General information: First Jewish presence: 1262; peak Jewish population: 3,000 in 1875; Jewish population in 1933: 2,301
Summary: Records from 1262 mention a Judengasse (“Jews’ alley”). The medieval Jewish community was destroyed in the Black Death pogroms (1348/49), and although individual Jews lived there during the ensuing centuries, it was not until the 17th century that an actual community was established in Kassel. Records from 1398 mention a synagogue (on the Judengasse), and we also know that a cemetery was located nearby. Three more cemeteries were consecrated in Kassel: in 1385, in 1630 (enlarged in 1841) and in 1932. During the 17th century, Jews were forbidden to conduct services outside a designated Jewish-owned house. Synagogues were opened in Kassel in 1716 and 1755, and in 1839 the community inaugurated a synagogue on 34 Untere Koenigstrasse; between 1904 and 1907, the building was enlarged to accommodate 390 seats for men and 340 for women. The community also maintained a mikveh and a Jewish school; the latter was opened in 1800, closed for unspecified reasons, and, in 1824, reopened. In 1860, Orthodox Jews started conducting separate services. They formed their own congregation in 1876 (without separating from the mainstream community) and, in 1898, inaugurated a synagogue—85 seats for men—in the Jewish community center at 22 Grosse Rosenstrasse (renovated in 1927). Eastern European Jews inaugurated their own synagogue on the corner of Bremerstrasse and Koenigstrasse. In 1933, 2,301 Jews lived in Kassel. Many Jewish associations, branches of nation-wide organizations, funds and institutions (including an orphanage and an old-age home) were active in the community. One hundred and seventy-six children attended the Jewish school. Franz Rosenzweig, the renowned philosopher, was a descendant of Kassel Jews. Baron Paul Julius von Reuter, founder of the Reuters news agency, was the son of a Kassel rabbi. Attacks on Jews and Jewish-owned properties accelerated after the Nazis’ election victories. In March 1933, a Jewish lawyer was beaten to death by SA men. Roland Freisler, the notorious Nazi judge and President of the People’s Court in Berlin, started his career as a local Nazi leader in Kassel. On November 7, 1938, two days before Pogrom Night, Nazis set fire to the mainstream community’s synagogue (firemen extinguished the blaze), damaged the community center and school, destroyed Jewishowned businesses and assaulted Jews. On Pogrom Night, the interiors of the mainstream and Orthodox synagogues were set on fire; Torah scrolls and ritual objects were desecrated, burned or plundered. The community center and offices were destroyed, and 300 men were sent to Buchenwald. Hundreds of Jewish businesses and homes were ravaged that night. A few weeks later, the main synagogue was demolished to make room for a parking lot. In 1940, the remaining 1,300 Jews were moved into “Jews’ houses” from which they were taken for forced labor and, between 1941 and 1945, deported to the East. At least 1,007 Kassel Jews perished in the Shoah. A memorial plaque was later unveiled at the former synagogue site; the new Jewish cemetery houses several memorial monuments. A new Jewish community was founded in Kassel in 1945. In 1965, a synagogue and community center were built on Bremer Strasse. A larger synagogue and community center were built on the same site in 2000. In 2003, the cemetery was heavily desecrated.
Photo: The synagogue of Kassel. Courtesy of: Leo Baeck Institute Photo Archive, 5295.
Author / Sources: Esther Sarah Evans
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