Dessau on Saale

General information: First Jewish presence: 1672 (25 families); peak Jewish population: 807 in 1818 (approximately 9% of total pop.); Jewish population in 1933: 306
Summary: The Jewish community of Dessau established a cemetery and synagogue in 1674 and 1687, respectively. Prominent Dessau Jews included the following: Moses Benjamin Wulff, the founder of a Hebrew press; Rabbi David Fraenkel, who not only served as rabbi between 1737 and 1743, but initiated a new printing of the works of Maimonides and founded a Beit Midrash; Moses Mendelssohn, the German-Jewish philosopher; Ludwig Philippson (1811-1889), a prominent rabbi and author; and, finally, Kurt Weill (1900-1950), the German-Jewish philosopher. In 1786, a Jewish gymnasium was established in Dessau, in opposition to the wishes of the community; later, in 1825, the gymnasium merged with the Juedische Freischule or “Jewish Free School” (1799-1848), the latter of which was founded on the teachings of Mendelssohn. Dessau was also the birthplace of Sulamith, the first German-language Jewish periodical. In 1908, the Cohn-Oppenheim Foundation financed the construction of a new synagogue at 11/14 Steinstrasse. Dessau’s Jewish community, with which the 20 Jews of Rosslau were affiliated, counted 306 members in 1933. Five members sat on the community board in 1932/33, and Dr. Cohn and Dr. Altherhom served as community leaders. S. Hirschfeld was treasurer, and Dr. Walter, the provincial rabbi, presided over a representative committee of 17 members. Jewish welfare organizations included a local branch of the Jewish Welfare Society (headed by S. Hirschfeldt), a chevra kadisha (46 members), the Israelitischer Frauenverein (75 female members) and the Baronin-von-Cohn-Oppenheim Fund (established in 1903). Dr. Cohn headed the Anhalt Lodge, and Hurwitz, a lawyer, was in charge of a local Zionist group. In Dessau, Pogrom Night began at 3 p.m. on November 9, 1938. The community center and synagogue were set on fire, Jewish-owned homes and stores were ransacked—according to one report, the looters paraded their “trophies” through the streets—and Jewish men were sent to Buchenwald. Joseph Schuber managed to save one Torah scroll, which, in 1939, he brought to Palestine. Of the 129 Jews who lived in Dessau in 1939, most were deported, and most perished in the Shoah. At least 119 Dessau Jews perished in the Shoah. In November 1988, a sandstone monument with a menorah was unveiled in memory of the destroyed community. A new Jewish community developed in Dessau in the mid- 1990s; in 2005, Dessau was home to 380 Jews. The Moses-Mendelssohn Society, established in Dessau in 1993, investigates Jewish history in Germany.
Photo: The exterior of the synagogue of Dessau at the beginning of the 20th century. Courtesy of: The Wiener Archive.
Photo 2: The synagogue of Dessau was inaugurated in 1908. Courtesy of: City Archive of Dessau.
Author / Sources: Esther Sarah Evans
Sources: EJL, FJG, JVL, LJG, YV
Located in: saxony-anhalt