General information: First Jewish presence: 15th century; peak Jewish population: unknown (see below); Jewish population in 1932/33: approximately 5,5003��
Summary: Duesseldorf was home to a Jewish cemetery by 1418, indicating that Jews settled there in the 15th century. It was only at the end of the 17th century, however, when two wealthy Jewish families moved to Duesseldorf, that permanent Jewish settlement commenced. In 1890, 1,401 Jews lived in Duesseldorf, constituting the second-largest Jewish community in the North Rhine region. In 1712, an ancestor of Heinrich Heine established a Jewish prayer room on Neusser Street. Later, in 1787, the Jewish community purchased property on Kasernenstrasse and, in 1792, inaugurated a synagogue, the Old Synagogue, there; this house of worship was rebuilt in 1875, after which it was consecrated for the second time. In response to the fact that the city’s Jewish population experienced significant growth during the late 19th century, the community replaced its synagogue in 1904. The result, a neo-Romanesque building called the Great Synagogue, was equipped with an organ and seated over 1,000 worshipers. Rabbi Leo Baeck served the community until 1913, at which point Max Eschelbacher was hired as rabbi. In 1904, Duesseldorf’s Orthodox Jews began to conduct their own services in a prayer room on Bilker Strasse and, later, on Poststrasse; Eastern European Jews established additional prayer rooms. Other communal institutions included a school (opened in 1838) and at least four cemeteries: on Kasernenstrasse (1705-1884), Bongardstrasse (1788-1877), Alter Friedhof, Ulmenstrasse (1890-1922) and Neuer Friedhof, Ulmenstrasse (1922). In 1933, approximately 5,500 Jews resided in Duesseldorf. Records indicate that it was at this time that the community recorded its peak membership figure. Although we do not know how many children received religious instruction, records do tell us that up to 300 pupils attended the Jewish public school, established in 1935. The community also maintained a mikveh, branches of nationwide Jewish organizations, a home for apprentices and numerous charitable associations. Two local Jews were murdered by the Nazis in 1933 and 1937, respectively. On Pogrom Night, SA men torched the Great Synagogue, the school and several prayer rooms; Torah scrolls were set on fire, Jewish homes and stores were ransacked. Three Jews were murdered, several committed suicide and 70 were assaulted, seven of whom died of their injuries. We also know that 20 women and 166 men were arrested on Pogrom Night, after which, on November 16, 89 men were sent to Dachau. Many Duesseldorf Jews fled to neighboring countries, so that by May 1939, the city’s Jewish population had dropped to 1,831. Between 1941 and 1945, local Jews were deported to the ghettos and death camps of Eastern Europe. At least 2,213 Duesseldorf Jews were murdered in the Shoah. After the war, approximately 60 survivors returned to Duesseldorf, establishing a prayer room on Arnoldstrasse in 1948; and in 1958, a synagogue was inaugurated on Zietenstrasse. As of this writing, the Jewish community numbers 7,500 members, many of whom immigrated to Germany from the former Soviet Union. The former synagogue site—a memorial stone was unveiled there in 1983—now accommodates the Handelsblatt (commerce newspaper) Center. In 1987, a memorial center was opened in the townhouse on Muehlenstrasse. Two juveniles attacked the synagogue in 2000.
Photo: The burning synagogue on Kasernenstrasse in Duesseldorf on the morning of November 10, 1938. Courtesy of: City Archive of Duesseldorf.
Author / Sources: Heidemarie Wawrzyn