History of the Jews in Munich
The history of the Jews in Munich dates back to the beginning of the 13th century. Munich is the capital of the German state of Bavaria, which is in Southern Germany, and was the home of the Nazi movement and the site of the model concentration camp at Dachau.
Jews were living in Munich at the beginning of the thirteenth century, but they were expelled in 1442, and by 1790 there were only 129 remaining. A fundamental change for the Jewish life occurred on June 10th, 1813, the “Jews edict” was passed, which allowed Jews to acquire citizenship and estates. In 1826 a Synagogue was opened, and in 1848 the Jews gained the right to vote and to be elected for public office.
In 1880 the pogroms in Russia resulted in an influx of eastern Jews to Munich, and opened up lucrative businesses in leather goods and fur trading.
- In 1892, the Ohel Jakob synagogue was opened, which seated 1000 men and 800 women. This was the 3rd largest synagogue in Germany.
- By 1933, 9005 Jews were living in Munich which was 1.2 percent of the total population of the city.
Munich’s Jews played a prominent role in its economic, social and cultural life, and took part in multi-faceted Jewish religious and communal activities. The central offices of many Jewish national institutions were located there, and a Zionist weekly and the official organ of the Union of Jewish Communities in Bavaria were published in the city.
The Jewish population is estimated at around 3,500-4,000 in 1875 and around 11,000 in 1910 after the immigration of Eastern Jews following the outbreak of pogroms in Russia. By the time the Nazis rose to national power in 1933, there were about 9,000-10,000 Jews in Munich. By May 1938, about 3,500 Jews had emigrated, ca. 3,100 of them moving abroad. By May 1939, the number of Jews in the city had further declined to 5,000. In 1944, only 7 Jews remained in Munich. During the war, about 3,000 Jews were deported, with only about 300 returning after the war.
A new community was founded in 1945 which had grown to about 3,500 by 1970. Following the emigration of Jews from the former Soviet Union after 1990, the Jewish population in Munich numbered 5,000 in 1995 and is estimated today to around 9,000, making it the second largest Jewish community in Germany after Berlin.
The precursor to the NSDAP was the Deutscher Arbeiterpartei (DAP - German Workers Party) was founded in the hotel Fürstenfelder Hof in Munich on 5 January 1919. When the Party reorganized as the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiter Partei (NSDAP - National Socialist German Workers Party), it had offices in the Sterneckerbräu brewery at Tal 54, near the city center.
Having recently overcome temporary blindness resulting from exposure to mustard gas during the war, Hitler made his way back to Munich in the summer of 1919 and was assigned by the Reichswehr to "educational" duties which consisted largely of spying on political parties in the overheated atmosphere of post-revolutionary Munich. He was sent to investigate a small nationalistic group of idealists, the German Workers' Party. On 16 September 1919 he entered the Party (which had approximately forty members), soon changed its name to the National Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDAP) and had imposed himself as its Chairman by July 1921.
The official Party platform was formulated on 24 February 1920, and Adolf Hitler outlined the Party program to the public in the famous Hofbräuhaus beer hall that same evening.Hitler focused his propaganda against the Versailles Treaty, the "November criminals," the Marxists and the visible, internal enemy No. 1, the "Jew," who was responsible for all Germany's domestic problems. In the twenty-five-point programme of the NSDAP the exclusion of the Jews from the Volk community, the myth of Aryan race supremacy and extreme nationalism were combined with "socialistic" ideas of profit-sharing and nationalization inspired by ideologues like Gottfried Feder.
Hitler's first written utterance on political questions dating from this period emphasized that what he called "the anti-Semitism of reason" must lead "to the systematic combating and elimination of Jewish privileges. Its ultimate goal must implacably be the total removal of the Jews."
The Munich Putsch
The Bavarian government defied the Weimar Republic, accusing it of being too far left. Hitler personally endorsed the fall of the Weimar Republic, and declared at a public rally on October 30, 1923 that he was prepared to march on Berlin to rid the government of the Communists and the Jews.
On November 8, 1923, Hitler held a rally at a Munich beer hall and proclaimed a revolution. The following day, he led 2,000 armed "brown-shirts" in an attempt to take over the Bavarian government. The small Nazi Party first won national attention in the Beer Hall Putsch of November 1923, when the Ruhr crisis and the great inflation were at their height. Hitler and his Nazis joined with General Erich Ludendorff (1865-1937) and his conservative nationalist followers in an attempt to seize power in Munich. (The plot got its name because it was planned in one of Munich's beer halls.)
Once they had taken Munich, Hitler and Ludendorff planned to use the Bavarian capital as a base of operations against the republican government in Berlin. The support that Hitler and Ludendorff expected to receive from some conservative Bavarian politicians failed to materialize, however, and the police easily suppressed the revolt.
Following the collapse of the Beer Hall Putsch, Hitler and Ludendorff were tried for treason. In recognition of his services to Germany during the war, Ludendorff was acquitted. The conservative judges allowed Hitler to use his trial as a propaganda forum for his ideas. Hitler was convicted but sentenced to a term of only five years imprisonment at Landsberg where he would remain only 8 months. During his stay, Hitler put together the first part of his book Mein Kampf. It was in Munich, the capital of the Nazi movement that the Volkischer Beobachter, the Nazi Party’s newspaper was published, and from 1930 onwards Munich was the home of the Nazi Party, the so-called Brown House and the national headquarters of the SA and SS.
The Brown House in Munich
Jewish life in Munich, a staunchly Catholic city with a strong conservative- monarchist tradition, continued and suffered no serious disruptions until the Nazi takeover of power throughout Germany in March 1933.
On the 12 May 1933, the police conducted a search for “subversive material” in the offices of all the city’s Jewish organisations, fifty of which had all their property confiscated. As a result of fierce protests in Berlin, some of the confiscated property was returned to its owners. Various branches of the Nazi Party’s organisations such as the SA, SS, Hitler-Jugend and even employees of Julius Streicher’s newspaper Der Sturmer, attacked Jewish –owned businesses and beat up Jews in the streets.
Growing pressure was forced on the Jews to cease their business activities; Der Sturmer published photographs and names of the customers of Jewish stores. The city government too joined in the campaign against the Jews, and in 1937 ordered all non-Jewish stores to display an “Aryan Store” sign, thereby circumventing the existing legal situation, which at the time did not permit Jewish stores to be identified as such. In reaction to the growing pressure and persecution, the Jewish Community Organisation intensified its activities in order to help the Jews survive. It established hospitals and social services; elementary, secondary and vocational schools; an orchestra and a theatre; clubs; an adult education institute.
In the period from the 1 March 1933 to the 16 May 1938, the deaths of 803 Jews were recorded in Munich, as against only 118 births; 3,574 Jews left the city, 3130 emigrating abroad, with 701 settling in Palestine.
The Dachau camp was a training center for SS concentration camp guards, and the camp's organization and routine became the model for all Nazi concentration camps. Established in March 1933, Dachau was the first regular concentration camp established by the National Socialist government. Heinrich Himmler, in his capacity as police president of Munich, officially described the camp as "the first concentration camp for political prisoners." It was located on the grounds of an abandoned munitions factory near the north-eastern part of the town of Dachau, about 10 miles northwest of Munich in southern Germany.
Dachau was divided into two sections--the camp area and the crematoria area. The camp area consisted of 32 barracks, including one for clergy imprisoned for opposing the Nazi regime and one reserved for medical experiments. The camp administration was located in the gatehouse at the main entrance. The camp area had a group of support buildings, containing the kitchen, laundry, showers, and workshops, as well as a prison block (Bunker).
The courtyard between the prison and the central kitchen was used for the summary execution of prisoners. An electrified barbed-wire fence, a ditch, and a wall with seven guard towers surrounded the camp. During the first year, the camp held about 4,800 prisoners. Initially the internees consisted primarily of German Communists, Social Democrats, trade unionists, and other political opponents of the Nazi regime. Over time, other groups were also interned at Dachau, such as Jehovah's Witnesses, Roma (Gypsies), homosexuals, as well as "asocials" and repeat criminal offenders.
The Munich Pact
In 1938, Hitler threatened to unleash a European war unless the Sudetenland, a border area of Czechoslovakia with a large ethnic German population, was ceded to Germany. The leaders of Britain, France, Italy, and Germany held a conference in Munich on September 29-30, 1938. In what became known as the Munich Pact, they agreed to the German annexation of the Sudetenland in exchange for a pledge of peace from Hitler.
The Czechoslovaks were greatly dismayed with the Munich Pact. With Sudetenland gone to Germany, Czechoslovakia lost its defensible border with Germany and its fortifications. Without them its independence became more nominal than real. In fact, Czechoslovakia also lost 70% of its iron/steel, 70% of its electrical power, 3.5 million citizens and the famous Škoda Works to Germany. This agreement also put the Jews living in the Sudetenland at the mercy of the Nazi regime.
By January 1, 1938, German Jews were prohibited from operating businesses and trades, and from offering goods and services. In the Autumn of 1938, only 40,000 of the formerly 100,000 Jewish businesses were still in the hands of their original owners. Aryanisation was completed with the enactment of a regulation, the Verordnung zur Ausschaltung der Juden aus dem deutschen Wirtschaftsleben of November 12, 1938, through which the remaining businesses were transferred to non-Jewish owners and the proceeds taken by the state. Jewelry, stocks, real property and other valuables had to be sold below market value.
- Jewish employees were fired, and self-employed people were prohibited from working in their respective professions. in Munich, the number of Jewish shopkeepers and tradesmen were reduced from 1,690 to 660.
- In early June of 1938 Hitler found it unacceptable for the Great Synagogue to be located next door to the German Art House and ordered the synagogue to be torn down by the 8 July, which was “German Art Day.” Jewish community leaders were informed of this order on the 8 June and the destruction commenced the following day.
- During the intervening night, many members of the community joined in saving the Torah scrolls and other religious objects, by removing them from the building. The municipality paid the Jewish community 100,000 Reichmarks for the synagogue and the adjoining community building, about one-seventh of their real value.
- On Kristalnacht, the Jewish pogrom that took place on the 10 November 1938 the Orthodox Ohel Yaakov synagogue was burned down, and all its contents, including the Torah scrolls, were consumed in the flames; the Bet ha- Midrash chapel and the Jewish library suffered the same fate.
- About one thousand Jewish males were rounded up and taken to Dachau, among them Dr Leo Baerwald, the community Rabbi who was subjected to physical maltreatment.
A very large number of Jewish institutions, businesses and private residences were damaged. The next day the city’s authorities accelerated the pace of the “Aryanisation” of Jewish –owned property, business enterprises, houses and apartments.
Deportation of Jews
By the autumn of 1941, some fifteen hundred Jewish apartments had been confiscated. The Jews who had been driven out of their homes were assigned to forced labour, constructing a camp at Milberthausen, a suburb of Munich, to accommodate the Jews who were now homeless. The maximum number of prisoners in the camp was 1,376, it served as an assembly and transit camp for the Jews prior to their deportation to the death camps in the East.
- On the 20 November 1941, 980 Munich Jews were deported to Riga and on the 3 April 1942, 343 Jews were deported to the Piaski transit ghetto in the Lublin district, Poland, and from there almost certain death in the extermination camps of Aktion Reinhard.
- Prior to the liquidation of the camp at Milberthausen in the summer of 1942, the remaining Jews, some 300 in all were transferred to Berg- am-Leim, 113 of these were deported to Auschwitz in March 1943, and the remaining 40 Jews were moved to the Jewish community building in Munich. This building was destroyed in an Allied air attack in October 1944.
- Between May and August 1942, 1,200 Jews from Munich were sent to Theresienstadt in twenty-four transports, 50 persons per transport, another 135 Jews followed in September. At this time there was an upsurge in the number of suicides.
- Another 105 Jews were deported to Theresienstadt between June 1943 and December 1944, and another 97, mostly persons of mixed blood or partners in mixed marriages, were sent there in February 1945.
- A total of 2,991 Jews were deported from Munich, of the 1,555 who were sent to Theresienstadt, 297 returned to Munich after the war, most of the others were murdered in the holocaust.
When the Second World War ended Munich became the centre for the Jewish Agency’s welfare activities in the Displaced Persons (DP) camps and for the operation of the Beriha and the illegal immigration to Palestine. These activities were curtailed after the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. Since then Munich has had one of the largest communities in Germany, but it includes only a sprinkling of the Jews who had lived in Munich before the Second World War.
References and further reading :
History of the Second World War - published by MacMillan
National Socialism (Washington United States Government Printing Office, 1943)
Munich, May 23, 1926; Völkischer Beobachter, May 26, 1926
Encyclopaedia of Jewish Life Before and During the Holocaust, edited by Shumel Spector, published by New York University Press 2001
Munich State Archives
Chris Webb Archive
Holocaust Historical Society