General information: First Jewish presence: 13th century; peak Jewish population: 5,045 in 1932/33
Summary: The earliest available records of a Jewish presence in Essen are dated 1291. Although Jews were expelled from Essen several times during the 14th and 15th centuries, they always managed to return. The medieval community conducted services in a prayer hall. The Jews of Essen were granted equal rights in the early 19th century, when the city was under French rule. According to records, local Jews participated in the revolution of 1848. As a result of the city’s tolerant atmosphere, the community grew rapidly: from 373 members in 1836 to 1,480 in 1895. It was in the late 19th century, too, that large numbers of Jews from Eastern Europe moved to Essen. Established in the late 17th century, the community’s first synagogue was located on Bergstrasse (present-day Im Zwoelfling). In 1808, a new synagogue was inaugurated on Weberstrasse (present-day Gerswidastrasse). A Moorish-style synagogue was built on the same site in 1870, and it was there that Jews prayed until 1913, when the community inaugurated yet another house of worship, the so-called “Old Synagogue,” at 29 Steeler Strasse. The Old Synagogue, a magnificent edifice with four cupolas, accommodated 1,400 worshipers, an organ, a women’s gallery, a mikveh and a weekday synagogue. Essen’s Jewish school, founded in 1830, was presided over by teacher Moses Blumenfeld between 1841 and 1894. The city was also home to three Jewish cemeteries: on Hoffnungsstrasse, or present-day Lazarettstrasse, between 1873 and 1923; on Reckhammerweg (1885-1991); and on Schultzstrasse/Parkfriedhof (1931 until today). Salomon Samuel served as rabbi from 1894 until 1932. In 1933, 420 children attended the Jewish elementary school. Active in the community were a Talmud Torah, a Hebrew school, a literary club and nine welfare organizations. The defunct synagogue building on Weberstrasse was torn down in 1937. After the Nazis’ election victories, anti-Semitism intensified in Essen. Local Jews were often arrested, and Jewish-owned shops were, beginning in April of 1933, boycotted. In October 1938, between 450 and 570 Polish Jews were expelled from Essen. On Pogrom Night, rioters set the Old Synagogue on fire, gutting the interior; a youth center and an Eastern European prayer hall were also burned down. Jewish homes and stores were vandalized, and approximately 700 men were sent to Dachau; most were released in February 1939. Between 1933 and 1941, the community lost 60% of its members, all of whom left Germany. Deportations commenced in late 1941, and in May 1942, the remaining Jews were forcibly moved to the Holbeckshof camp in Essen- Steele. At least 2,500 Essen Jews perished in the Shoah. Approximately 100 survivors returned to Essen after the war. A new synagogue was inaugurated on Sedanstrasse in 1959; and in November 1980, the Old Synagogue, to which a plaque has been affixed, was converted into an archive and memorial center. Plaques were also unveiled at the central train station and on Aronweg/Holbeckshof.
Photo: The synagogue of Essen in 1914. Courtesy of: Essen Municipal Photography Service.
Photo 2: The burning of the synagogue in Essen on the morning of November 10, 1938. Courtesy of: Essen Municipal Photography Service.
Author / Sources: Heidemarie Wawrzyn
Sources: EJL, FJG, HU, LJG, SIA