Würzburg Before the Holocaust
The Jews of Würzburg During the Weimar Republic
Despite the rising antisemitic sentiment in Bavaria in the wake of the First World War, in 1919 four Jews were elected to the city council in Würzburg. Among them was Felix Freudenberger, who was elected mayor. The Jews of Würzburg were also active in other civic institutions. Wilhelm Kahn, for example, served on the city council for 22 years, and was also head of the wine traders union in Lower Franconia.
Some two thirds of the city’s Jews worked in commerce, and many others were employed in the free professions. Consequently, the Jewish community enjoyed an economic and cultural boom. The city and its university became a magnet for young Jewish students from across Germany, which increased even further the effervescence of Jewish civic life in Würzburg.
In the 1926 elections to the community council, the orthodox and liberal parties each won eight seats, while the "Center Party" won two. The leader of the community was Gershon Haas, who also headed most of community’s public institutions. For the first time, Jews who had emigrated from Eastern Europe also won a place on the council. Two years earlier, in 1924, they had built their own synagogue in Würzburg. The required waiting period before receiving voting rights for Jewish community institutions had been shortened from five years to three.
In 1919 Rabbi Nathan Bamberger passed away, and Rabbi Dr. Sigmund (Shimon) Hanover was elected to serve as the district rabbi for Würzburg in his stead. Two years later, Hanover initiated the foundation of the association for the encouragement of agriculture among the Bavarian Jews (Siedlungsverein für Bayren). Other associations, such as the "Ohavi Emeth" (The Lovers of Truth) and "Etz Haim" (Tree of Life) encouraged Hebrew language education for adults. Würzburg became an important center for Jewish congresses and conventions, such as a conference of Jewish youth in Lower Franconia, and a gathering of rabbis, teachers and community leaders in Bavaria.
Würzburg was also home to branches of the CV (the Centralverein, Central Union of German Citizens of Jewish Belief), the Histadrut labor federation and other Zionist organizations, the Reich Union of Jewish Frontline Soldiers, (Reichsbund Juedischer Frontsoldaten), Jewish liberal and ultraorthodox organizations, professional organizations (such as the association for the training of Jewish nurses), and Jewish cultural associations (including the association for Jewish history and literature). In 1932 Würzburg hosted a congress of all the branches of the Zionist organizations in Lower Franconia.
Würzburg was also the Bavarian seat of the "Union of Ultraorthodox Communities", and hosted the elections of this union. In 1929 some one hundred Jewish butchers gathered in the city to protest the Bavarian ban on kosher slaughter. They went on to found a national organization, which convened in the town in 1929 and again in 1932. At the same time, at the initiative of Rabbi Dr. Hanover, the association for the observation of the Sabbath was founded in Würzburg. This association had many branches in Lower Franconia, including an employment office and professional guidance for observant Jews.
Toward the end of the Weimar Republic, in light of the spread of antisemitic propaganda, the city council attempted to limit the publication and distribution of Nazi newspapers. In 1929 the Nazis crashed a conference organized by Jews and Christians, which aimed at disproving blood liable allegations. In 1930 Nazis and students protested vehemently in front of the local theater, attempting to disrupt the staging of HaBimah Theater’s production of "The Dybbuk". The show began after a delay, and when the audience left they were attacked by a mob of thugs wielding sticks and stones. The police stood aside, and 14 Jews were badly injured. 11 members of the Nazi party stood trial for their part in the riot; most were sentenced to light punishments, and the remainder were acquitted.
As a reaction to the intensification of antisemitism, the Bund Junger Juden (the association for young Jews) was founded in Würzburg in 1931. Its primary aim was to promote self-defense, and it was connected to the Reich Union of Jewish Frontline Soldiers (R.J.F, the organization for Jewish soldiers who had fought in the ranks of the German army in the First World War).