Reich representation of German Jews established


The Reichsvertretung der Deutschen Juden, the Reich Representation of German Jews, was the central organization of German Jewry under the Nazi regime. When the Nazis came to power, German Jewry did not really have a comprehensive organization of representational nature. Only in September 1933 was this inclusive, federative representative agency established, composed and empowered to cope with German Jewry's grave existential problems under the new totalitarian regime. The organization was headed by Rabbi Leo Baeck, but the motive, spirit, and force were provided by its director, Otto Hirsch. Alongside them was an administration that represented the main political and religious organizations. The Reichsvertretung aspired to embrace all aspects of German Jewish internal affairs and to represent the community as such vis-a-vis the German authorities and Jewish organizations outside Germany. Its main fields of activity, arranged by the Zentralausschuss der Deutschen Juden fuer Hilfe und Aufbau (Central Committee of German Jews for Relief and Reconstruction) were:

Extensive cultural activity was promoted by the Kulturbund Deutscher Juden (Cultural Society of German Jews), which remained autonomous until late 1941. The Reichsvertretung's intensive operations, which enabled German Jews to cope with the grim effects of state discrimination and persecution, relied heavily on Jewish welfare associations around the world but, foremost, on the volunteering spirit and mutual assistance of German Jews themselves.

In its contacts with the authorities, the Reichsvertretung sought to safeguard the physical and moral existence of German Jewry, and considered itself competent to respond to major anti-Jewish events such as the Nuremberg Laws and the spate of terrorism in the summer of 1938. Although it was not recognized under law, the authorities recognized the Reichsvertretung de facto as the sole representative of the Jews in Germany vis-a-vis the Reich government. After the legal status of the kehillah (Jewish community organization) was nullified, the Reichsvertretung reconstituted itself as a national kehillah of sorts by forming "a national association of Jews in Germany", The Reichsvereinigung. In July 1939, the regime officially recognized this organization, which was placed under Gestapo supervision, thus empowering it to be active in emigration, education, and welfare. From then until 1943, the Reichsvereinigung, was the only organization in Germany that dealt with Jewish survival. The last of its leaders, including Rabbi Leo Baeck, were deported to Theresienstadt in the first half of that year, and it was officially abolished in July.

Some scholars regard the organization's work as an expression of the will to preserve and foster the authentic character and basic values of German Jewry even under the totalitarian and racist regime. As such, they consider its activities "spiritual resistance." For others, however, precisely these aims were illusions and, indeed, a tragic error, which may perhaps have prevented sufficient emphasis from being placed on emigration efforts that could have saved lives..