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About Adolf Altmann, Rabbi
Adolf (Abraham) Altmann Chief Rabbi of Trier, one of the oldest Jewish communities in Germany, as well as rabbi for the Jews of the South Tyrol town of Meran which was close to the front lines (Meran was officially affiliated with the Jewish Community Organization of Hohenems in Vorarlberg, near the Swiss border).
Dr. Rabbi Altmann was born in Hunsdorf (Hunfalu, Huncovce), in what was then the Upper Hungarian Komitat of Zips (now in Slovakia), on September 8, 1879. He was a progressive rabbi with a Ph.D. in history from the University of Bern and he based his two volume History of the Jews in the City and State of Salzburg from Earliest Times to the Present on his doctoral dissertation. He began his service as rabbi in Salzburg when the small Jewish community was still attached to the official Jewish Community Organization of Linz in Upper Austria and it was under his leadership that the Jews of Salzburg were finally able to get their own official Jewish Community Organization established for Salzburg in 1911.
Dr. Rabbi ALTMANN was an active promoter of religious Zionism and a keen judge of people who knew how to promote the recognition of Jews as a people in the multi-national Austro-Hungarian Empire with sensitivity so as to build bridges to members of other faiths and engage them peacefully. But in the end Rabbi ALTMANN was a victim of the Antisemitism that he had so strenuously opposed in word and writing.
In 1903 Rabbi ALTMANN married Malvine Weisz who had been born in Kaschau (Kassa, Košice), about 100 kilometers/60 miles away from Hunsdorf (and now also in Slovakia), in 1879. The couple had six children: Alexander (Sandor) who was born in Kaschau on April 16, 1906; Erwin who was born in Salzburg on January 20, 1908; Hilda who was born in Salzburg on March 18, 1909; Manfred who was born in Salzburg on October 20, 1911; Edith who was born in Salzburg on June 31, 1913; and Wilhelm who was born in Meran (South Tyrol) on April 1, 1915 when it was still Austrian (it was given to Italy after WWI). The grave of daughter Edith, who died at eight months of age on February 4, 1914, can be found in the Salzburg Jewish cemetery in Aigen that had been established in 1893 and which has been restored from its devastation by the Nazis.
Many Jewish families had settled in Salzburg on the initiative of the antique dealer Albert Pollak who lived with his family in one of the »Faber-houses« and had lived in Salzburg since 1867, and about 50 of them had managed to get local citizenship rights in the city. For that reason Albert Pollak is rightfully considered the founder of the Salzburg Jewish community. But it was legally just a branch of the Upper Austrian Jewish Community Organization for decades until Rabbi ALTMANN took the lead. It was only because of his efforts and the high esteem he had from the Imperial and Royal State Presidium for his patriotism, loyalty to the Kaiser, and scholarship that an independent Jewish Community Organization was authorized by the government for Salzburg that was able to have its own finances and keep its own birth, marriage and death records. Rabbi ALTMANN dedicated the first volume of his History of the Jews in the City and State of Salzburg to »the first board of trustees for the newly created Jewish Community Organization for the Duchy of Salzburg elected on May 28, 1911 and in honor of the first Israelite of the resettlement of Jews in Salzburg Mr. Albert Pollak, K. K. [Imperial Royal] Court Antique Dealer«.
Rabbi ALTMANN, who had praised the monarch Franz Josef as an emperor of peace on the occasion of his 60th jubilee, believed as a loyal patriot that the war had been forced on the monarchy and that it was a defensive war. In addition, like so many of his contemporaries, he viewed Italy’s joining the war against Austria-Hungary in May 1915 as a betrayal of their long-standing alliance.
In the four war years Dr. ALTMANN’s legal residence remained in Salzburg, but he served as an army chaplain (»Field Rabbi«) at the front in the Dolomite mountains and as rabbi for the Jews of the South Tyrol town of Meran which was close to the front lines (Meran was officially affiliated with the Jewish Community Organization of Hohenems in Vorarlberg, near the Swiss border). The family lived in the Villa Lauenburg in Meran’s Untermais neighborhood and that’s where Wilhelm, the youngest of their children, was born on April 1, 1915.
The ALTMANNs lived through the end of the war and the collapse of the Habsburg Empire in Meran and they moved back to Salzburg for the beginning of the Austrian Republic. During these traumatic events for Austria they experienced the sharp rise in aggressive Antisemitism that swept the country - some Salzburg officials even tried to reinstate the 1498 expulsion of Jews from the State. Rabbi ALTMANN’s son Manfred, one of the three members of the family who survived the Holocaust.
The position of rabbi had been vacant since the end of the war and Dr. ALTMANN was asked to take over again, but he didn’t intend to stay long. In September 1920 he was offered the position of Chief Rabbi in Trier Germany and it was an offer he couldn’t refuse. His work over nearly 18 years in what was probably the oldest Jewish community in Germany put him at the center of German Jewish culture and the leading figure among German Jews at the time, Rabbi Leo Baeck, called him »the greatest and noblest rabbi and leader of traditional Judaism of his time«.
Manfred ALTMANN, who had been born in Salzburg in 1911, wrote the following about the last years of his parents:
In spite of the great danger my father and my mother, who had won the hearts of the community since their arrival by their understanding and care, stayed to lead their dwindling community in Trier until the end of March 1938. Then they fled to Den Haag in Holland, where a large part of our family had already taken refuge.
My father continued his literary work and his teaching in his exile in Holland. On the occasion of his 60th birthday [on September 8, 1939] Dutch newspapers showered him with praise. My parents had to move to Groningen after Holland was occupied by the Nazis in 1940, and in 1943 they had to go from there to the ghetto in Amsterdam. The two loyal life partners spent the rest of their time together in the Westerbork and, Theresienstadt concentration camps until they were sent to Auschwitz on May 16, where they both found their end.
Before the two of them suffered their deaths they lost one of their four sons, their daughter, their son-in-law and their two grandchildren in the gas chambers. Their youngest son with a Doctor of Engineering degree from the University of Delft, the Meran born Wilhelm, was only 27 years old when he was arrested by the Gestapo as he tried to join the French Résistance. He was deported from the concentration camp at Drancy to Auschwitz and he was murdered there on September 30, 1942. Their Salzburg born 34 year old daughter Hilda and her Dutch husband Maurits (Max) van Mentz were murdered in Auschwitz on September 7, 1943 - three days after their two sons born in Den Haag, the 11year old Benedictus (Benno) and the 10 year old Robert. They were followed by the 62 year old Malvine and the 64 year old Rabbi Adolf ALTMANN who were gassed in Auschwitz on July 7, 1944.
After the liberation in 1945, the survivors found that not even the Jewish cemeteries had escaped destruction, including the one in Salzburg/Aigen. The search for their daughter Edith ALTMANN’s grave in Salzburg was unsuccessful, though her headstone has been restored in the Salzburg/Aigen cemetery. Three brothers were able to flee to freedom and survived: Dr. Alexander ALTMANN, chief rabbi in Manchester and professor at Brandeis University in Massachusetts; Dr. Erwin ALTMANN, director of Social Services in Los Angeles; and Manfred ALTMANN, Doctor of Law, businessman, chairman of the Institute of Jewish Studies and Honorary Fellow of University College London, who died in London in 1999.
Manfred ALTMANN appreciated the memorials to his father in Trier and Salzburg. He welcomed his father having been honored by their naming streets after him in both cities, and the initiative to republish his father’s book, the History of the Jews in the City and State of Salzburg. Thanks to his surviving sons the memoirs of the Imperial and Royal Field Rabbi were published for the first time in 1993.
In his numerous activities with various political factions Marko M. Feingold, the president of the Salzburg Jewish Community Organization, has shown his awareness and appreciation of the life affirming precedents set by the organization’s rabbi and founder Dr. Adolf ALTMANN – Ein ewiges Dennoch, a perpetual reminder of truth - which was the title he chose for his 1993 edited history of the Salzburg Jewish community since the late 19th century.
- • Salzburg City and State archives
- • Private archive of Manfred ALTMANN in London
- • Adolf ALTMANN: Geschichte der Juden in Stadt und Land Salzburg (originally two volumes, 1913 & 1930), Salzburg 1990 (new edition)
- • Manfred ALTMANN (ed.): »K. u. k. Feldrabbiner Dr. Adolf ALTMANN an der Kriegsfront (1915-1918)«, wartime memories notebook in: Marko M. Feingold (ed.): Ein ewiges Dennoch. 125 Jahre Juden in Salzburg, Vienna 1993
- • Gerald Steinacher: »Rabbi Adolf ALTMANN: Salzburg, Meran, Trier, Auschwitz«, in: Jüdische Lebensgeschichten aus Tirol, Innsbruck 2012
Author: Gert Kerschbaumer - Translation: Stan Nadel
Adolf Altmann (* 8. September 1879 in Hunsdorf (Huncovce), Ungarn; † Juni 1944 in Auschwitz) war ein aus Österreich-Ungarn stammender Rabbiner. Von 1920 bis 1938 war er Oberrabbiner von Trier.
Altmann besuchte von 1893 bis 1899 die Jeschiwa in Hunsdorf, danach von 1900 bis 1902 die Landesrabbinerschule in Preßburg. Er war überzeugter Zionist und betätigte sich als Journalist, unter anderem ab 1904 für die Ungarische Wochenschrift. 1903 heiratete er Malwine Weisz (* 17. September 1881), mit der er fünf Kinder (Alexander, Erwin, Hilde, Manfred und Wilhelm) hatte.
Nach kurzer Tätigkeit als Religionslehrer an einer jüdischen Schule studierte er von 1906 bis 1910 Philosophie, Geschichte und Germanistik an der Universität Bern und promovierte am 1. März 1912 mit einer Arbeit zum Thema Geschichte der Juden in Stadt und Land Salzburg, die er 1913 stark erweitert in Buchform veröffentlichte. Ab August 1907 war er Rabbiner in Salzburg und trug dort maßgeblich zur Gründung einer selbstständigen jüdischen Kultusgemeinde im Jahre 1911 bei. Vorher gehörte Salzburg zur Linzer Gemeinde. 1914 wurde er Rabbiner in Meran und diente dann von 1915 bis 1918 als Feldrabbiner in der österreichischen Armee.
1920 wurde Altmann als Rabbiner nach Trier berufen und stand dort der fast 1000 Mitglieder zählenden jüdischen Gemeinde vor. Er pflegte gute Kontakte zum christlichen Klerus, unter anderem zu dem Trierer Bischof Franz Rudolf Bornewasser. Auch mit dem Zentrumspolitiker Ludwig Kaas war er befreundet. Im April 1938 musste er mit seiner Familie vor den antisemitischen Repressalien der Nationalsozialisten in die Niederlande fliehen. Bis September 1940 hielt er sich in Scheveningen auf, dann in Groningen und ab März 1943 im Ghetto von Amsterdam. Von dort wurde er über Zwischenstationen in den Konzentrationslagern Westerbork und Theresienstadt schließlich am 16. Mai 1944 in das KZ Auschwitz deportiert. Dort starb er innerhalb weniger Wochen an Entkräftung. Auch seine Frau und zwei ihrer Kinder kamen im Vernichtungslager um.
1958 wurde in Trier die Dr.-Altmann-Straße nach ihm benannt. Sein Sohn Alexander war ebenfalls Rabbiner.
- Literatur von und über Adolf Altmann im Katalog der Deutschen Nationalbibliothek und auf anderen Websites
- Zionismus und Antizionismus, 1903
- Geschichte der Juden in Stadt und Land Salzburg von den frühesten Zeiten bis auf die Gegenwart.
- Bd. 1, 1913
- Bd. 2, 1930 (Neuauflage Salzburg 1990, ISBN 3-7013-0749-0)
- Robert Hamerlings Weltanschauung, ein Optimismus. Historisch-kritische, literarisch-philosophische Studie, 1914
- Jüdische Welt- und Lebensperspektiven, 1926
- Aus ringenden Welten, Dichtungen, 1930
- Das früheste Vorkommen der Juden in Deutschland, 1932
- Predigten an das Judentum von heute, 1935
- Volk im Aufbruch - Diaspora in Bewegung, 1936
- Die jüdische Volksseele, 1937
- Trierer biographisches Lexikon. Landesarchiverwaltung Rheinland-Pfalz, Koblenz 2000, S. 3-4 (Artikel von Gerd Mentgen)
- Alexander Altmann: Adolf Altmann (1879-1944). In: Year-book of the Leo Baeck Institute 26 (1981), S. 145-167.
- Dr. Adolf Altmann zum Gedenken. Presse- und Informationsamt der Stadt Trier, 1980
Adolf Altmann, Rabbi's Timeline
September 8, 1879
Huncovce, Prešovský kraj, Slovakia
April 16, 1906
Austria-Hungary, today Košice, Slovakia
January 20, 1908
Salzburg, Salzburg, Salzburg, Austria
March 18, 1909
Salzburg, Salzburg, Salzburg, Austria
October 20, 1911
Salzburg, undefined, Austria
June 30, 1913
Salzburg, Salzburg, Salzburg, Austria
April 1, 1915
July 7, 1944
Oświęcim County, Lesser Poland Voivodeship, Poland