An Important Moment for the Zwilsky Family

Rededication of the Jewish Hospital Synagogue, Berlin, 3 June 1946, gift of Klaus M. Zwilsky, 2003

Black and white photograph of a synagogue, in the center a rabbi, around him men with Judaica

Rabbi Martin Riesenburger, a key figure in Berlin’s Jewish Community, is standing at the center of the photograph in front of the parochet (Torah curtain); Jacobson-Sonnenfeld Presse-Illustration Berlin, Jewish Museum Berlin, accession 2003/141/129, gift of Klaus M. Zwilksy.

We receive numerous objects in our museum collections as generous gifts from donors from all over the world. These objects were preserved for many years, passed down from one generation to the next, and helped shape the families’ memories. The fact that we are given these objects is a testament to the great trust the donors have in us, which is an important incentive for us in our daily work.

A photograph that is both family history and contemporary history

The photograph shown here was part of an extensive collection donated to the museum by Klaus M. Zwilsky in 2003. It shows the rededication of the synagogue in the Jewish Hospital in Berlin on 3 June 1946. This was certainly an important moment for the Zwilsky family. Klaus Zwilsky’s bar mitzvah took place there in July 1945, and his father Erich Zwilsky also had close ties to the site, as he was a pharmacist in the Jewish Hospital starting in 1941. After the war he was also briefly the hospital’s administrative director.

The Jewish Hospital in Berlin-Wedding

The Jewish Hospital on Iranische Strasse in Berlin’s Wedding district developed in the period directly after the war into a center of community work. Administrative departments were located on the grounds, a welfare and counseling office for returnees and future emigrants was set up and members of the Jewish Community were looked after. The reviving congregational life was nevertheless only provisional at the time. Most Jews wanted to leave Berlin, and all of Germany, as quickly as possible in order to start a new life elsewhere. This was the case for Erich Zwilsky, who emigrated with his wife Ruth and their son Klaus first to Sweden and then on to the United States.

First Religious Service and Rededication

The photograph is an important testimony of Klaus Zwilsky’s family history, as well as that of the Jewish Community in Berlin. In the hospital’s small synagogue, it was possible as early as 11 May 1945—despite bomb damage—to hold the first religious service with a Soviet army rabbi. Many dignitaries and representatives of the Allied military took part in the festive rededication on 3 June 1946, as did Cantor Oscar Ruschin and Rabbi Martin Riesenburger. At the time, Riesenburger was a key figure in the Berlin Jewish Community. As of 1933 he worked as a preacher and chaplain in the Jewish nursing home and hospital. And starting in 1943 he served as the rabbi at the Jewish cemetery in Weissensee. Riesenburger was able to hold secret services and helped save many Torah scrolls.

Theresia Ziehe, Curator of Photography

Citation recommendation:

Theresia Ziehe (2021), An Important Moment for the Zwilsky Family. Rededication of the Jewish Hospital Synagogue, Berlin, 3 June 1946, gift of Klaus M. Zwilsky, 2003.

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