19 December 1933
Hanukkah address by the Breslau school director Rudolf Schäffer
The retired teacher Rudolf Schäffer (1894–1970) delivered this welcome address to an audience gathered at the Am Anger School in Breslau on 19 December 1933. At that time, the Working Group of Jewish Academic Teachers had been offering private courses to Jewish high school students at the school for two months. Earlier in 1933 the thirty-nine-year-old Schäffer, who had studied philosophy and classical philology, had been forced to retire from the Johannesgymnasium, an academic high school in Breslau where he had worked for ten years.
Due to the large proportion of Jewish students (around 50 percent) at the Johannesgymnasium, the school was particularly affected by the change in Germany’s political landscape. The restrictions imposed by the Reich government on the number of Jewish students and the rapid spread of antisemitism even within the school’s walls quickly led to an exodus of Jewish students and teachers. Not all were taken in by the strictly orthodox Private Jüdische Oberschule (Private Jewish High School). Those who were not accepted fortunately found an alternative in the newly established liberal Jewish Schulwerk. In the fall of 1933 this school had only forty students, but by 1936 their numbers had swelled to five hundred. The students were taught by a highly qualified staff in a building adjacent to the liberal New Synagogue.
On the evening of 19 December 1933—2 Tevet 5694 according to the Jewish calendar—the teachers, students and parents gathered to celebrate the last day of Hanukkah. This holiday commemorating the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in 164 BCE provided a festive occasion at which the attendees could “joyously recall that we belong together,” as the school director expressed it in his welcome address. Schäffer explained that the staff had deliberately refrained from holding a “solemn opening ceremony” in October. The evening in December provided the best opportunity to show the parents, in particular, how the school community had evolved since then. “The teachers and the students have drawn closer together … and feel at home and comfortable.”
It is conspicuous that Schäffer chose not to address the external circumstances—the exclusionary policies and coercive measures—that had led to the founding of the school. However, his address makes clear that now more than ever the staff’s goal was to strengthen the students’ Jewish identity and self-confidence. But what made the Jewish school Jewish in the first place? As Schäffer emphasized, it was the fact that staff saw their Jewishness “not as a mere adjunct to lessons taking place within a customary framework, not as a secondary element that we can do without, but as the beginning and end of our work.” In Schäffer’s eyes, it was obvious that a Jewish school needed to be more than just a general school for Jewish children offering Jewish religious instruction and Hebrew lessons. In 1937, in a different context, he concisely explained that Jewish schools could not be mere “stopgap solutions” or “roofs providing shelter from a temporary storm.”
During the November Pogrom the authorities seized the Am Anger School and destroyed the neighboring synagogue. A few weeks later Schäffer immigrated to the United States via Sweden.
Hanukkah celebration, 19 December 1933
Distinguished guests, distinguished parents and dear students!
When we began our courses on 16 October, we deliberately refrained from holding a solemn opening ceremony and asked only for your trust, which we intended to earn through our future work. At that time we took it upon ourselves—once our joint work had been placed on a firmer footing, the courses had been established and we had settled in with them—to meet with a larger group and report on what we had achieved and the manner in which we intended to shape our school in the future.
Now, Hanukkah does not provide the proper backdrop for a technical report or instructions regarding the future. We will address these topics at the parent-teacher meeting in January, at which we will have a great deal to say about the organizational changes and foundations that are in preparation. However, there are two reasons we consider ourselves justified in spending the last evening of Hanukkah with you. We—and I say this without any exaggeration—have become something of a community during these last nine weeks, and when I say this I do not mean the staff alone. Each course has already taken on its own special character, its own special countenance, and, what is perhaps most important of all, the teachers and the students have drawn closer together and, by the look of things, feel at home and comfortable in their collaboration with us. Since parents know of our life at school only from hearsay and we attach great importance to being in constant contact with them, not only when pressing and sometimes unpleasant issues are involved, we wanted to give them the chance to see what we have so enjoyed preparing together to ensure the success of the last evening of Hanukkah.
We very much hope that you understand our decision to make Hanukkah the occasion of our first meeting with you since opening our school—rather than the businesslike setting of a parent-teacher meeting—as an expression of the way we see our Jewishness. We regard it not as a mere adjunct to lessons taking place within a customary framework, not as a secondary element that we can do without, but as the beginning and end of our work. Such an approach to education is undoubtedly new for teachers and students who have previously taught and learned in a different setting. However, it is precisely because of this difference that our experience here is so much more intense. It is if a banner hangs over every lesson bearing the words: We, teachers and students alike, belong together due to our destinies and descent, and we want to try to develop our strengths on the basis of this affiliation. Even if the subject covered in a lesson seems to have little to do with Judaism, it enters into a unique relationship with us as Jews and with our Jewishness when we engage with it. However, we do not want to content ourselves with the fact of our Jewishness, even if it plays a major role in determining what we do here. Rather, as we engage ever more closely with our special educational and child-rearing responsibilities, we see it as demanding of us that we keep Judaism alive and develop it within ourselves and our students.
So this is why we did not light-heartedly schedule a school festival on a random date, but chose Hanukkah as the festive occasion on which we can joyously recall that we belong together.
It is in this sense that I hope you will appreciate the following performances. It is in this sense that I would like to welcome you all from the depths of my heart and thank you for coming here on Hanukkah.