Rostock - Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania (English)

Location: Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania
About this community: Rostock was founded by merchants in the middle of the 13th century; among them were many Jews. Around 1280, these Jews established a cemetery outside the city near Kroepelin Tor. They were expelled after the Black Death pogroms of 1348/49.
It was not until 1868 that Jews were allowed to resettle in Rostock. The first Jew settling down in the city was Gustav Israel, a cigar maker. Within a year, the Jewish population grew to 25 families. A modern Jewish community was founded in 1868 or 1870. For many decades, prayer services were held in private homes. We know that an inn on Lindenstrasse/Richard-Wagner-Strasse also served for communal gatherings. Thanks to the legacy of Meyer Gimpel, a wealthy Jew, the community was able to purchase a plot of land at 101 Augustenstrasse to erect a synagogue building. The new house of worship was planned and designed by architect Prof. Ludwig Levy. In September 1902, it was festively consecrated in the presence of Chief Rabbi Dr. Fabian Feilchenfeld (1827-1910). An 18-meter-high Star of David adorned the new synagogue, which had Romanesque arches and Gothic rosettes. The building provided seats to 350 people and was the largest and most representative synagogue in the Grand Duchy of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. The synagogue building included at least one classroom where a teacher provided religious instruction and Hebrew lessons to Jewish schoolchildren. In general, Jewish children attended public elementary schools. The community, consisting of Orthodox and Liberal members, observed the more conservative synagogue traditions.
After 1870, a Jewish cemetery was established on a plot of land that was part of Rostock's Christian local burial place (today: Am Lindenpark). The first Jewish burial took place in 1873. The cemetery was later extended and eventually purchased by the Jewish community. By 1942, more than 360 people had been buried there. Many grave stones (about 178) have been preserved; among others they commemorate the manufacturer Siegmund Bernhard (1846-1934) and his son Arnold (1886-1944), who was Rostock's last president of the Jewish community (1938-1941).
Many of Rostock's Jewish families came from small Mecklenburg towns and mainly earned their living in the textile business and scrap trading. However, they also succeeded in entering areas of professional life, working as medical doctors, lawyers and well-known scholars at Rostock's university. The number of the Jewish population grew from 118 Jews in 1871 to 221 in 1880.
Antisemitism strongly surfaced when the University of Rostock celebrated its 500th anniversary in 1919. Antisemitic speeches were given. Jewish students were expelled from the university and the contracts of all Jewish instructors were terminated. Nevertheless, by the turn of the century (1900), a count of the Rostock Jewish community revealed the highest number of members in Mecklenburg. The Jewish population number increased to 317 persons in 1910, including the Jews living in Warnemuende. In 1926, the seat of the regional rabbinate (Landesrabbinat) was moved from Schwerin to Rostock. Chief Rabbi Dr. Siegfried Silberstein (1866-1935) supervised all Jewish communities in Mecklenburg-Schwerin from 1911 until 1934. Chazzan (cantor) Bernhard Sawitz (1857-1930) had come from Lithuania in 1884 and served Rostock's community for more than 40 years.
In 1932/33, Rostock's Jewish population peaked at roughly 360 persons (0,4 percent of the total). Thirty-five Jewish schoolchildren received religious instruction. They were apparently instructed by Teacher Hes, who also served as the community's chazzan. Three welfare associations – a Jewish women's organization, established in 1876; a benefit society, founded in 1922; and the burial society chevra kadisha, initiated in 1902 – were still active providing aid to poor and needy people. Jews of Heinrichshagen (1 Jew), Schwaan (6), Suelze (5) and Warnemuende (8) were affiliated with the Rostock community in the 1930s.
Local residents ardently enforced anti-Jewish boycotts in Rostock. Already in December 1932, Jewish-owned shops and businesses were boycotted. A further anti-Jewish boycott action was executed on March 11, 1933, whereupon Jewish businessmen were forced to temporarily close their stores. The nationwide boycott of Jewish businesses was already implemented in Rostock on March 30, 1933. SA guards were stationed in front of Jewish-owned shops. Most of the affected 57 shops, medical practices and offices had to close. Owners and office workers were threatened and also physically attacked. In the following days, prominent local Jews were taken "into protective custody" and local Jewish university professors were dismissed.
Due to the boycott actions, several local Jews left the city; some emigrated to England, Holland and presumably to other countries; some moved to larger cities within Germany. However, at the same time, many Jews moved from the countryside to Rostock. Many of them found work in the biggest local Jewish enterprise, the Emsa Werke (Emsa Works), a factory for orthopedic shoes, whose owner was the chairperson of Rostock's Jewish community, Max Samuel. One of the workers was Irma Borchardt (8 Eschenstrasse). After 1933, she lost her job but found a new one at Emsa Works. In the following years she married. However, she, her husband and mother constantly lived on the poverty line. In July 1942, Irma, who was seven months pregnant at that time, and her family were deported to Auschwitz and gassed immediately after their arrival. The Emsa Works were forcibly given into non-Jewish hands and continued its production under the new name Voss Works. Numerous Jewish businesses were aryanized in Rostock from 1938. At the end of October 1938, approximately 40 Polish Jews were arrested in Rostock and deported to the Polish border, among them was Abraham Gluecksmann, the community's shamash (synagogue sexton). Only 175 Jews remained in Rostock by 1938.
In the early hours of November 10, 1938, the synagogue was looted. Holy books and ritual objects were thrown onto the street and set on fire, after which the building was totally burned down; the fire lasted for 24 hours. The fire brigade protected only the surrounding houses against the fire. SS and SA troops vandalized Jewish-owned homes and shops. About 60/70 Jewish men were arrested by SA members and policemen and taken to the police prison on Neuer Markt. Later, they were brought to the regional jail (Landeszuchthaus) in Altstrelitz. There they were subjected to forced labor in the swamps for several weeks. In 1944, the synagogue's ruins were hit by a war bomb; the Jewish community had to sell the site.
Until the outbreak of World War II in 1939, more Jews left Rostock; early September of that year, only some 70 Jews were living in the city. In July and November 1942, most of the remaining Jews were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau and Theresienstadt. We know very little about their fate. After the deportations of 1942, only 25 Jews remained in Rostock. Some were recruited for forced labor in France or within the German Reich. More than 120 local Jews perished in the Shoah. Only 14 Jewish inhabitants survived the Nazi era in Rostock. Two Jewish women returned from Theresienstadt to Rostock after the war.
Today, the former synagogue site accommodates an apartment building. Next to it, a memorial stele was erected in 1988. In 1994, a new Jewish community was founded by immigrants from the former Soviet Union. In 2004, that community celebrated the opening of a new synagogue. Six-hundred Jews lived in Rostock in 2005.
Sources: Alicke, Klaus-Dieter, Lexikon der jüdischen Gemeinden im deutschen Sprachraum, Gütersloh, 2008.
Diekmann, Irene and Julius H. Schoeps (Ed.), Wegweiser durch das jüdische Brandenburg, Berlin, 1995.
Spector, Shmuel (ed.): The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before and During the Holocaust, Yad Vashem and New York University Press, 2001.
Synagogue Memorial "Beit Ashkenaz": Pogrom Night 1938: A Memorial to the Destroyed Synagogues of Germany, Jerusalem, 2013.
Zentralwohlfahrtsstelle der Deutschen Juden (Ed.): Führer durch die Jüdische Gemeindeverwaltung und Wohlfahrtspflege in Deutschland 1923-1933 [1933/34].
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