Jewish Community in Berlin Established, 1671
On This Day in Jewish History: September 10, 1671,
In 1671, 50 prominent Jewish families moved to Berlin from Vienna and formed the nucleus of the Jewish community in Berlin. Frederick William, the “Great Elector” of Brandenburg-Prussia, invited the Jews to Berlin to aid the reconstruction of the land following the Thirty Years’ War. The 50 Jewish Viennese families were designated a special status as ‘Schutzjuden’, which protected Jews who paid for a residence permit. The ‘Schutzjuden’ status granted them the autonomy to engage in (financial) based businesses and worship in private homes.
Prior to 1671, the Jewish presence in Berlin was virtually nonexistent for a century, following their expulsion in 1571. However, Jewish history in Berlin was nevertheless rich. Jews first arrived in Berlin around the 13th century, in an attempt to escape the persecution and expulsions that became an unremitting occurrence in the South following the Crusades (commencing in 1096). Waves of persecution did not escape the Jews who fled to what is now Northern Germany. On the contrary, in 1349, following accusations that the Jews caused the Black Plague in Europe, they were either killed or expelled. Though the Jews were permitted to return in 1354, the Jews were expelled again in 1446, and further in 1510 and 1571. Amongst the expulsions, the Jews of Berlin were restricted to monetary and commercial work and were confined to live in a ghetto in the Grosser Jüdenhof (“Jew’s Court”) area, and on Juddenstrasse (“Jew Street”). The absence of Jewish presence in Berlin for a century changed in 1663 – 8 years prior to the establishment of the Jewish community – when the “Great Elector” of Brandenburg-Prussia allowed Israel Aaron to enter Berlin as a Court Jew.
In 1672, the Alter Jüdischer Friedhof (the Old Jewish Cemetery) was established, and in 1714, the first synagogue, later known as the Old Synagogue, was also established at Heidereutergasse in Mitte, Berlin. Throughout the centuries, Jews had been part of Berlin’s cultural and intellectual heritage. Notably figures such as Moses Mendelssohn (significant philosopher, responsible for the ‘Jewish Enlightenment’); world famous physicist, Albert Einstein; significant figure in the feminist movement, Hedwig Dohm, and many others. By the 1920s, Berlin was home to around 170,000 Jews. However, with the rise of Nazism and the election of Hitler as Chancellor in 1933 led many of the Jews to flee Germany.
55,000 of Berlin’s Jews were eventually killed in the Holocaust. Now, more than 30,000 Jews live in Berlin