August 10th, 2005

Jews in West Germany

Jewish communities between 1945 and 1989

The foundation stone is laid for the community building in Fasanenstrasse, Berlin, in 1957, with Governing Mayor Willi Brandt and the Chairman of the Berlin Community Heinz Galinski. Photo: Landesarchiv Berlin/Gert Schütz
The foundation stone is laid for the community building in Fasanenstrasse, Berlin, in 1957, with Governing Mayor Willi Brandt and the Chairman of the Berlin Community Heinz Galinski. Photo: Landesarchiv Berlin/Gert Schütz

Jewish communities were forming only weeks after Germany’s liberation by the Allied troops. By the end of 1946 there were 67. In the early post-war years those who had survived were joined by those who were returning from exile. Shoa survivors had many reasons for coming back to the “land of the perpetrators”. Some had always felt like fish out of water in the country that took them in, or else had no future in their trained profession. Others were looking for lost loved ones or wanted to claim their rights to indemnification payments. All of them had mixed feelings: on the one hand they felt out of place in their “old” home, but on the other they would repeatedly postpone their departure until finally, without fully noticing or making a conscious decision, they settled.

In addition to these, some 200,000 Jews arrived from Eastern Europe, unable or unwilling to return to their old homes because of the incipient “Cold War”. They were known as DPs, or “displaced people”. Their ranks swelled when Poland witnessed the first pogroms against Shoa survivors. These resulted in 150,000 Jews leaving Poland and finding initial refuge in post-war Germany. For most DPs, the camps and provisional quarters were simply a stepping stone. After taking vocational or further training, many went on to emigrate to Israel, while others left for the United States of America, the United Kingdom or Latin America.

In the early fifties there were no more than 25,000 Jews living in the recently founded Federal Republic of Germany. By the end of 1951 the official figure for members of Jewish communities was down to about 21,500. New arrivals came only, albeit sporadically, from the “Eastern bloc”. The seventies brought the first wave of immigrants from the Soviet Union (see the chapter on Migration to Germany). After numerous interventions by Heinz Galinski, the Chairman of the Jewish Community in Berlin, the Berlin Senate declared a particular willingness to accept these newcomers without undue bureaucracy on “humanitarian grounds”. Throughout that period, the gates of West Berlin remained open to Jewish immigrants.

Nevertheless, the number of new members remained small at first. In 1989 there were still about 26,000 altogether. Only when the GDR collapsed and the borders opened did this picture change dramatically. In December 1990, just a year later, the five regional associations on the soil of the former GDR were admitted to the Central Council of Jews in Germany.

The Central Council now embraces 108 Jewish communities with ca. 101,300 individual members.