General information: First Jewish presence: 1279; peak Jewish population: 360 in 1933; Jewish population in 1933: 360
Summary: Rostock was founded in the mid-1200s by merchants— many of whom were Jewish—who wanted it to become a center of trade and commerce. According to records, these early Rostock Jews established a cemetery (unknown date of construction) and, in 1348, an official Jewish community. The community was short-lived, however, for Jews were expelled from Rostock after the Black Death pogroms of 1348/49. It was not until 1868 that another Jewish presence was recorded in Rostock. Services were held in private homes until 1902, when, with funds donated by a wealthy local Jew, the community purchased a plot of land and built a synagogue, the largest in Mecklenburg (350 seats). Differences between its orthodox and liberal factions nearly split the community, but in the end, after concessions from both sides, the community decided to continue using the more conservative synagogue traditions. Many members of Rostock’s modern Jewish community suffered anti-Semitic persecution in 1919, when the University of Rostock celebrated its 500th anniversary. Speaker after speaker at the event blamed the Jews for Germany’s woes and her defeat in World War I. Jewish students were eventually expelled from the university, and the contracts of all Jewish instructors were terminated. Local residents zealously enforced the Nazis’ anti-Jewish boycott of 1933. Accordingly, only 175 Jews remained in Rostock by 1938. On Pogrom Night, holy books and ritual articles from the synagogue were thrown onto the street and set on fire, after which the building was burned to the ground; the fire blazed for 24 hours. Today, the site accommodates an apartment building, next to which a small memorial plaque has been unveiled. In the spring of 1990, the new Jewish community of Rostock was founded by immigrants from the former Soviet Union. In 2004, that community celebrated the opening of a new synagogue with a festive inauguration ceremony attended by all local dignitaries. Six hundred Jews lived in Rostock in 2005.
Photo: Curious onlookers at the burning synagogue of Rostock. Courtesy of: the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Los Angeles
Author / Sources: Moshe Finkel