The Jewish Community of Wiesbaden from its Beginnings until the Nazi Regime
At the Beginning of the 20th Century
During the first part of the 20th century, the Jewish community of Wiesbaden continued to flourish. A private boarding school for girls was established, as well as an association for the foundation of a Jewish hospital and clinic. The clinic was first set up in rented rooms, from which it later moved into a designated building purchased using donation funds. Adolf Friedman, one of Theodore Herzl’s assistants, organized Zionist activities in the city. During this period, a welfare office was established in Wiesbaden as an umbrella organization, bringing together all welfare-related activities; among its affiliated organizations were a women’s association which helped with professional guidance; a children’s daycare center; a center for the collection of clothing; an association for children’s summer camps; an association for Jewish industry; the Hachnasat Orchim institution (which provided lodging for Jewish wayfarers); and the Ezrat Yetomim institution (which provided aid for Jewish orphans). The Bnai Brith offices in Wiesbaden established an old-age home in the city, as well as a subsidized kosher restaurant which fed dozens of Jews of limited means every day. The Jewish community also maintained two cemeteries.
During the First World War, 57 Jews from Wiesbaden were killed in action as soldiers in the German army. Their names were engraved on a monument erected in the city’s Jewish cemetery. Other Jews from Wiesbaden were promoted and decorated for their military service.
In 1925 there were some 3,000 Jews in Wiesbaden, constituting about 3% of the city’s population. A third of them were Jews from eastern Europe, most of whom did not posses German citizenship. They married early, had many children, and lowered the average age in the community. Most of them belonged to the general Jewish community, and they had representatives on the community’s committee. The eastern European Jews set up separate public prayers, as well as an organization for mutual aid and Jewish studies, which was associated with the Zionist movement, and enjoyed the support of both the head of the Jewish council, Dr. Paul Lazarus and the council members themselves. In 1929 the Jewish community granted the eastern European Jews the right to vote, including women. The Orthodox community, lead by Julius Katz, had its own synagogue, primary school, burial society, cemetery and women’s association. It employed a teacher, a butcher and synagogue caretaker (or shamash).
The Jews of Wiesbaden played an active role in the economic, cultural and sporting life in the city. A beit midrash (study hall) for Jewish studies was established in Wiesbaden, in which Franz Rosenzweig and Martin Buber were active.
The Wiesbaden synagogue contained a rich library that was open to the public. Rabbi Lazarus, the community’s rabbi and one of the directors of the beit midrash, insisted that all Jewish youths study Judaism and religious studies, including Hebrew. At the end of the 1920s both adults and children studied Hebrew in the beit midrash. At Rabbi Lazarus’s initiative the community opened a youth club. Prayers in the community’s synagogue were accompanied by music and a choir.
During this time, branches of a variety of Jewish organizations were active in Wiesbaden, including the Central Committee, the Federation of Jewish Front Soldiers (Reichsbund Jüdischer Frontsoldaten), the Reform Association, HaMizrachi, WIZO, and Agudat Yisrael. In 1924 the German Zionist convention was convened in Wiesbaden, an event attended by the President of the World Zionist Organization, Dr. Chaim Weizmann. Wiesbaden was also home to a number of Jewish youth movements, the largest of which was the Jewish Youth Organization, which was associated with the Central Committee. Branches of Tchelet Lavan, HaKoach (founded in 1926), Beitar (1931), Kameraden (1932), Brit Chalutzim Datiim and Ezra also operated in the city. Between 1927 and April of 1933, one of the community members published a weekly newspaper covering Jewish matters.
Many of the community’s members were hit in the financial crisis of the 1920s, and the community’s budget was cut, although Jews who took part in commerce managed to maintain their financial standing. During this time antisemitic agitation in Wiesbaden intensified. From 1926, overt Nazi antisemitic activities began in the city. In 1930 three hundred Nazis rioted in the bathhouse area; they took over a coffee shop, claiming that the municipality had not allocated them a hall for their activities. They were forcefully dispersed by the police and their leaders prosecuted. A few months later, Nazi activists beat the Jewish industrialist Alfred Graetz, who was left with a concussion as a result. In 1931 Nazis attacked a Jewish passerby, and the same year a local Nazi was sentenced to a month and a half in jail, for drawing swastikas on the wall of the local synagogue.