Jews in Leipzig: nationality and community in the 20th century

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Willingham, Robert Allen

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The thesis is a study of the Jewish community of Leipzig, Germany over the course of the 20th century. It begins with an overview of the Jews of the city until the rise to power of Adolf Hitler, emphasizing divisions with the Jewish community over the ideology of Zionism and between German-born and foreign-born Jews. It goes on to describe the lives of Jews as the Nazis come to state authority, the riots of November, 1938, and the gradual exclusion of Jews from professional and pubic life in the city. Jewish responses in education, politics and culture are examined, as are the decisions of many local people to emigrate. After the 1938 riots, exclusion began to shift to extermination, and the Jewish community found itself subject to deportation to camps in Eastern Europe. Most of those deported were murdered. Those who lived were able to do so because of good fortune, canny survival skills, or marriage to non-Jews. Jewish life, which had been an important part of the city, was systematically destroyed. After 1945, those few who survived in the city were joined by another handful of Jewish Leipzigers who survived the camps, and by some non-Leipzig Jews, to reform the Jewish community. A tiny percentage of the old Jewish world of Leipzig was left to rebuild. They did so, reestablishing institutions, reclaiming property, and beginning negotiations with the new authorities, the Soviet occupation and then the German Democratic Republic. The Jews of Leipzig continued some of their old concerns in this new world, negotiating with the government and among themselves the nature of their identities as Jews and as Germans. These negotiations were brought to a halt by a series of anti-Semitic purges in 1952 and 1953. The leadership of the Jewish community fled, as did many of their fellow-Jews. The behavior of the East German state at this point showed some surprising commonality with their Nazi predecessors. After the purges were over, those who remained began another process of rebuilding, this time in constant tension with a government that wanted to use them for propaganda purposes during the Cold War. With the fall of the communist regime in 1989-90, the Jewish community of Leipzig was able to chart its destiny again. The old issues of identity and community—among themselves and between Jews and their German neighbors—continue in a very different context.