General information: First Jewish presence: 14th century (first half); peak Jewish population: 122 in 1833; Jewish population in 1933: 90-120 (see below)
Summary: The earliest record of Jewish life in Zerbst is from the first half of the 14th century, when there was already talk of a “Judenwinkel” (“Jews’ corner”) and a “Judenkever” (“Jews’ graveyard”). Fifteenth-century records make the occasional reference to the Jews of Zerbst, but it was only in the 17th century that a lasting Jewish presence was established there. The Jewish community established a cemetery during the second half of the 18th century and a synagogue in 1794. In 1905, after receiving funds from the Dessau Cohn-Oppenheim Foundation, the community replaced its tumble-down synagogue with a new house of worship at 40 Bruederstrasse; the synagogue did not have an organ, and women sat in an elevated section. Between 90 and 120 Jews lived in Zerbst in 1933 (sources provide differing information). We know for certain that the leader of the community in 1932/33 was Martin Leiser, the treasurer was Eugen Borinski, the recording secretary was Ferdinand Nussbaum and the cantor was Leopold Spier. The community maintained a chevra kadisha and a Jewish literature foundation whose presidents were Martin Leiser and Dr. Preiss. Twenty-seven Jewish children received religious instruction that year. The synagogue was not set on fire on Pogrom Night because of its proximity to other buildings. Instead, rioters smashed its windows and wrecked its interior and ritual objects; the adjacent community center, too, was ransacked. (It is said that cantor Leopold Spier, who perished in Theresienstadt in late 1942, gathered the surviving scraps of the Torah scrolls and buried them according to Jewish rites.) Jewish-owned homes and business were destroyed on Pogrom Night, after which Jews were housed in the community center until their deportation. The former synagogue building, which was remodeled and used by the German Red Cross, was destroyed during a wartime bombing raid. In 1993, a memorial plaque was affixed to the residential building that now stands on the former synagogue site; and in 2009/10, memorial stumbling blocks were unveiled in memory of the 53 Zerbst Jews who perished in the Shoah.
Author / Sources: Esther Sarah Evans
Sources: AH, EJL, FJG
Located in: saxony-anhalt