The beginning of the end of German Jewry


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8 July 1933

Invitation to the farewell meeting of the national executive board of the Federation of Free Academic Associations

Referring to the "dictates of prevailing circumstances," the Federation of Free Academic Associations (Freie Wissenschaftliche Vereinigungen, FWV) announced its dissolution on 8 July 1933 and invited its member organizations—fraternities at various universities and colleges in Germany—to attend a final meeting in Berlin. These fraternities had already disbanded one week earlier. Both developments were linked to the decree calling for the dissolution of all Jewish fraternities, issued in late June 1933 by the Prussian Minister of Science, Art and National Education. In fact, the FWV had never considered itself a Jewish fraternity but this proved immaterial.

The first Free Academic Association was founded in 1881 in Berlin in response to the Berlin Antisemitism Dispute. As a non-denominational fraternity, it was open to Jewish and Christian students alike and devoted itself to combating the antisemitism rampant at German universities. At the same time, it embraced a nationalist ethos. Inspired by its example, thirteen additional associations were founded in university towns across Germany. However, the number of non-Jewish members declined dramatically over the years and by the end of the nineteenth century the organizations consisted almost exclusively of Jewish students.

The farewell celebration held by the FWV on 11 July 1933—almost twenty-five years to the day after its founding—was a melancholy occasion. Rudolf Zielenziger, the last editor of the federation‘s monthly reports and the composer of many FWV songs, wrote: "But we young FWV members pledge to the older comrades amongst us today that we will always remain upstanding members in heart, keep alive the memory of our humanity, struggle and exuberance, and allow intimations of a new life to continue to have a formative effect upon us." Slightly altering a famous Goethe quote, he concluded with the words: "Here I was a human being. Here I was permitted to be one. Over? That is difficult to believe, but what you were and what you have given us will remain mine, and time cannot take it away from me." The attendees sang the third stanza of the "Deutschlandlied" ("Song of Germany", the German national anthem) in order to emphasize their German identity in a final act of collective self-assertion. The first line of this stanza—"Unity and justice and freedom"—had been the FWV‘s slogan since its founding.

In the following years most of the FWV‘s members emigrated or fled from Germany. Felix Naumann, who had signed the invitation as its national president, was not so fortunate: he was deported to Theresienstadt in late May 1943 together with his wife and in October 1944 he was taken to Auschwitz and murdered there.

Aubrey Pomerance

Categorie(s): associations | Berlin | students
Invitation to the farewell meeting of the national executive board of the Federation of Free Academic Associations, Berlin, 8 July 1933
Leo Baeck Institute, Rudolf Zielenziger Collection, AR 4044