August 11th, 2005
LEO BAECK (1873-1956) – A life devoted to religion and people
From 1919 to 1933 Baeck held various key functions in the Jewish Community in Berlin. He developed links with political representatives of the Weimar Republic and initiated discussion forums for Christians and Jews to encourage religious and cultural understanding between these two faiths in Germany. As Chairman of the German Association of Rabbis, Baeck also mediated between the orthodox and liberal wings.
In 1933, by now a reputed scholar, he was chosen to preside over the Reichsvertretung, the body that then represented Jews throughout the German Reich. During the Nazi regime he was the spiritual leader of German Jewry. In this capacity he undertook a number of journeys abroad to draw attention to the plight of Jews in the Third Reich. Although he had several opportunities to emigrate, Baeck remained with his community, preferring to help other Jews to leave the country. In 1943 he was deported to the concentration camp at Theresienstadt along with his family. There he preached and lectured untiringly to offer his fellows succour in their hopeless situation. Although severely ill-treated, he survived, finally emigrating to London in 1945.
In 1945 Leo Baeck became President of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, henceforth working for reconciliation and dialogue between Jews and Christians. The resumption of talks was more important to him than punishing those who caused the genocide.
Apart from his representative functions, Baeck taught at several universities in Europe and the United States. In 1955 he became the first international president of the Leo Baeck Institute, which was named after him and set up to research into the history of Jews in German-speaking territories from the mid-18th century until the devastation wrought by National Socialism.
Leo Baeck died in London on 2 November 1956.