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Eastern European Jews in Germany


group photo of mine workers

Jewish laborers from Eastern Europe in the Kaiserstuhl II mine in Dortmund, summer 1919. The note written in Yiddish on the left identifies a few of the men in the picture: Schmulik and workers from Lowicz. The last line reads: "Now we're sweating."
© Dr. Ludger Heid, Duisburg

Between 1880 and 1924 Jews emigrated to Germany from Eastern Europe to escape poverty and persecution in their home countries. Although they met with hostility and discrimination, many were able to create new lives for themselves.
Representing the different fates of migrants are the lives of Chaim Weizmann, Cecylie and Heinrich Bien, Alexander Granach, Joseph Budko, the Friedmann and Goldstein families, and the Mandelbaum family.

old family photograph showing four women of various ages

Klara Amalie Friedmann's family over four generations, Duisburg, 1926. In contrast to the modern fashions worn by the younger women, Klara's grandmother is dressed in the traditional style of Eastern European Jews. She is wearing a wig called a sheitel in Yiddish. She emigrated from Galicia to Germany with their children in 1909.
© Gidal-Bildarchiv im Steinheim-Institut, Duisburg

The Jewish influx was part of a large migration movement towards the West. Germany was above all a transit country: Most headed for the U.S., but about 80,000 remained permanently in Germany.
As foreigners and Jews, the immigrants came up against fierce prejudice that made their daily lives difficult. They were under a lot of pressure to assimilate and at the same time strove to retain the culture and tradition they had brought with them.
The relationship between Eastern European Jews and long-time resident German Jews was often strained. The stereotypes created by Jewish and non-Jewish Germans about the immigrants contributed to this difficult relationship.

printed drawing of two men in traditional dress walking down a street

"Street in the Shtetl," print graphic by Ephraim Moses Lilien, 1906. Around 1900, Jewish artists like E.M. Lilien began taking an interest in Eastern European Jewish culture. They regarded the culture of Eastern European Jews as an alternative to the acculturated lifestyles of German Jews. Since many Eastern European Jews lived according to authentic Jewish traditions, they were seen as ideal role models.
© Jüdisches Museum Berlin

Contemporary novels and autobiographies such as those by Arnold Zweig, Joseph Roth, Manès Sperber, Gabriele Tergit, Sammy Gronemann, Martin Beradt, Alexander Granach, and Gad Granach reinforced but also overthrew these stereotypes.

Play audio Play audio

The actor Alexander Granach describes life in the Scheunenviertel in Berlin, 1906. Excerpt from "There Goes a Mensch: An Autobiographical Novel," 1945 (Speaker: Mat Hand)

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