The beginning of the end of German Jewry

1933

< 31 MAY 1933
3 JUNE 1933 >

Wednesday
31 May 1933

Letter written by Julius Bab to Georg Hermann regarding the planned founding of the Cultural League of German Jews

Of all the responses to the disenfranchisement and persecution of the Jewish population of Germany, the founding of the Cultural League of German Jews (Kulturbund deutscher Juden) was among those with the most far-reaching consequences. The league’s foundation was initiated by Kurt Baumann, who had been dismissed from his position as assistant director at the Berlin State Opera, the Volksbühne theater and the Municipal Opera as a result of the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service. The idea was supported by many prominent figures, including Kurt Singer (1885–1944), a neurologist and musicologist, and Julius Bab (1880–1955), an acclaimed German studies scholar, theater critic and playwright. On 31 May Bab wrote the letter displayed here to the author Georg Hermann (1871–1943) informing him of his plans and asking for his support.

In the letter Bab makes clear that he considered the “ghettoization” of German Jews to be permanent. In order to make this exclusion “reasonably tolerable” and offer Jewish audiences a high-quality cultural program and Jewish artists officially banned from their professions the opportunity to work, he and his companions had resolved to launch a cultural league that was to be supported by “all major Jewish organizations.” The project was ambitious: in addition to establishing a theater, they wanted to make the visual arts, music and lectures (i.e., on literature and scholarly topics) an integral part of the self-help organization’s work. Bab knew that success depended on securing the consent of those in power and seems to have had a premonition that the league would be placed under strict supervision. He asked Georg Hermann to become a member of its honorary board.

Sixteen days after Bab wrote his letter to Hermann, the Prussian Ministry of Science, Art and National Education approved plans to establish the Cultural League. It was not until early July that Georg Hermann responded from Amsterdam. He accepted Bab’s invitation and became a member of the honorary board, joining the painter Max Liebermann, the sociologist Franz Oppenheimer, the art critic Max Osborn and several other renowned figures. At the time he was the only member living in exile.

The Cultural League of German Jews was officially founded in Kurt Singer’s apartment on 17 July 1933. On 1 October 1933 the league’s theater opened its first season with a production of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing’s famous play Nathan the Wise, which appealed for tolerance between religions.

Aubrey Pomerance

Categorie(s): artists and writers | associations | Berlin | occupational ban
Letter from Julius Bab to Georg Hermann, Berlin, 31 May 1933
Leo Baeck Institute, Georg Hermann Collection, AR 7074

Kurt Singer

Dr. Kurt Singer, who served as the Cultural League’s director, grew up in Koblenz, where his father was a rabbi. He studied medicine at the Friedrich Wilhelm University of Berlin and in 1908 took up a position as a neurologist at the Charité Hospital. Singer was also a prominent musicologist and a skilled violinist. In 1913 he founded the Berlin Doctors’ Choir, in 1923 he was awarded a professorship at the State Academy of Music, and in1927 he was appointed deputy manager of the Charlottenburg Municipal Opera. Singer also worked as a music critic for Vorwärts, the organ of the Social Democratic Party, and authored several important publications on the occupational diseases of musicians.

Singer was in the United States during the pogroms of November 1938. Although he was offered a professorial position in America and although family and friends urged to him to stay in the country, he returned to Europe. After arriving in the Netherlands, he was persuaded not to continue on to Berlin. He took his leave from his Cultural League colleagues in a letter written in December.

In Amsterdam he once again wrote pieces on musical topics and directed a choir. He was arrested in 1943 and deported to Theresienstadt after a stay in the Westerbork transit camp. He died of exhaustion and pneumonia in Theresienstadt on 7 February 1944.

Kurt Singer, portrait photograph by Herbert Sonnenfeld, Berlin, 1933
Purchased with funds from the Stiftung Deutsche Klassenlotterie Berlin 
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