The beginning of the end of German Jewry


< 17 DECEMBER 1933
20 DECEMBER 1933 >

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.

Jörg Waßmer

Categorie(s): Breslau | childhood | religious life | school
Welcome address by Rudolf Schäffer at the Jewish Am Anger School, Breslau, 19 December 1933
Leo Baeck Institute, Rudolf F. Schaeffer Collection, AR 3292