologne). Jewish communities in the cities were more likely to accept reforms; Jews who stayed in the villages tended to adhere to Orthodox tradition. Cologne’s 19th-century Jewish community produced some of the region’s most prominent Jews, who played an influential role in German society. Generations of the Oppenheim family were active in trade, transport, banking, politics, and the press. In 1810, Solomon Oppenheim’s bank was Cologne’s second largest; in 1822, he was elected to the Chamber of Commerce (the first Jew to hold public office in the city). His son, Abraham Oppenheim, sat on the city council in 1846. Under Abraham’s leadership, the bank played a prominent role in promoting the construction of the Rhineland’s railways. The Oppenheims were among those Jews who increasingly campaigned for their rights. In 1841, Abraham and his brother Simon petitioned King Frederick William IV to improve the Jews’ legal status. They and others like them celebrated when, following the 1848-1849 revolution in which many Jews took part, the “Basic Laws of the German People” were issued by the Frankfurt Parliament, stating that religious affiliation should not affect the civil and political rights of the individual. The Oppenheims’ story indicates the extent to which, in that new era of liberalism, Germany’s Jews became fully-contributing members, even leaders, of German society: they ran law firms, factories, banks, department stores, and all manner of small businesses; they worked as doctors, teachers, and university professors; they made advances in science, literature and the arts, and their standard of living increased accordingly. These Jews were loyal to their country; more than 100,000 served in the German army in World War I, 12,000 of whom were killed. Memorials to Jews who fell in the war were erected in synagogues all over Germany, and Jewish war veterans formed clubs and associations which held commemorative events every year.

Synagogues and Jewish Institutions
The synagogue or prayer room was the center of the Jewish community, and every community with ten adult male members (the required number for public prayers) and the necessary financial means made it a priority to build or establish a suitable place of worship. In rural areas this was often a simple, renovated room. In larger towns and cities, particularly after the Emancipation, Jewish communities had the funds and the self-confidence to build large, magnificent synagogues that stood out against the skyline. Despite the wealth of Cologne’s Jewish community it was subordinate to the communities in Krefeld and Bonn, and therefore developed its own institutions relatively late. The city’s first modern-day Jewish prayer room (with 74 seats for men and 48 for women) opened in 1804 in the former Klarissenkloster monastery. The building had become dilapidated by 1853 and was closed permanently; the prayer room had been too small for the growing Jewish community for some time. In 1856, a Jewish banker, Abraham Oppenheimer, donated money to facilitate the construction of a synagogue. The foundation stone was laid (on Glockengasse) in 1857; the same year in which the community’s first rabbi, Dr. Israel Schwarz, was appointed. In 1861, Rabbi Schwarz inaugurated the new, large synagogue building. Seating was provided for 226 men in the main hall and for 140 women on the balcony; the ritual baths were located in the cellar. In 1867, a fire destroyed the synagogue’s interior, along with valuable items and the community’s memorial book; however, the structure of the synagogue remained intact and the community rebuilt it in its original form, adding a small room for weekday prayers. At the end of the 19th century, as Cologne’s Jewish population continued to grow, the community found itself once again with a synagogue that was too small. For this reason, and because Jews were moving to the newer parts of the city, the community decided to build a second synagogue on Roonstrasse. This very grand and impressive structure took several years to complete—in the interim period, a temporary synagogue for 700 worshipers was used—and eventually opened in 1899; by then approximately 10,000 Jews lived in Cologne. The Roonstrasse synagogue became the center of Cologne’s mainstream, Liberal Jewish community. The building provided 800 seats for men and 600 for women; a school for religious studies with eight teaching rooms and living quarters for the rabbi was located in its back yard. There was also a wedding hall used for weekday prayers. Even after the Roonstrasse synagogue opened, many of Cologne’s Jews continued to pray in the Glockenglasse synagogue. The clash of traditional Jewish practice with modernity created division between the Orthodox members of Cologne’s Jewish community and its liberal Jews, who were in favor of reform. In 1863, a dispute about the liturgy in the Glockengasse synagogue prompted some Orthodox members, mostly of Eastern European origin, to break away from the main community and hold their own prayer services in private homes. They founded a strictly Orthodox prayer association, the Adass Jeschurun (operating within the framework of the greater community) in 1867, and established their own synagogue in 1884. In 1904, when a decision was made to put a musical instrument, an organ, in the synagogue on Roonstrasse, more Orthodox Jews withdrew from the mainstream community and formed another prayer association called the Kehillass Jisroel. In 1906, when the organ was finally installed, the Adass Jeschurun association formally withdrew from the community, incorporated the members of Kehillass Jisroel and, in 1908, became an independent synagogue association and a center of Orthodoxy for the entire Rhineland region. Its synagogue was located on St. Apernstrasse and had seating for 160 men and 80 women, with a mikveh in the cellar. Plans were made in 1914 to build another Orthodox synagogue in the new part of the city, and a foundation stone was even laid, but the outbreak of World War I prevented any progress. Jewish schools and Jewish education for children and young people were of paramount importance in Jewish communities in Germany. Many synagogues started out as schools and became synagogues only later on. This is where the Yiddish word for synagogue, “Schul,” meaning “school,” comes from. In Cologne, the Adass Jeschurun association operated a private elementary school called “Moriah,” next to the St. Apernstrasse synagogue, as well as the “Jawne” secondary school – the only Jewish secondary school in the Rhineland. Cologne’s seminary for Jewish schoolteachers was also supervised by Adass Jeschurun. Another Jewish elementary school on Luetzowstrasse gained municipal status in 1870, and became the largest Jewish school of its kind in the whole country. Cemeteries were another essential requirement of Jewish communities. Typically, a community that was too small or too short of funds to establish its own would use the cemetery of a larger community in its vicinity. Although the Cologne community fell into neither of these categories, its members, from all the synagogues, used the Jewish cemetery in nearby Deutz until a burial ground was laid in Cologne in at the end of World War I. That new cemetery was opened on Venloer Strasse; it has been preserved and is the largest in the wider Cologne area, with approximately 5,000 graves, some of which contain reburied remains from a medieval cemetery discovered by chance in 1927. In big cities such as Cologne there were always a number of smaller prayer rooms, often established inside privately-owned buildings. These rooms were also used as meeting places for various Jewish associations and clubs. In most cases, relatively little information is available about them. The ones we know about in Cologne are:
18-22 Caecilienstrasse – this prayer room was inaugurated in 1902 and belonged to the Jewish Rhineland Lodge association. It was renovated in 1935 and thereafter served as a community center open to all the Jews of Cologne.
• 35-37 Luetzowstrasse – Cologne’s Israelite Children’s Home, founded in 1890, bought this property on Luetzowstrasse in 1900 and, after receiving a donation of money in 1919, was able to install a small synagogue there. The synagogue opened in 1920.
• 26 Bayardsgasse – more than one prayer room was located in this building; all of them belonged to Orthodox, Eastern European groups. The Cologne branch of the Misrachi, the Orthodox wing of the Zionist movement, had their offices here too. There was a mikveh in the cellar.
There were several other prayer rooms in Cologne, most of them used by Orthodox Eastern European Jews; only their addresses are known: 41 Agrippastrasse; 9 Arndstrasse (belonged to the Tiferes Jisroel association); 3 Bachemstrasse (belonged to the Machsike Hada s s a s soc i a t ion) ; 1 Am Kl e ine n Griechenmarkt (belonged to the Gedulas Mordechai association); 15 Poststrasse (belonged to the Kol Jaakow association); 9 Quirinstrasse (belonged to the Talmud Thora association, which also established a yeshiva in the building); 44 Rothgerberbach (belonged to the Adass Jisroel association). Lastly, there was a prayer room on Thieboldsgasse and one in the Abraham Frank orphanage on Aachener Strasse.

Community Life
Germany’s Jews put great emphasis on active participation in community life. Jewish communities, particularly in the large towns and cities, operated numerous clubs and associations. Some of these societies focused on youth activities, religious education, culture and the arts; others offered charity and took care of the sick. Almost every community had a chevra kadisha – a burial society that organized funerals and supported the bereaved. In Cologne, the late 1800s marked the beginning of the vibrant Jewish community life that flourished from the 1920s to the early 1930s. In 1888, the Rhineland Lodge (Rheinland Loge), which financed and managed numerous charitable and cultural organizations (including a mobile library), was founded; its purpose was to fight anti-Semitism, to strengthen Jewish identity and spiritual awareness, and to encourage good deeds and charity. The Lodge established Cologne’s first Jewish youth association in 1903. The following national Jewish organizations were also present in Cologne: the Central Association of German Citizens of Jewish Faith (Centralverein deutscher Staatsbuerger juedischen Glaubens), whose ideology was similar to that of the Rhineland Lodge; the B’nei B’rith (a community service organization); and, after World War I, the Reich Federation of Jewish Front Soldiers (Reichsbund juedischer Frontsoldaten). In 1925, Cologne recorded its highest Jewish population figure: 16,093. Membership of the Jewish community, however, which included Jews in affiliated communities outside the city’s boundaries, exceeded 20,000. Jews in nearby Ehrenfeld were affiliated with Cologne in 1913; those in Deutz and Muehlheim joined Cologne in 1927 and 1929, respectively. Jews of Eastern European origin (Ostjuden) were influential in Cologne and constituted approximately 25 percent of the city’s Jewish population in the 1920s. In 1921, they gained voting rights within the community, and their support for Zionism increased the influence of that movement in Cologne. Earlier, the World Zionist Organization had moved its headquarters to the city (in 1904), remaining there until 1911; furthermore, two Zionist leaders, David Wolffsohn (1865- 1914) and Max Isidor Bodenheimer (1865-1940) were residents of Cologne. Resurging anti-Semitism during the Weimar period, fueled by the libelous accusation that Jews on the home front and in government had betrayed the German army in World War I, further strengthened the popularity of Zionism. During these years, Jewish institutions in Cologne were attacked: the Roonstrasse synagogue in 1927 and the Adass Jeschurun synagogue in 1932, as were Jewish cemeteries in Cologne and its affiliated communities. Jews on their way to and from synagogue occasionally suffered taunts and abuse. Nevertheless, by 1933, the year of the Nazi takeover, Jewish community life in Cologne was thriving: 800 students were enrolled at Cologne’s Jewish elementary school and numerous organizations conducted all manner of charitable and cultural work. The Eastern European Jews ran associations of their own, including a women’s group.

The Pre-War Nazi Period (1933-1938)
Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany on January 30, 1933; he and his Nazi Party immediately implemented their policy of excluding Germany’s Jewish population from economic, social, cultural and political life. Jewish businesses were boycotted, Jews were excluded from the civil service, and were fired from their jobs as teachers, lawyers, university lecturers, doctors and artists. The Nazis’ nation-wide, anti-Jewish boycott took place on April 1, 1933. SA thugs and members of the Hitler Youth stood outside Jewish shops to intimidate potential customers and prevent them entering. Some were equipped with cameras, ready to photograph and publicly shame (and probably threaten) anyone who defied the boycott. Anti-Semitic graffiti was smeared on the windows and doors of Jewish businesses; posters were put up instructing shoppers not to buy there. Jews were treated badly; some physically abused. In Cologne, Jewish store-owners were marched through the streets; Jewish lawyers were forced onto garbage trucks and paraded around the city. Some Jews were badly beaten up. Shortly afterwards, the mass firings of Jews began. The Cologne city council broke off all its contracts with Jewish suppliers and businessmen; Jewish sports clubs and athletes were banned from sports fields and facilities. Life soon became unbearable for Cologne’s Jewish residents, who began leaving the city. By June 1933, Cologne’s Jewish population had decreased to 14,816. By August, several Jews had committed suicide. In response, the community leaders issued a statement calling on Jews not to give up hope. Nevertheless, Cologne’s Jewish children’s hospital had to be closed down that year. In the two years that followed, more Jewish businessmen were forced to sell or give up their livelihoods as a result of the intensifying persecution. The Nuremberg laws, which outlined the definition of a Jew, were officially passed into German law on September 15, 1935. Blood was now officially the defining feature of Jewishness; even those who had converted to Christianity were considered Jews, albeit in different degrees, as were people of mixed Christian and Jewish heritage. Under the new legislation, Jews’ citizenship of the German Reich was revoked. Intermarriage between Jews and non-Jews was banned; sexual relationships between Jews and non-Jews were labeled Rassenschande, “racial defilement.” As non-Aryans with limited rights, Jews had little or no protection from anti-Semitic actions by the Nazi authorities or their non-Jewish neighbors. In Cologne that year, Jews were forbidden to use public swimming pools. By the fall, many Jewish families were in financial distress and depended on the community’s Jewish Winter Assistance Association during the cold months. The “aryanization” of Jewish property continued; a process whereby Jews were forced to sell their homes and businesses, often for significantly less than their true value, to non-Jews. In Cologne, the Oppenheim bank was aryanized in 1936. Jewish children were excluded from German schools, therefore attendance at Jewish schools increased. The Jewish elementary school and the high school in Cologne recorded their highest enrollment figures in 1935 (940 students) and in 1937 (423 students), respectively. By the winter of 1937, 2,500 Cologne Jews were dependent on aid in the form of clothing, food and heating fuel. In smaller towns and villages, the pressure of persecution shut down Jewish life completely. Many rural Jews moved to the cities hoping to escape into the anonymity of urban life; as a result, some rural synagogues and prayer rooms were closed and sold even before Pogrom Night. In cities such as Cologne, despite these privations, Jewish community life continued and Jews even planned for the future; albeit one outside Germany. Cologne’s Jewish schools intensified instruction in Hebrew and English, and initiated training programs in carpentry, needlework, child care, home economics, and agriculture, to prepare young Jews for emigration. Unsurprisingly, interest in Zionism and membership of Zionist youth movements increased significantly, and the Zionists gained a majority on Cologne’s Jewish community council for the first time in 1936. Cologne’s branch of the Jewish Cultural Association (Juedischer Kulturbund) helped keep spirits up by staging theater productions; the association had a membership of 5,000 in 1935 and was the second-largest branch after Berlin’s. Nevertheless, Jews in Cologne and throughout Germany were increasingly desperate for a way out. Jewish populations dwindled in the towns and cities too, as those who could escape the Nazi persecution did so, many of them leaving Germany altogether. International Jewish bodies cooperated with Jewish organizations in Germany to help Jews obtain visas and finance their emigration. Of the 503,000 Jews (by religion) in Germany in 1933, around 214,000 were still in the country in May 1939.

The Annexation of Austria (March 1938)
In March 1938, Hitler’s government implemented the “Anschluss,” the annexation of Austria to the German Reich. German Jews looked on in fear as anti-Semitic excesses accompanied the arrival of German troops in Austria’s capital, Vienna, where Jews were beaten, abused and forced to clean the streets on their hands and knees. Similar anti-Jewish violence marked the German takeover of the Sudetenland region (part of Czechoslovakia) in October of that year (just a few weeks before Pogrom Night). Anti-Semitic laws were quickly introduced in both Austria and the Sudetenland.

Pogrom Night and its Aftermath (November 1938 onwards)
The Nazis tried to present the nation-wide pogrom that took place on the night of November 9-10, 1938, as a spontaneous outburst of public rage against the Jewish population, caused by the assassination of Ernst vom Rath, a Paris-based German diplomat who was shot by a young Jew. The truth, however, is that that Pogrom Night consisted of a series of coordinated and possibly pre-planned attacks against Jewish communities all over Germany, Austria and in some parts of the Sudetenland, carried out by SA, SS and Hitler Youth members and, in some cases, ordinary civilians, while the authorities did nothing to intervene. On November 7, vom Rath was shot in Paris by 17-year-old Herschel Grynszpan. The attack was presumably an act of revenge for the treatment Grynszpan’s family members had experienced at the hands of the Gestapo, which had attempted to forcibly deport them from Germany, along with around 12,000 other Polish Jews, to Poland. The Polish authorities had no intention of allowing these Jews back into their country, and closed their borders. As a result, Grynszpan’s family and their fellow Jews spent weeks stranded in no-man’s-land in dire conditions. Grynszpan, who was living in Paris, is known to have received letters from his family detailing their suffering. Vom Rath died two days after the shooting, on November 9. Finally, the Nazis had a pretext for their pogrom, and the attacks began. Armed with axes and clubs, rioters wrecked synagogues, Jewish homes and Jewish-owned businesses; many of the synagogues were burned. Rheinhard Heydrich, Chief of the Sicherheitsdienst (Security Service) gave orders that the police were to intervene only to protect non-Jews and their property, hence the absurd scenes witnessed in many towns as fire engines arrived at the site of a synagogue on fire only for their crews to sit back and watch it burn. Heydrich’s orders also stated that Jewish men, preferably the younger ones, were to be rounded up and arrested, and that archives containing information about members of Jewish communities were to be confiscated from synagogues. Presumably this last measure was intended to facilitate the deportation of Jews at a later stage. In Cologne, the city’s major synagogues were ransacked and burned; Jews were assaulted and Jewish homes and businesses looted and vandalized. An eyewitness described how, after the Glockengasse synagogue had been vandalized, plundered and burned in the early hours of November 10, a member of the Jewish community salvaged some torn parchment from a Torah scroll. With tears in his eyes, the man read the text to a frightened group of Cologne’s Jewish men and women, it said: “The Lord is coming to redeem us; and tomorrow you will witness something glorious.” The Roonstrasse and St. Apernstrasse synagogues suffered similar fates. On Roonstrasse, the mob jeered as the Star of David was torn from the synagogue’s dome. The building was then set on fire. On St. Apernstrasse, Gestapo men confiscated the Adass Jeschurun synagogue’s Torah scrolls and moveable furniture; they also took the archives and cash box, destroyed the building’s interior using axes and clubs, tore down the Star of David, and threw benches out the windows. That synagogue was not set on fire because a school and a fuel depot were located nearby. Synagogues in Cologne’s affiliated Jewish communities of Deutz and Muehlheim were also attacked and destroyed. As in all the cities, some of Cologne’s Jewish prayer rooms survived Pogrom Night unscathed, perhaps because they were inside multi-purpose buildings and therefore did not attract the attention of the rioters. The prayer rooms on Caelienstrasse and Bayardstrasse were not damaged. The Luetzwostrasse prayer room, inside the Jewish children’s home, was pelted with stones. All over the city, Jewish homes and businesses were attacked and Jewish men arrested. In total, around 30,000 Jewish men were taken into custody and sent to concentration camps, only to be released several weeks later. Four hundred Jewish men from Cologne ended up in Dachau. All over Germany, Jewish communities were forced to pay the cost of clearing the rubble from their ruined synagogues. Sometimes materials were taken from the sites and used for construction purposes elsewhere. By the end of 1939, approximately 8,000 Jews were still living in Cologne. Pogrom Night had effectively brought Jewish life in the city to a standstill, although for a short time afterwards, prayers were still held in the Caelienstrasse prayer house. Old conflicts were put aside and the congregation of the Adass Jeschurun synagogue reunited with the mainstream community. The St. Apernstrasse teacher’s seminary was closed down, and all Jewish schoolchildren were now taught under one roof in the Moriah school building. In September 1941, the Jewish Cultural Association was banned. Thanks to the efforts of the head teacher of the Jawne high school, more than 100 Jewish children from Cologne immigrated to Britain. Pogrom Night and its aftermath confirmed to those Jews hoping to wait out the Nazis that escape was in fact their only option, but for many it was too late. Visas became increasingly difficult to come by, even though the international community was aware of the dangerous predicament of Germany’s Jews. An international conference aimed at helping them was held in Evian, France, in July 1940; although the attendees included Britain, France and the United States, the only participant willing to take in large numbers of Jewish refugees was the Dominican Republic. Nevertheless, wherever visas could be obtained, Germany’s Jews took them. Families and friends were scattered all over the world; they went to Britain, Australia, South Africa, the United States, Palestine, South America, and even Shanghai. Many Jews who fled to other European countries later occupied by Germany were eventually deported to the camps and killed along with those who had stayed behind.

The Deportations from Germany (1941-1944)
The “Final Solution”—the euphemism by which Hitler and his colleagues referred to their program for the annihilation of Germany’s Jews—was implemented in 1941. That September, a decree was passed ordering all Jews to wear the yellow star badge (the Judenstern) visibly on their clothing. Jews who went out in public without the badge risked being arrested, abused, sent to a concentration camp, or put on the next transport to the East. The mass deportations—called “evacuations” or “emigrations” by the Nazis—of Jews to ghettos and extermination camps, began in mid-October. By that time Germany was at war; therefore, in large cities, many Jews who worked in armaments factories were exempted from deportation for as long as their work was useful to the state; this could be for a matter of months or even years. So-called “mixed-race” or “mischling” Jews and Jews who were married to Christians also received exemptions; at least for a while. Jews were ordered out of their homes and forced to move in together in so-called “Judenhaeuser” or “Jews’ houses.” Their own properties were confiscated by the state or taken over by members of the SA or Gestapo, or even by their “Aryan” civilian neighbors. In Cologne, during May and June of 1941, the Gestapo moved the remaining Jews into communal dwellings from which they were rounded up easily when the deportations began (just before the first transport left on October 21, 1941, headed for the Lodz ghetto in occupied Poland, there were 6,277 Jews living in the city). These deportees, the first to be taken from Cologne’s Deutz-Tief railway station, had to assemble at the city’s fairgrounds before their departure. All over Germany, the authorities used public areas and (in large cities) even synagogues as assembly points for Jews awaiting deportation. They would be ordered to arrive a few days or even weeks before the departure date with a suitcase of clothes and personal items for the journey. They would then sleep and live in the assembly area until the train left. Some were permitted to leave the assembly area to go to work during the day, but had to return immediately upon day’s end. They were often instructed to bring certain items of property, such as furs, typewriters and mattresses, to the assembly point, which the authorities would then confiscate. Jews who still had the means to pay were charged an “emigration tax” before departure. Items they were forced to leave on the railway platforms were sometimes sold at public auction, with the state claiming the proceeds; however, to avoid raising suspicions, the Nazi authorities allowed deportees take their clothes and personal belongings even on transports bound directly for extermination camps. As one transport left after another, the rate of suicide among Jews increased sharply. In Cologne, at the end of 1941, all the Jews still in the city were interned in a camp in the suburb of Muengersdorf, apart from those working in the armaments industry and the patients of the Jewish hospital. In July 1942, the children and most teachers from the Jewish school were deported to the Minsk ghetto. Administration workers from the Jewish community were the last to be deported, because the Nazi authorities used them to help organize the rounding up of Jews before departure. These administration workers and, sometimes, their direct family members, were exempted from deportation for as long as there was work they could usefully do. Eventually, when there were barely any Jews left to round up, the administration workers were also sent to the East. On May 19, 1943, Germany was officially declared “Judenrein” (“cleansed of Jews”). Some Jews were, however, left behind (as was the case in Cologne): those married to Christians, their children, and the very few who managed to remain in hiding. In Cologne, many of the Jews in mixed marriages were eventually deported in September and October 1944. Up to 50 Jews survived in hiding in the city. The last transport of Jews from Cologne left on October 1, 1944, headed for the Theresienstadt ghetto in today’s Czech Republic. Between October 1941 and October 1944, approximately 11,000 Jewish people were sent to the ghettos or extermination camps from Cologne; transports from the city reached Lodz, Riga, Theresienstadt, Minsk, the Lublin district of Poland, and Auschwitz. Needless to say, most of those Jews did not return; they were worked and starved to death in the camps, or murdered in the gas chambers. Up to 180,000 Jews are thought to have been killed by the Nazis while still in Germany, or to have died as a consequence of the persecution they suffered.

Fate of the Synagogues During and After World War II
The destruction of Germany’s Jewish communities left behind empty, partly destroyed, or completely burned out synagogue buildings. Municipal councils often confiscated and sold these buildings, pocketing the money from the sale. During the war, some former synagogues were used to accommodate troops or prisoners, or even as bases for the Nazi Party and its affiliated organizations. After the war, they were converted into all manner of public and private facilities, including car parks, cinemas, private residences and gas stations. In Cologne, for example, the municipality took possession of the Glockenglasse synagogue building in 1943 and converted it into an opera house. Many former synagogue sites were left for decades without any form of recognition or commemoration, but as Germany slowly began to deal with its Nazi past, a readiness to remember and acknowledge the Pogrom Night of 1938 grew. Remembrance ceremonies are now held annually on the anniversary of the pogrom, and commemorative plaques and monuments have been erected in honor of Germany’s former Jewish communities and their synagogues. In Cologne, several memorial plaques have been unveiled: one on the building at the corner where Glockengasse meets Offenbachplatz, one near the site of the former St. Apernstrasse synagogue, and another at the old Jewish school building on Luetzowstrasse, now a vocational training college. A monument has been built in Cologne’s Jewish cemetery, where remnants of the Torah scrolls and ritual items that survived Pogrom Night are buried. In 2006, the municipality decided to build a museum of Jewish culture on the Rathausplatz. The museum contains a glass window through which visitors can view a medieval mikveh, 15 meters underground, rediscovered in the 1950s. The Roonstrasse synagogue was reopened in 1959, having been restored with the financial support of the German government. It contains a memorial hall, with a plaque paying tribute to all the Shoah’s victims, and specifically to the 11,000 Jews deported, most to their deaths, from Cologne.

The Renewal of Germany’s Jewish Communities
An estimated total of 8,000 Jews left the camps alive after the war. Many of these displaced persons re-established small, temporary communities and synagogues in Germany, which dissolved after a few years as their members moved on to rebuild their lives in Israel, the United States and elsewhere. In Cologne, a community, consisting mainly of Orthodox, Eastern European Jews, was founded in 1945. In 1949, this community inaugurated a small synagogue on Ottostrassel. Some, although not many, of these Jews remained in Germany. After the reopening of the Roonstrasse synagogue in 1959, the community established a youth center, a kindergarten, a retirement home and a library. From 600 persons in 1946, Cologne’s Jewish community had grown to 1,500 persons by 1981. Germany’s Jewish population received a boost in the 1990s as Soviet Jews arrived following the collapse of the Soviet Union; as a result, the Jewish community of Cologne is now, once again, one of Germany’s largest; numbering 6,000 in 2006.
Photo: The synagogue on Glockengasse in Cologne. Courtesy of: Rhenish Photographic Archive, Cologne
Photo 2: The synagogue of the Orthodox Adass Jeschurun congregation on St. Apernstrasse in Cologne. Courtesy of: Rhenish Photographic Archive, Cologne.
Photo 3: The synagogue on Roonstrasse in Cologne, in or around the year 1900. Courtesy of: Unknown.
Author / Sources: Bronagh Bowerman