The November Pogrom, 9-10 November 1938


Torah Scroll and Binder from the Synagogue in Ansbach

In November 1938, shortly before the Kristallnacht pogrom, Ansbach resident Ludwig Dietenhofer was summoned to an urgent meeting with the Chief of Police. The Chief warned him about the impending attack against the Jews, and advised him to leave the country immediately.

Dr. Ludwig Dietenhofer was an industrialist who was active in Ansbach community life. He held several public positions in the city, including member of the City Council and head of the Jewish Community Committee. His eldest son fought in World War I as a German soldier and died after the war. His wife Babette also passed away and his four remaining children left Germany, such that in the early 1930s, Ludwig lived alone in Ansbach. He continued to be active in the Jewish community but planned to immigrate to Eretz Israel (Mandatory Palestine).

On 27 October 1938, a tear gas bomb was thrown into the synagogue in Ansbach during prayer time, and the congregants were forced to stop praying. In November 1938, shortly before Kristallnacht, Ludwig was summoned to an urgent meeting with the Ansbach Chief of Police. The Police Chief, a friend of Ludwig's, warned him about the approaching riots, the anticipated synagogue conflagrations and physical violence, and urged him to leave the country as soon as possible.

Ludwig heeded his advice. He went to the synagogue and took the Torah scroll that his family had donated, and that had been in use for generations. The Torah scroll was bound with a decorative "wimpel" (Torah binder) that had been donated to the synagogue in 1840. "Wimpel" was a term for the cloth used to swaddle a baby boy at his circumcision. In many communities in Germany, it was customary to gift this cloth to the synagogue when the baby reached the age of three, to be used to bind a Torah scroll . The wimpel binding the Torah scroll that Ludwig removed from the synagogue was embroidered with a dedication, illustrations, and the name of the baby boy and his father.

On the night of 9-10 November 1938, Kristallnacht, the Mayor of Ansbach was ordered by Nazi Headquarters in Nuremberg to imprison the city's Jews, to vandalize their apartments, and to torch the synagogue. The Mayor ordered the SA to refrain from violence, and thanks to his order, the Jews of Ansbach were not harmed during Kristallnacht. He sent two people to set fire to the synagogue. They smashed up benches and burned them together with Torah scrolls and other Jewish books. Immediately following his order to burn the synagogue, the Mayor sent the fire brigade to put out the fire. The flames scorched two pillars, a curtain, Torah scrolls, two Torah Ark curtains from the early 18th century, and two chandeliers. The surviving remnants are preserved in the Ansbach municipal museum. Before the fire was started, a box of prayer shawls and ritual artifacts was taken out and brought to the police station for safekeeping. After the pogrom, the synagogue was sold to the City Council for a very low sum.

Most of the Jews who had been detained as per Nazi orders were released the following morning on the Mayor's instruction, including Ludwig Dietenhofer. Ludwig left Germany for Austria, and passed through Hungary, Russia, China, South Africa and Gibraltar before reaching Eretz Israel (Mandatory Palestine) about a year later. He gave the Torah scroll and wimpel to his children when he immigrated.