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April Boycott

The systematic persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany began on the April 1, 1933, with a national boycott of Jewish-owned shops, doctor's offices and law firms. The boycott was ordered and organized by the leadership of the NSDAP (National Socialist German Workers' Party). In the course of the boycott many Jewish shops were damaged and looted, and their owners were physically attacked.

This historical event, which is now often referred to as the "April Boycott," was followed by many far more drastic measures and laws in the period leading up to 1945. Their purpose was to systematically destroy the foundation of Jewish life in Nazi Germany. They culminated in the expulsion and murder of around six million Jews from across Europe.

Appeal to boycott Jewish shops on April 1, 1933
Appeal to boycott Jewish shops on April 1, 1933, Bildarchiv Preußischer Kulturbesitz


An archive is a place where records are stored. In most cases these records consist of written documents, but there are also archives for film, sounds, images and objects. Although some archives today contain personal items such as diaries, letters and photo albums, the first archives were used primarily to collect official records, including court files and documents from government agencies. This is reflected in the word "archive," which is derived from "archivum," the Latin word for government house.

People store documents and records in archives to enable future generations to reconstruct what people wrote in the past, how they lived and what they thought. The films, images, texts and objects that come from certain periods can help us understand the past from a contemporary perspective.

The Jewish Museum Berlin also houses an archive. It contains numerous papers and manuscripts that shed light on the fate of German Jewish families. In most cases, the owners of these documents or their descendants have donated them to the museum. Through its work, the archive of the Jewish Museum Berlin contributes to securing information on the social and religious life of Jews in Germany in the near and more distant past and also to preserving this information for future generations. After all, preservation is one of the most important tasks for all museums.

Archive research in the reading room of the Jewish Museum Berlin
Archive research in the reading room of the Jewish Museum Berlin
© Jewish Museum Berlin, Photo: Jens Ziehe

Ashkenazi Jews / Ashkenazim

The Hebrew term "Ashkenaz" was first used in the Middle Ages to describe the region of Europe occupied by present-day Germany. It included the cities of Speyer, Worms and Mainz, which formed an important center of Jewish learning. Ashkenaz is the root of both Ashkenazi and Ashkenazim, which refer to Jews and their descendants from western and eastern Europe. Throughout the centuries Ashkenazi Jews developed a common cultural tradition. The Ashkenazim spoke Yiddish, a language that originally evolved from Middle High German but which also incorporates Hebrew and Slavic elements. It is written using Hebrew letters.

The other large group of European Jews is the Sephardim or Sephardi. These Jews first inhabited the Iberian peninsula (present-day Spain and Portugal), but after their large-scale expulsion in 1492 they settled in parts of northern Europe and in the Ottoman Empire (the area covering modern Turkey, North Africa, as well as regions in the Middle East and southern Europe). The Sephardim also had their own language, called Ladino or Judaeo-Spanish.

When the word Ashkenazi is used today, it usually refers to a family history or self-view (e.g. personal identity) as opposed to a place of domicile. A large number of Ashkenazi Jews now live in other regions of the world, above all in the US and Israel, due both to the large waves of immigration in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and to the persecution of European Jews by Nazi Germany. As a result, only a minority of Ashkenazi Jews currently speak Yiddish as their mother tongue.

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