Leipzig - Introduction

General information: First Jewish presence: 13th century; peak Jewish population: 13,030 in 1925 (approximately 2% of the total population); Jewish pop. in 1933: 11,564
Summary: The Medieval Community
Records suggest that Jews lived in Leipzig in the first half of the 13th century, with several documents indicating the existence of a functioning Jewish community from the year 1250 (approximately) until 1441. Records from 1359 mention a synagogue, a school for religious studies and a Judengasse (or “Jews’ alley”). Although the Jewish community was evidently spared the Black Death persecutions of 1348/49, a ban on Jewish residence in Leipzig was implemented in the 15th century, as it was in the whole of Saxony. The latest available record pertaining to the medieval community is dated 1446. From the 15th to the Early 19th Century During the following centuries, Jewish life in Leipzig was mainly shaped by Jewish merchants who attended, in great numbers, the Leipzig fairs three times a year. They were accommodated in the medieval Jewish quarter and, beginning in the 17th century, in Bruehl. Between 1688 and 1764, nearly 82,000 Jewish merchants, mainly from Eastern Europe, participated in the Leipzig fairs. After 1710, “protected Jews” were permitted to settle in Leipzig; their numbers, however, remained low for decades (1784/85: six families).
Although the merchants, also known as Messejuden, or “fair Jews,” were handicapped by several discriminatory restrictions, they played an important role in the city’s economy, and contributed greatly to Leipzig’s development as a center of the fur trade. The restrictions were gradually lifted, and Jews were eventually permitted to establish prayer rooms for use during fair periods. Merchants from Eastern Europe, as well as from Hamburg and Berlin, established several such prayer rooms, such as the Orthodox Brody Shul (in Bruehl) in 1763/64. A burial site was consecrated on Stephanstrasse in 1814, and by 1835 the city was home to seven prayer rooms in total.

The 19th Century until the Rise of Hitler
In response to the political changes taking place in Saxony from 1830 onwards, the Leipzig governmental authorities relaxed their stance on Jewish emancipation and civil rights. The modern Jewish community, the founders of which were merchants from Brody/Galicia, came into being in 1834. Twelve years later, in 1846, the ministry of cultural affairs officially recognized the community. In 1837/38, Jews were granted the right to settle in Leipzig permanently, to purchase property and, under certain conditions, to establish congregations. The community’s first proper synagogue, a liberal house of worship, was built on the corner of Gottschedstrasse and Zentralstrasse in 1855. Rabbi Abraham Goldschmidt was appointed in 1858; his wife, Henriette Goldschmidt, was an active member of the German women’s movement.
Leipzig was home to two Jewish cemeteries: on Berliner Strasse (1864) and on Delitzscher Strasse (1925). Other communal institutions included a mikveh (1870), a broad range of schools for religious studies (established in 1848, 1912, and 1926/27, respectively), a hospital (1929) and an old-age home (1931). Beginning in 1925, the community published a newsletter.
As a result of the arrival in Leipzig of an influx of Eastern European Jews, especially after 1900, many small, Orthodox synagogues and prayer rooms were established there, such as the synagogues Brody, Kolomea, Beth Jehuda, Ahavath Torah, and Ohel Yaakov, all of which followed the religious and cultural traditions of their congregants’ native cities. In 1922, the Orthodox Ez Chaim synagogue was inaugurated on Apels Garten; Ephraim Carlebach (1879- 1936), who was well-known for, among other achievements, founding Leipzig’s Orthodox Jewish secondary school, served as rabbi.
In 1925, Leipzig’s Jewish population peaked at 13,030, the largest Jewish community in Saxony and the sixthlargest in Germany. Hugely influential in the community were members of the Jewish upper middle-class, including businessmen, craftsmen, white-collar workers, intellectuals, physicians, and lawyers.
Leipzig Jews also contributed to the arts and sciences: Paul Ehrlich and Victor Ehrenberg taught at the university; Max Eitingon was an important figure in the field of psychiatry; Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy founded the first German conservatory in 1843; and Moritz Kohner became the first Jewish member of the city council in 1874. In Leipzig, anti-Semitism intensified in 1880/90. Several anti-Semitic newspapers appeared around this time, and Eastern European Jews were often assaulted. A local Nazi group was founded in the city in 1922, not long after which, in 1924, the Ez Chaim synagogue was smeared with swastikas.

The Nazi Era
When Hitler came to power in 1933, Jewish community life was flourishing: 11,564 Jews lived in Leipzig, and 189 schoolchildren were enrolled at the Jewish elementary school on Gustav-Adolf-Strasse; others attended Jewish secondary or Hebrew-language schools, as well as schools for religious studies, and still others received private religious instruction. Numerous Jewish associations and institutions, as well as nearly 100 foundations, were involved in welfare, social and cultural work. We also know that Zionist groups and branches of national Jewish organizations were active in the community that year.
As a result of the anti-Jewish boycott of April 1, 1933, local Jews were exposed to increasingly dire anti-Semitic measures, for example, dismissal from work, exclusion from general associations, raids and property confiscation. In 1938, 45 Jews were arrested, of whom 31 were taken to Sachsenhausen; in October of 1938 and in early 1939, more than 2,650 Jews of Polish origin were expelled from Leipzig. On Pogrom Night (November 1938), SA men and local members of the Nazi Party incinerated synagogues and prayer rooms, destroyed several other communal institutions, desecrated Jewish cemeteries and vandalized Jewish-owned homes and stores. More than 550 Jews were arrested that night; 270 were taken to Buchenwald, where eight of them died.
Between 1933 and November 1938, approximately 3,000 local Jews emigrated. In May 1939, 4,284 Jews remained in Leipzig. In 1941, Jews were forcibly moved into approximately 50 designated “Jews’ houses” and subjected to forced labor. Between January 1942 and February 1945, more than 2,500 Jews were deported from Leipzig, in a total of nine transports, to Riga, Lublin, Theresienstadt, Auschwitz and other concentration camps. Twenty Jews committed suicide to avoid deportation. Several thousand Leipzig Jews perished in the Shoah.

After World War II
In May 1945, a new Jewish community was founded in Leipzig, soon after which, in October, the community conducted its first prayer service at the Brody Synagogue (on Keilstrasse). In response to the fact that, beginning in 1991, hundreds of Jews from the former Soviet Union moved to the city, community membership rose significantly; so much so that in 1998 local Jews hired a rabbi. Leipzig’s Jewish population figure for 2007 was 1,300. In 2001, a memorial was unveiled at the site of Leipzig’s former main synagogue on Gottschedstrasse. At the Ephraim Carlebach School—in 1935, the Jewish secondary school was renamed in his honor—a memorial plaque commemorates the deportees. As of this writing, at least 150 memorial stumbling stones have been unveiled in Leipzig.

Sources: AJ, EJL, FJG, JEINL, LJG, LLLJ, SIA, W-G juedischesleipzig.de/ juden-in-sachsen.de/ leipzig-lexikon.de/ judeninsachsen.de/ stolpersteine-leipzig.de/
Author / Sources: Heidemarie Wawrzyn
Sources: See above
Located in: lower-saxony