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Profiles

  • Betti Hellmann (1865 - 1942)
  • Grand Rabbi Robert Serebrenik (1902 - 1965)
    Congregation Ramath Orah has a unique legacy among Upper West Side synagogues. Founded in 1941 by Rabbi Dr. Robert Serebrenik, the synagogue’s original congregation was comprised of 61 refugees from Lu...
  • Gabriel Jonas Ferdinand Lippmann, Nobel Prize in Physics 1908 (1845 - 1921)
    Jonas Ferdinand Gabriel Lippmann (16 August 1845 – 13 July, 1921) was a Franco-Luxembourgish physicist and inventor, and Nobel laureate in physics for his method of reproducing colours photographically...
  • Rabbi Emil Gustav Hirsch (c.1852 - 1923)
    Gustav Hirsch (May 22, 1851 – January 7, 1923) was a major Reform movement rabbi in the United States.Emil Gustav Hirsch was born in Luxembourg, a son of the rabbi and philosopher Samuel Hirsch on May ...

Luxembourg was founded in 963 CE by Count Siegfried, and the first record of Jews living in the city of Luxembourg, the capital of the country, was in 1276. In the early 14th century, small numbers of Jewish immigrants from the adjacent area of Trier, founded settlements in Luxembourg.

The country's first chief rabbi, Samuel Hirsch, was appointed in 1843 and served until 1866. By 1927, the Jewish community had grown to 1,171, and was augmented further by the immigration of refugees from Germany. By the 1930s, the population had reached nearly 4,000 persons.

The Holocaust Period

Neutral Luxembourg was invaded by Germany on May 10, 1940. At this time, more than 1,000 of the duchy's 4,000 Jews, including approximately 1,000 refugees, escaped to France and Portugal. Luxembourg came under a German military government beginning in early May until August 1940. Rabbi Serebrenik created a consistory to represent the Jews.

Between August 8, 1940, and May 26, 1941, 700 Jews fled overseas, including Rabbi Serebrenik. In a secret operation, 1,000 Jews were evacuated to the unoccupied zone of France. The consistory became the Aeltestenrat der Juden and oversaw the 850 Jews still living in Luxembourg.

Fuenfbrunnen (Cinq Fontaines) Camp

On October 13, the Aeltesternrat der Juden stated that 750 Jews remained in the country, 80 percent of whom were over the age of 50. The Jewish community was interned by the German authorities in the Fuenfbrunnen transit camp near the city of Ulfingen in northern Luxembourg. Of these Jews, 127 managed to emigrate in January 1942.

By October 15, when the Germans stopped allowing Jews to emigrate, more than 2,500 had left the country, mostly for France. However, most of these refugees were later deported from France to concentration camps in Poland.

Victor Bodson: Righteous Among Nations

A small number of Christian Luxembourgers who helped save Jews during the Holocaust. Victor Bodson, the former Justice Minister and Chairman of the Luxembourg House of Representatives, rescued approximately 100 Jews trying to flee the Nazis. He risked his life to smuggle Jews out of the country through organized escape routes. For his valiant efforts, he was named Righteous Among Nations.

The Allies liberated Luxembourg on September 9, 1944. Only 1,555 of the 3,500 Jews who lived in the country in 1939 survived the Holocaust. Only 36 Luxembourg Jews survived Nazi concentration camps.

Rebuilding the Jewish Community

After the Holocaust, approximately 1,500 Jews returned to Luxembourg, most of whom were merchants who rebuilt their prewar businesses. The government financially supported the reconstruction of the Jewish community, and helped build a new synagogue in 1953 to replace to old one destroyed in 1943. In Esch-sur-Alzette, a community of 40 families was established, and a new synagogue was built.

The consistory was reestablished, with Edmond Marx as its leader, and contributed immensely to the Jewish rebuilding. The Consistoire Israelite is constitutionally recognized as the representative body of the Jewish community in Luxembourg. In 1959, Rabbi Emmanuel Bulz became the chief rabbi of Luxembourg. Maurice Levy became president of the consistory in 1961 and served until 1968, when Edmond Israel took over.

Despite the small size and low profile of the Jewish community, some of Luxembourg’s Jews have achieved prominence.  Alain Mayer, a former vice president of the community, is now a member of Luxembourg’s Council of State and Edmond Israel is a former president of the Luxembourg Stock Exchange. In November 1947, Luxembourg voted in favor of the partition plan to create a Jewish state. Israel and Luxembourg established full diplomatic relations in 1949. Source

On West 110th Street in Manhattan, New York City, there is an active congregation Ramath Orah, founded by Jews who fled Luxembourg in the Nazi period led by Rabbi Dr. Robert Serebrenik, chief Rabbi of Luxembourg. Source

Notables

Rabbi Dr. Robert Serebrenik, Chief Rabbi of Luxembourg

Rabbi Robert Serebrenik Defies Adolf Eichmann to Save Luxembourg Jews, by Kathy Warnes

Chief Rabbi Robert Serebrenik opposed Adolf Eichmann’s Jewish policies, but he never dreamed that he would confront Eichmann himself in his office in Berlin.

Rabbi Dr. Robert Serebrenik had been appointed Chief Rabbi of Luxembourg in 1929, at the age of 28 and in 1930, he married Julia Herzog. When the German army invaded the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg on May 10, 1940, it conquered Luxembourg within several hours. On that same day, Rabbi Serebrenik helped nearly 1,000 Jews flee from Luxembourg into France and Belgium. Ultimately, many of them reached safely in Spain, Portugal and countries in the Western Hemisphere.

Rabbi Serebrenik and German Contacts Work to Save Jewish Lives

From the time the first German jackboot touched Luxembourg soil, Rabbi Serebrenik mediated between the Nazi invaders and the Jewish community to save as many Jewish lives as he could. In August 1940, Rabbi Serebrenik and a German officer contact, Freiherr von Huene-Horningen, worked to foil a plan to deport all of the Jews of Luxembourg, about 5,000 of them in 1940, either to Eastern European ghettos or concentration camps.

In November 1940, the Nazi’s implemented racial purity laws and arrested many Jews and confiscated their property. During these perilous times, Rabbi Serebrenik organized secret escapes of Jews into southern unoccupied France and official convoys of Jews with proper papers out of Luxembourg to Lisbon.

Rabbi Serebrenik Travels to Berlin to Negotiate with Adolf Eichmann

Many times,Rabbi Serebrenik traveled alone to Berlin to negotiate with German officials to save the Jews of his community. He was summoned to Berlin on March 20, 1941, but this time under different conditions.

As Rabbi Serebrenik recalled it in his court deposition for the Trial of Adolf Eichmann, “After the German occupation I was in Berlin several times, with the permission of the German authorities, for contact with Dr. Eppstein of the Reichsvereinigung. I want to add that I always travelled alone, without police escort. On 20 March 1941, I was called to Rauner, the head of the Jewish section, and he informed me that on 23 March, I would have to go to Berlin with two Gestapo men.”, in order to appear before Eichmann.

By this time Rabbi Serebrenik had heard from his contacts in the German military that the Nazis were committing horrific acts against Polish Jews. They also told him that new camps awaited Jews transported east and that being transferred to the east would be “worse than Dachau.”

The Gestapo agents brought Rabbit Serebrenik to Gestapo Headquarters to meet Adolf Eichmann. He noted that Eichmann wore elegant civilian clothes and was seated behind a desk. As Rabbi Serebrenik approached the desk, Eichmann shouted, “Three paces from my body, Jew!”

After Rabbi Serebrenik backed up, Eichmann began to talk to him, demanding to know what he intended to do with the Jews of Luxembourg. Rabbi Serebrenik told Eichmann that he had a plan for transferring Jews to Lisbon. Eichmann told Rabbi Serebrenik that he had eleven days to find a way to get the Jews out of Luxembourg.

Eichmann Tells Rabbi Serebrenik to Get the Jews Out of Luxembourg

On March 26, 1941, Rabbi Serebrenik returned to Luxembourg with only eight of the eleven days that Eichmann had granted him remaining. At this point there were about 1,000 to 1,100 Jews left in Luxembourg out of the original 4,000. Rabbi Serebrenik’s plan to rescue all of them failed, but somehow during April, May, and June of 1941, he managed to organize a transport of another 250 Jews to Lisbon.

One night in May 1941, as Rabbi Serebrenik walked home from the Great Synagogue of Luxembourg Nazi thugs jumped him and beat him nearly to death. On May 16, 1941, shortly after Rabbi Serebrenik was attacked, the Nazis began to demolish the Great Synagogue of Luxembourg, piece by piece, in what would turn out to be a two year task.

Rabbi Serebrenik, His Wife and Other Jewish Refugees Arrive in New York

The Rabbi and his family didn’t stay to see the final stone of the synagogue unturned. In June 1941, Rabbi and Mrs. Serebrenik arrived in New York with 61 other refugees from Luxembourg. By June 1942, the Jewish refugees had rallied and founded the Congregation Ramath Orah which is Hebrew for ‘Mountain of Light,’ in Manhattan, New York.

Most of the remaining Jews in Luxembourg were imprisoned at Funfbrunnen, a concentration camp near Troisvierges. From Funfbrunnen, about 696 Jewish prisoners were deported to ghettos, labor and extermination camps. Altogether, 1,945 of the 5,000 Jews in Luxembourg before the war died, while 1,555 survived by fleeing, hiding, or surviving imprisonment.

Rabbi Serebrenik and Adolf Eichmann Meet Again in a Court Deposition at Adolf Eichmann's Trial

After years of living a newly created life in Argentina, Israeli Mossad agents captured Adolf Eichmann and brought him to Jerusalem. An Israeli court indicted him on 15 criminal charges, including crimes against humanity and war crimes and his trial was held in Jerusalem in 1961.He was convinced and hanged in 1962, the only person to have been executed in Israel after being convicted by a civilian court.

Rabbi Serebrenik was not called to testify at Eichmann's trial, but he "happened" to be in Jerusalem, and made a deposition for the court, which it accepted as additional evidence. Source

References

  • Arblaster, Paul, A History of the Low Countries, Palgrave Macmillan, 2005
  • Blom, J.C.H., History of the Low Countries, Berghahn books, 1999
  • Nicholson, Marguerite Thill-Somin, Surviving the Nazi occupation of Luxembourg: A Young Woman’s WW II Memoir, Xlibris, 2008
  • Reid, Andrew, Luxembourg: The Clog-Shaped Duchy: A Chronological History of Luxembourg from the Celts to the Present Day, Author House, 2005
  • Zariz, Ruth and Lasch, Hannah, The Jews of Luxembourg during the Second Wrold War, Holocuast Genocide Studies, 1993: 7:51-66
  • Robert Serebrenik, Rabbi, is Dead at 62, The New York Times, February 12, 1965