Under the guard of Halle Castle, founded in 806, three settlements were formed, whose inhabitants lived from boiling and salt trading. Probably around 1000, a few Jews were already living in Halle, which was then under archiepiscopal rule. The first reliable sources about a Jewish community in Halle date back to 1184.
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Presentation of the Emil Fackenheim Award to pupils of the Philanthropinum Dessau and the secondary school Harzegerode in the synagogue in 2014. Photo: Jewish Community of Halle
After a difficult phase of internal renewal with in the Jewish community, Max Privorozki took over as president of the community in February 1999. Here presents the interests of the community in the city and is Chairman of the State Association of Jewish Communities in Saxony-Anhalt, which is a member of the Central Council of Jews in Germany. The Jewish community in Halle currently boasts 555 members (as of 2018, source: Central Welfare Board of Jews in Germany) as well as an active community life with numerous activities and offers for its members. These include courses for adults (sports, language classes, and more), children and youth activities, a welfare department, its own library, and the joint celebration of services and holidays.
In 2003, the community endowed the Emil Fackenheim Prize in recognition of the commitment to the Jewish community in the past and present. It has been awarded seven times to date. Among the prize winners are the theologian Gerhard Begrich, the rescuer of the community archive, Gudrun Goesecke, a school project of the Philanthropinum Dessau and the Harzgerode Secondary School, and the “March of Life” association. In 2010, the prize was awarded to the Seminar for Jewish Studies at the Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg, whose professor at the time, Guiseppe Veltri, initiated the founding of the Circle of Friends of the Leopold Zunz Center, which has been organizing the Jewish Culture Days in Halle since 2013. On October 9, 2019, the synagogue and the Turkish kebab shop “Kiez-Döner” in Halle were attacked on the holy day of Yom Kippur. Two uninvolved people lost their lives. The severely shaken city society expressed its solidarity with the Jewish community in public remembrance. Over 900 expressions of solidarity from all over the world in the form of letters, e-mails, and gifts reached the community. They were compiled in a book and presented at the unveiling of the memorial for the victims of the attack on the synagogue grounds on October 9, 2020.
In September 1965, a memorial was established in and from the structural remains of the synagogue at the Great Berlin. City Museum Halle. Photo: Eberhard Garbe
Survivors of the Holocaust from Halle and the surrounding area once again founded a Jewish community in 1947, which moved into the community center at Grosse Märkerstrasse 13 in 1952. With the permission of the Soviet military administration, the mourning hall on Humboldtstrasse was converted into a synagogue, as such a building had been missing in Halle since 1938. The construction of new synagogues was not permitted at that time and even during the GDR regime (with the exception of Erfurt). With the inauguration of the synagogue in 1952/53, Jewish community life was once again possible in Halle. In 1952, the post-war community joined the “Association of Jewish Communities in the GDR,” which was initially based in Halle. After the death of the association’s co-founder and chairman Hermann Baden in 1962, the community was unable to regain its former importance, so that the head quarter of the association was moved to Dresden. In the 1970s, the community consisted of only a good dozen people who tried to maintain Jewish community life despite the many reprisals of the GDR regime. After the “Peaceful Revolution” in 1989 and the influx of Jewish migrants from the former USSR, a new phase of institutionalized Jewish life in Germany and Halle began.
The 300th anniversary of the Jewish community in Halle was celebrated in 1992 by contemporary community members, Holocaust survivors and their descendants from all over the world, and representatives of the city. A renewed invitation to such a joint encounter was extended in 1998. In this context, the first regional exhibition on the history of the Jews in Halle was presented under the title “Die Juden Halles zwischen Vertreibung und Integration" (The Jews in Halle between Expulsion and Integration). As guest of honor, the world-renowned philosopher Emil Fackenheim, son of the last rabbi in Halle before 1945, delivered the keynote address.
Architectural remains of the entrance of the synagogue at the great Berlin at the beginning of the 1960s (state after destruction in 1938). Photographer unknown. Stadtmuseum Halle
The exclusion, persecution, and expulsion of the Jewish community in Halle began even before the National Socialists seized power. Days before the boycotts all over the German Reich, Jewish stores, practices, and apartments were already being destroyed and looted here. Whereas, before 1933, many Jews in Halle often only visited the synagogue on high holidays, it now once again increasingly became a place of refuge for the religious community. The last bar mitzvah celebration took place here in 1937. During the pogrom night of November 9 to 10, 1938, the synagogue and community center in Halle were stormed, looted, and burned down. Numerous male community members were interned in the Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen concentration camps. The synagogue, which was completely destroyed by arson, had to be completely demolished down to the foundation walls by order of the city administration at the community’s expense. The old Jewish cemetery on Töpferplan also had to be cleared by the Jewish community. Almost 400 gravestones were brought to the new cemetery on Boelckestrasse (today Dessauer Strasse) by members of the community, some of them with handcarts. The mourning hall there was initially converted into a “repatriation camp” for Jews from the Saar region, the Palatinate, and Baden. The war was already raging on the western border of the German Reich, which is why the National Socialists “evacuated” the Jewish population living there to safe areas for the time being, in order to bring them back home later. After returning to their homeland, however, the Jews often expected to be deported. The mourning hall also served as a “home for the elderly and infirm.” In reality, it was a collection camp for deportations to the death camps. Later in the war, the building was used as a residential and labor camp and as a collection camp for so-called “Jewish half-breeds.” Between 1942 and 1945, a total of six transports with Jewish children, women and men were sent to the extermination camps. Over 300 Jewish women from Halle lost their lives in the concentration and labor camps of the Nazi regime. Today, the building is once again used as a mourning hall by the Jewish community. Adjacent to it is the present Jewish cemetery.
Wedding party of the merchant family Lewin from Halle, Erfurt 1924. The family ran the Lewin department store, a modernist shopping palace on the market square in Halles. Halle City Museum
To this day, former Jewish businesses and shops such as the Lewin Department Store (now Thalia) still characterize Halle’s distinctive cityscape. They bear witness to the glorious past of the Jewish community, which played a decisive role in Halle’s rise to become a Central German industrial metropolis. For Jews in Halle, the years of the Weimar Republic were a period of emancipation and prosperity, during which they were an integral part of the city’s society. From Halle, Jewish artists and scholars helped shape the scientific, intellectual, and cultural development of the time throughout Germany. Among them were the Bauhaus artist Marguerite Friedlaender-Wildenhain, the Indologist Betty Heimannn, the philosopher Edmund Husserl, the legal scholars Guido Kisch and Ernst Grünfeld, the architect Alfred Gellhorn, the theater director Leopold Sachse, and the Editor-in-Chief of the Saalezeitung Martin Feuchtwanger. The Jewish community made its own contribution to modernism with the construction of a new mourning hall at the third Jewish cemetery on Boelckestrasse (now Dessauer Strasse): In 1929, the Leipzig-based architect Wilhelm Haller had one of the most original cemetery buildings in Germany at the time built in the Expressionist style. The Jewish temple was set on fire during the National Socialist era and was subsequently “optically neutralized as degenerate.” From then on, it served as a collection camp for deportations of Jews to the extermination camps.
Original plan drawing of the former synagogue at Große Berlin, project for the extension of the synagogue by architect Gustav Zimmermann. Stadtarchiv Halle
In the nineteenth century, due to the economic upswing, the city became increasingly attractive for immigrants, including the settlement of Jewish citizens. When, in 1890, Halle, with a population of roughly 100,000, joined the ranks of the major German cities, 660 Jews were already living here. Within a very short time, the number of congregation members increased, which was also reflected in structural changes in the community. In 1869, after the old Jewish cemetery at the corner of Gottesackerstrasse and Töpferplan had to be closed due to overcrowding, the Jewish community established a new burial place at Humboldtstrasse 52. Due to the rapid growth of the community, the new Wilhelminian-style synagogue building, which had been inaugurated in 1870, had to be enlarged after only a few years. In 1885, the extension building was inaugurated. Now, 288 men on the ground floor and 140 women in the gallery could attend the service.
The new floor plan of the main hall of the synagogue was conceived to comply with the rituals of a liberal reform community and combined the almemar/bema, the Torah shrine, the cantor’s lectern, and the pulpit at the front of the room in an altar-like manner. In 1901, an organ was installed.
In 1879, the Jewish entrepreneur Siegmund Joachimsthal established a modern metal smelting plant in Merseburger Strasse near the Thuringian railroad station (today the area around the main railway station). Illustration in: Germany's urban development. Halle on the Saale, Berlin-Halensee 1924, p.114.
The nineteenth century in Halle was also marked by economic upswing. The railroad connection in July 1840, sugar beet processing, the increasing use of brown coal, and local economic planning on the part of Halle’s merchants initially ensured a gradual economic upswing for the city, which then took off in leaps and bounds in the second half of the nineteenth century.
Despite the restrictions on civil liberties imposed by the “Jewish Constitution” of 1847, Jewish city residents actively participated in the incipient process of industrialization in Halle. They contributed to the city’s development into one of the most important commercial and industrial centers in Prussia. As a result, the Jewish community grew considerably in the mid-nineteenth century.
Since 1847, Prussian law allowed Jewish communities to exercise the rights of a statutory body under public law. On this basis, the synagogue community of Halle was constituted on October 20, 1858. In June 1860, it was given its own rabbi for the first time, who advocated the founding of a new Jewish cemetery on Humboldtstrasse and the expansion and extension of the synagogue on Großer Berlin. Successful professional activity soon led to a large number of Jews in Halle being counted among the city’s wealthier residents. As a result, the Jewish community established legacies and set up foundations to support community projects or provide aid to impoverished Jews. For example, in 1839, the Society of Merciful Brothers was founded in Halle, which offered financial aid, provided assistance in cases of illness, and took over the care of the dying.
Plaque with Hebrew inscription. The translation is: “In memory of the furnishings of the newly built house. It was completed in the month of Elul in the year 5598 (= September 1838). Loan from the Jewish community in the Halle City Museum. Photo: Thomas Ziegler
In 1806, Halle was the first city in the Kingdom of Prussia to be occupied by Napoleon’s French troops. As a result, the city—now called “Departement der Saale, District Halle”—came under the rule of the Kingdom of Westphalia, whose constitution was valid from then on. For the Jews of Halle, this meant a considerable improvement in their living conditions. The royal decree of January 1808 not only gave them the same rights as the Christian majority of the population but also abolished the levies and protection money applicable to Jews and guaranteed complete religious freedom. Although the Jewish community of Halle now had the same political rights as the citizens of Halle, they still had to deposit so-called “beneficial attestations” and levies in order to obtain citizenship for the city on the Saale. The granting of citizenship and commercial rights in Halle was tied to a certain amount of assets, so that initially only eighteen Jewish families were granted citizenship. In 1829, 103 Jews lived in the city, twenty-eight of whom were children of school age. In order to give these children proper Jewish religious instruction, a separate religious school was built in 1838 adjacent to the synagogue on Großer Berlin. In this way, the Jewish community simultaneously asserted its place among the city’s religious communities.
After the end of Napoleonic rule, some of the rights granted to Jews were once again revoked. It was not until 1871 that Jews were once again granted civic rights and thus became citizens with equal rights.
Plan of the "Königl (ich). Preussi (ischen). Magdeburgi (schen). (and). des Saal Crayses main city hall." The copper engraving with a detailed plan from 1759 also shows the area of the second Jewish cemetery. City Museum Halle. Photo: Thomas Ziegler
Shortly after the founding of the Friedrich University of Halle in 1694, Jews were also allowed to study there. Already in 1695, Salomon Liebmann, son of the court jeweler Jost Liebmann from Berlin, enrolled at the “University of the Enlightenment. ”Since only the medical faculty was open to Jews, the first Jewish students studied under the renowned Professor Friedrich Hoffmann, the inventor of Hoffmann’s anodyne. In Halle in 1724, Moyses Sobernheim from Bingen was one of the first Jews to receive a doctorate in medicine at a German university. Isaak Elias Itzig, son of a court Jew family from Brandenburg, was the first to study law at the university. In 1728, a scholarly discussion of Judaism took place in Halle at the Institutum Judaicum et Muhammedicum in the Glauchau Institutes, today the Francke Foundations. The Institutum represented the first missionary institution for Jews and Muslims in Protestantism. With the goal of missionizing, knowledge about language and faith in Judaism and Islam was collected.
Letter of protection for the Jew Solomon Israel from April 19, 1688. Secret State Archive Prussian Cultural Heritage, I. HA Privy Council, Rep. 52 Duchy of Magdeburg, No. 159 K 1b (1687-1701), sheet 274
After roughly 200 years, in the late seventeenth century, Jews once again settled in Halle for the first time. The first person to receive permission for this in 1688 was Salomon Israel, stepson of the court jeweler Jost Liebmann from Berlin. In return, however, he had to pay an annual protection fee to the Elector of Brandenburg, who allowed the settlement of religious refugees such as Jews and Huguenots in order to revive the economy of his country. Solomon Israel was followed by other Jews and their families. In 1692, Israel and Assur Marx and other Jews acquired a cemetery site near the Leipzig Gate. They thus created the most important prerequisite for the reestablishment of the Jewish community, of which Solomon Israel became the head. In 1704, the Jews of Halle were granted a general privilege by the Prussian king, which allowed them to lead a community in self-organization and to exercise their own jurisdiction. As early as 1700, the community built a wooden synagogue on Großer Berlin with royal permission. After its destruction as a result of riots in 1724, the Jewish community had a new stone synagogue built on the same site.
Gravestone of the medieval Jewish cemetery for the Jewess Rivka. Walled in at the entrance to the St. Laurentius parish hall at the church gate 2. Photo: Cornelia Zimmermann
In 1184, a Jewish settlement within the city walls of Halle is mentioned for the first time in a document regarding a donation by Archbishop Wichmann (before 1116–1192) to the Seeburg monastery of two marks per year, which had to be raised by Halle’s Jews. With this sum, which was high by the standards of the time, the sovereign of the Archdiocese of Magdeburg paid for the protection he granted the Jews in their settlement. Further evidence of the Jewish settlement in Halle are brick and wall fragments found during excavations on Grosse Wallstrasse. They bear witness to the fact that the Jews of Halle had a fully formed community of supra-regional importance in the High Middle Ages. The community included a synagogue, a mikvah, and a cemetery outside the city walls. Scholars attribute eighty-six medieval and early modern graves to this cemetery, which were discovered in 1987 during construction work on Jägerplatz. Despite protection by the archbishop, Jews were repeatedly subjected to looting, arson, persecution, and expulsion since the thirteenth century. In 1493, they were finally expelled from the city and the entire archdiocese. Roughly 200 years would pass before Jews resettled in Halle. Following the expulsion of the Jews from the city, the cemetery was dissolved, and the gravestones were used in the construction of other city buildings.