General information: First Jewish presence: 13th century; peak Jewish population: 691 in 1885; Jewish population in 1933: 376
Summary: Records suggest that the 13th-century Jewish community in Goerlitz lived in a designated Judengasse (“Jews’ Alley”). Protected since 1329 by King Johann of Bohemia, the community maintained its own mikveh, a cemetery, and synagogue, the last of which dated back to 1344. Jews were expelled from Goerlitz after the Black Death epidemic and again, by order of a local duke, in 1389. During the following 450 years, only a few “protected” Jews were permitted to settle in the town. The forerunners of the modern community, so-called “mint Jews” from Dresden, purchased land in Goerlitz in the 1750s. The Jewish community, founded in 1850, included Jews from Rothenburg, Lauban and Hoyerswerda. Services were conducted in a private residence on 10 Nicolaistrasse until 1853, when a synagogue was dedicated on Langenstrasse. A new cemetery was consecrated on Biesnitzer Strasse in 1849, and we also know that the community, which had its own rabbi, shochet, chazzan and chevra kadisha, was able to provide children with religious instruction from 1850 onwards. A large Art Nouveau synagogue, built in 1909, was inaugurated on March 11, 1911. The liberal community, however, found it increasingly difficult to gather enough men for a minyan. Goerlitz Jews were mainly merchants, lawyers and medical doctors; many worked in the textile and iron industries. Although many Jews left Goerlitz during and following the economic crisis of the 1920s, the community managed to maintain branches of the Central Association of German Citizens of Jewish Faith, the Zionist Movement and the Reich Federation of Jewish Front Soldiers. On April 1, 1933, approximately 40 Goerlitz Jews were arrested, among them businessmen, lawyers and physicians. Later, on Pogrom Night (November 1938), rioters demolished Jewish homes, factories and shops; thirty-two Jewish men were arrested and 24 were sent to Sachsenhausen. Attackers burnt parts of the interior of the synagogue. At the beginning of World War II, Jews were forced into “Jews’ houses” on Muehlweg and Steinstrasse; they were eventually sent to the Tomersdorf forced labor camp and, when the camp was dissolved in 1942/43, deported to other destinations. In May 1944, men defined as “half-Jews” by the Nuremberg laws were deported from Goerlitz to forced labor camps in France. At least 75 Goerlitz Jews perished in the Shoah. Approximately 1,000 Jewish men and women were incarcerated at the local Biesnitzer Grund concentration camp, a satellite camp of Gross-Rosen. In 1945, the prisoners were sent on a death march, which many did not survive. A mass grave with 170 bodies was discovered in 1948, after which, in 1951, a memorial to the camp victims was unveiled at the Jewish cemetery, where 323 camp inmates are buried. A memorial plaque was unveiled in Goerlitz in 1988. As of this writing, the new Jewish community, established in 2005, is applying for permission to establish a synagogue on Otto-Mueller-Strasse.
Photo: The synagogue of Goerlitz. Courtesy of: Leo Baeck Institute Photo Archive.
Photo 2: The synagogue of Goerlitz. Courtesy of: Leo Baeck Institute Photo Archive.
Author / Sources: Beate Grosz-Wenker
Sources: AJ, EJL, IZOJG, LJG
Sources: AJ, EJL, IZOJG, LJG
Located in: saxony