General information: First Jewish presence: in or around the year 1870; peak Jewish population: 200 in the 1920s (see below); Jewish population in 1933: 191
Summary: Jews moved to Wilhelmshaven, a new seaport and naval base, in or around the year 1870. By 1901, they were registered as an official Jewish community together with the Jews of neighboring Ruestringen. The community’s members included numerous merchants and butchers, three farmers, a theater director, a well-known writer and a high-ranking soldier. Burials were conducted in Jever until 1908, when the community consecrated its own cemetery in Schortens-Heidmuehle. In 1915, local Jews replaced their prayer room with a synagogue on the corner of Boersenstrasse and Parkstrasse; the building also housed a mikveh and a school, whose teacher not only performed the duties of shochet and chazzan, but also served as chaplain to Jewish sailors. The Jews of Wilhelmshaven and Ruestringen maintained a chevra kadisha, a Jewish women’s association and, later, a literary circle and a youth movement. In 1933, 191 Jews still lived in town, of whom 100 left during the years 1933 to 1938. On Pogrom Night (November 1938), Jewish shops and homes were vandalized. Jews were taken from their houses and publicly humiliated as onlookers threw stones at them. Thirty-four Jewish men were deported to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. Members of various Nazi organizations set fire to the synagogue; the building burned down completely, after which the surrounding walls were blown up and the ritual objects were put on display in the street. A further 45 Jews were able to leave town before 1939. Wilhelmshaven’s remaining Jews were subsequently deported and murdered. At least 68 local Jews died in the Shoah. The former synagogue site became a memorial in the 1970s; in 1980, a plaque was unveiled there.
Photo: The Wilhelmshaven synagogue, with its impressive cupola, probably in the 1920s or 1930s. Courtesy of: Unknown.
Author / Sources: Heike Zaun Goshen
Sources: AH, AJ, EJL
Located in: lower-saxony