The beginning of the end of German Jewry


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14 March 1933

Membership card issued to Jakob Reiss by the Association of Jewish Employment Agencies

After losing the position he had held for many years as head of the legal department of a large company, Jakob Reiss (1908–1985) had a stroke of good luck when his former colleague Fritz Goldschmidt offered him the position of office manager at his law firm. Reiss started his new job in January 1933, but was forced to leave on 30 April after Goldschmidt unexpectedly left for Palestine.

During the unemployment crisis in Germany in the 1930s, Jews had little chance of finding work with the help of public authorities. They were assisted instead by special Jewish employment agencies that had been in existence since around 1896. These agencies were state-approved and organized under the Central Office of the Union of Jewish Employment Agencies.

The number of unemployed Jews increased dramatically the year the Nazis took power, forcing the central office to ask all Jewish employers for assistance. In Berlin, the results of this appeal were only modest. Averaged out over the entire year, the office had 15 new applicants for every job-seeker it successfully placed.

Jakob Reiss had no luck either, and in March turned to the Berlin Association of Jewish Employment Agencies. With his orthodox upbringing, Reiss would certainly have considered it important to find a position that did not require work on Saturdays. The Jewish employment agencies took such concerns into account. However, his efforts to find suitable employment proved unsuccessful and, seeing that he had no future in Germany, he moved to Palestine in July 1935.

The Jewish employment agencies continued their efforts to help the Jewish population in this difficult situation. From 1935 on, they were organized under the umbrella of the Reich Representation of German Jews (Reichsvertretung der deutschen Juden). Plans were made to substantially increase the number of agencies in the network, but these plans were not approved by the relevant authorities. Finally, all the existing agencies were ordered to be closed by 1 January 1937. This sealed the fate of a self-help network that had been in existence for 40 years.

Ulrike Neuwirth

Categorie(s): associations | Berlin | white-collar employees
Membership card issued to Jakob Reiss by the Association of Jewish Employment Agencies, Berlin, 14 March 1933
Gift of Ester Reiss