The beginning of the end of German Jewry


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18 May 1933

Student identification card issued to Erwin Zimet by the Friedrich Wilhelm University of Berlin

In 1933 the Berliner Erwin Zimet (1912–1989) was training to be a rabbi. In addition to studying at the College of the Science of Judaism (Hochschule für die Wissenschaft des Judentums) he was enrolled in the philosophy department of the Friedrich Wilhelm University in Berlin. However, on 18 May 1933 he quit the university after having taken a leave of absence for the winter semester of 1932/33—as the stamps in his student ID card show. We do not know the exact circumstances surrounding his premature departure, only that he took his interim exams as a rabbi a few months later.

Even before graduating in 1938, Erwin Zimet worked as a rabbi at various Berlin synagogues and other facilities connected with the Jewish community. As a Polish citizen, he was unexpectedly deported from the country with his father in late October 1938 as part of the so-called Polish Operation (Polenaktion). Both men were taken by force to the border area between Poland and Germany and, together with most of the over 15,000 deportees, were interned in the Zbąszyń (German: Bentschen) refugee camp. There Erwin Zimet served as a rabbi until he was finally able to emigrate to England in March 1939. Shortly afterward he continued on to the United States.

After working for ten years in New York City, Erwin Zimet was offered a position as rabbi at the Temple Beth El in Poughkeepsie in 1948. There he served for forty years before going into retirement. The city‘s Hebrew Day School still bears his name today.

Michaela Roßberg

Categorie(s): Berlin | religious life | students
Erwin Zimet‘s student identification card with stamps for the semesters of the years 1930 to 1933, issued by the Friedrich Wilhelm University of Berlin. The stamp "leaving certificate ordered" dates to 18 May 1933.
Gift of Lilli Gehr Zimet

Last Letter

"I am thinking of you and hoping for a speedy reunion in good health. All the best, yours truly, Erwin Zimet." Zimet wrote this telegram on 2/3 October 1940 from the safety of exile in New York. It was addressed to his mother, Anna Zimet, who had fled to the Netherlands with her husband, Chaim. Erwin‘s brother Max was also living there with his family.

Erwin Zimet was never reunited with his parents. After the German invasion and the surrender of the neutral Netherlands on 14 May 1940, antisemitic legislation was enacted there as well. Anna and Chaim Zimet were taken to the Westerbork transit camp in October 1943 and then deported to Auschwitz.

Anna Zimet‘s farewell letter from Westerbork is also held by the archive of the Jewish Museum Berlin. She penned the short message just before deportation: "My dear children. I‘m going to be picked up now. Farewell. Look after yourselves and stay healthy. Give my regards to Erwin … Farewell, Max … Mama."

Telegram written by Erwin Zimet in New York to his mother, Anna, in Amsterdam, sent by the Dutch Telegraph Company, 2/3 Oktober 1940.
Gift of Roland Zimet