Facts

Here, brief explanations are provided of the terms and issues related to the subject areas discussed.

  • Anti-Judaism und Antisemitism

    Since the Middle Ages, Jews suffered extreme discrimination at the hands of Christians in the German-speaking realm. Their choice of profession and freedom of movement were limited. Greed and prejudice rationalized looting, expulsion and murder. Anti-Judaism created “scapegoats” for society’s ills. The advent of “scientific racism” in the 19th century gave rise to an antisemitism that melded the alleged physicality and psyche of the Jews into new negative stereotypes. Like older anti-Jewish clichés, these stereotypes also guided behaviour. Thus, everyday discrimination as well as legal disadvantages continued. The Shoah represents a historically singular systematisation of the identification, ostracism, robbery, expulsion, exploitation and mass murder of Jews. Antisemitism still exists today.

  • East and West

    There are Sephardic Jews from the western Mediterranean region and Ashkenazi Jews from Central and Eastern Europe. Although most of the Jews in the German-speaking region had Eastern-European roots, many of them began in the late 19th century to regard themselves as “Western” or Sephardic. This positive self-construction stood in opposition to that of “Eastern” Jewry. The reason for this lay in the efforts of bourgeois Jews in the German Reich to dissociate themselves socially from poorer Jews emigrating from the East. During the era of First World War, this attribution underwent a shift. Many Jewish citizens who had heretofore paid their Jewishness little heed now regarded Eastern European Jews as the source of the “original traditions” of their branch of Judaism.

  • Federal Republic of Germany – GDR

    Already during the Allied conferences held during the Second World War, the rift between the Western powers and the Soviet Union was becoming apparent. The so-called “Cold War” between East and West intensified with the division of occupied Germany and led in 1949 to the foundation of a democratic, market-economy-orientated West German state (the Federal Republic of Germany) under Western influence, on the one hand, and the socialist GDR (German Democratic Republic) under Soviet dominance, on the other. Berlin retained its special status as a divided city. Only in 1990 were the two German states reunified.

  • German Empire

    In 1871, the German Empire was created out of a multitude of German territorial states and cities — without Austria — the largest of these being Prussia. In this constitutional monarchy, the emperor (or “Kaiser”) was the head of state. There was a parliament, but not equal voting rights. Women were not allowed to vote at all.

  • Groups victimized in Nazi Germany and in the occupied Areas

    Jews were not the only group to be victimised by the National Socialists in Germany and their henchmen in the occupied countries of Europe and North Africa. Political opponents (above all, Social Democrats and Communists), homosexuals, gypsies (specifically, the Sinti and Roma), Slavs, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Catholics and Protestants who opposed the dictatorship were counted among them. Alcoholics, prostitutes, the disabled, criminals and others who were regarded as “asocial” or whose genetic heritage was viewed by Nazi race theorists as not “worthy” were excluded from the “Volksgemeinschaft” (or racially-defined community of Germans), persecuted and murdered.

  • Jewry in the German-speaking Realm

    Already in late Roman times, Jews were living in the German lands. Jewish communities existed since the Middle Ages, the earliest of these in the Rhineland. Ghettoisation and discrimination by the Christian majority long shaped their everyday experience. With the Enlightenment, Jews in the German states set out on an incremental path towards equal rights. The Jewish philosophers Moses Mendelssohn (1729–1786) and David Friedländer (1750–1834) contributed significantly to this development, as did the Christian legal scholar, diplomat and writer Christian Konrad Wilhelm Dohm (1751–1820). The latter, however, called for a high degree of adaptation on the part of Jews to their non-Jewish environment — indeed, on the sacrifice of a large part of their identity — as a precondition for their emancipation.

  • Jews after the Liberation: Life after Survival

    In 1945, some eleven million “displaced persons” (DPs) were living on the territory of the former “Greater German Reich”. They had survived the concentration camps, slave labor, prisoner-of-war camps and/or death marches. Their number included many Jews. Aid agencies gave them food, shelter and medical attention. Above all, the aim was to return them to their home countries or to enable them to emigrate, preferably to the United States or to Palestine/Israel. In July 1945, Berlin was divided into four Allied zones. With the blockade of West Berlin by Soviet Union beginning in the summer of 1948, the repatriation or emigration of DPs from the city was halted. Therefore nearly all of the DPs were transferred to the western zones. Until that point, more than 30,000 Jewish DPs had passed through Berlin.

  • Jews in Berlin

    Since 1671, there had been a constant Jewish presence in Berlin. By 1933, their numbers had grown to 160,000, representing just under 4 per cent of the city’s population. This was the largest population of Jews in any city in the Empire. Under the Nazi dictatorship, some 55,000 of them were deported, while another 80,000 were either driven out or managed to escape. Of the 7,000 Jewish men, women and children who remained hidden in the city, 6,000 were betrayed or perished in air raids. At the time of the city’s liberation in 1945, only about 7,000 of Berlin’s original Jewish population remained. They had managed to survive prison or life in the underground; some had avoided deportation thanks to their marriage to a non-Jew. In addition, several thousand Jews not originally from Berlin found themselves in the city at the end of the war.

  • Jews in Germany after the Shoah

    After the Holocaust, Jewish life re-established itself in both German states. In both halves of Berlin, Jewish communities existed. And in both the East and the West, Jews had to fight against differing forms of antisemitism. After the reunification of Germany and with the fall of the USSR, a mass emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union took place. Their incorporation into the city’s Jewish community changed the composition of the latter in an enduring manner. With some 10,500 members, Berlin’s official Jewish community is the largest in Germany. In 2012, the Jewish population of Germany amounted to about a quarter million individuals.

  • Jews in the German Empire until 1933

    When the German Empire was founded in 1871, many Jews in the individual German states were enjoying increasing prosperity and in the process of joining the ranks of the bourgeoisie. Many left the countryside for the city in search of work. Between 1871 and 1933, the Jewish population of Germany wavered around half a million, representing approximately one per cent of the population at large. Everyday antisemitism and legal restrictions allowed for only incremental progress to be made in this group’s efforts to achieve social equality.

  • Models of Jewish Life 1871–1933

    Prior to the foundation of the Empire, most Jews in 19th Germany lived in modest circumstances. However, in the last third of the century (the “Gründerzeit”), many managed to ascend into the ranks of the bourgeoisie. While many Jews continued to adhere to the religious and cultural traditions of one or another branch of Judaism, others distanced themselves from their Jewish roots, not attending synagogue and/or celebrating non-Jewish holidays such as Christmas. Some had themselves baptised. Through such assimilatory gestures, they attempted to escape the persistent antisemitism in daily life. With the advent of Zionism around the turn of the 20th century, another important current arose, according to which Jews were supposed to reflect more intensively on their cultural identity and support the (re)establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine.

  • Resistance

    Anyone living under a dictatorship such as that of the Nazis is confronted with the question of how he or she shall behave as an individual. There are a wide range of options between actively participating, looking on, withdrawing (or “inner emigration”) and various degrees of resistance. For the persecuted, the question — whether to choose the path of self-affirmation and resistance, help others who are threatened, or emigrate — is constituted differently, as it is invariably set within the existentially dangerous framework laid out for the victims by the dictatorship.

  • Weimar Republic

    After Germany’s defeat in the First World War (1914–1918), the monarchical system collapsed: The Kaiser was in exile and revolutionaries were attempting to carry out a socialist revolution. In 1919, the Constitution of the new republic was voted into law in Weimar, to which city the constituent National Assembly had fled in the face of the unrest gripping the imperial capital of Berlin. It provided for a parliamentary democracy with free elections, equal voting rights for men and women, and secret ballots. The head of state was the “Reichspräsident” (or Imperial President), who was invested with numerous plenipotentiary powers. The Weimar Republic existed until 1933.

  • Zones of Occupation in Germany

    At the end of the Second World War (1939–1945), which had been started by Germany, the country was divided into zones of occupation controlled by the four Allied powers: the US, Great Britain, the Soviet Union and France. Berlin was initially placed under Soviet control. However, in accordance with a special provision put in place in early July 1945, each of three Western powers was accorded an occupation sector of the former capital of the defeated German Reich, while US troops withdrew from sections of central Germany to be replaced by Soviet forces.