Weissenfels an der Saale

General information: First Jewish presence: 1350 (see below); peak Jewish population: unknown; Jewish population in 1933: 165
Summary: Although we do not know when Jews first settled in Weissenfels, their recorded history there begins with the Black Death persecutions of 1350. The year 1386 marked a gathering of rabbis known as the “Weissenfelser Judenturnier”; the rabbis were, presumably, waylaid on their way home and held for ransom. According to a document from 1402, the Jewish community maintained a school and a synagogue, the latter of which was located at Klingenthore. Later, in 1453, Jews were expelled from Weissenfels, having been accused of forming a secret alliance with the Hussites. It was not until the mid-18th century that another Jewish presence was established in Weissenfels. The modern Weissenfels Jewish community was part of the community of Halle until 1883, when Weissenfels’ 70 Jews were recognized as an independent community with their own synagogue and cemetery (the latter was established inside the general burial grounds on Friedensstrasse). In 1932-33, the leaders of the community were Julius Lewinsohn, Siegfried Schloss and Karl Reite; community representatives were Adolf Gutmann, Walter Gottheil and someone named Hoffmann; Simon Rau served as rabbi, chazzan and teacher. A local branch of the German Zionist Organization and a cultural association were opened in Weissenfels in mid-1933 and in 1935, respectively. In October 1938, three local Jewish families were deported to Poland. Later, on Pogrom Night (November 9-10, 1938), the synagogue’s interior was destroyed; several Jews were sent to concentration camps. Forty Jews still lived in Weissenfels in May 1939; in 1941, that number was 24, of whom four were killed, three committed suicide and others were deported to the East. Of the 165 Jews who lived in Weissenfels in 1933, at least 66 perished in the Shoah. In 1945, a memorial was unveiled in honor of 229 Russian and Hungarian Jews who perished in Buchenwald and whose ashes were buried in Weissenfels’ general cemetery; the memorial also honors 24 murdered local Jews. Later, in 1987, copies were made of 58 weather-beaten Jewish tombstones. The former synagogue building, temporarily used as a residence, was later converted into a museum called the Simon Rau Center. Memorial stumbling blocks have been unveiled in Weissenfels, and there are plans for more.
Author / Sources: Esther Sarah Evans
Sources: AJL, EJL, FJG, LJG, YV
Located in: saxony-anhalt