General information: First Jewish presence: 1629; peak Jewish population: 1,908 in 1910; Jewish population in 1933: 1,427
Summary: The earliest available record of a Jewish presence in Darmstadt is dated 1629, when Jewish traders were forced to leave the city. By 1713, 30 Jewish families were living in Darmstadt; and by 1836, the Jewish population had reached 532. Records from 1680 mention a Jewish cemetery in Bessungen, outside of Darmstadt. Burials took place in Alsbach until 1709, after which Darmstadt Jews once again used the cemetery in Bessungen. Darmstadt�s Jewish cemetery (unknown date of construction) is located on Martinstrasse. The community established a synagogue in 1737, soon after which, in 1761, Darmstadt became the seat of a district rabbinate. Another synagogue was inaugurated on the corner of Bleichstrasse and Grafenstrasse in 1873, three years before the community officially aligned itself with Liberal Judaism (1876). Between 1905 and 1906, a new synagogue�290 seats for men, 136 for women�was established in a small alley next to the schoolhouse; architecturally, the synagogue was in the Art Nouveau style. In 1925, the rabbi of the Liberal community was Dr. Julius Merzbach. In 1904, Orthodox Jews seceded from the main community and formed a separate community. Lehmann Marx served as their rabbi between 1897 and 1910, as did Rabbi Moshe Shimshon Wasserman between 1924 and 1930. Beginning in 1923, chazzan/teacher Ludwig Wahrhaftig served the Orthodox community. Arno Bik of Michelstadt presided over the Orthodox school, where 150 students were enrolled in 1936; in 1931/32, 87 students attended the liberal school. In 1932, the leaders of the community were Dr. Bodenheimer and Josef Freitag. A chevra kadisha, a burial society, a Zionist organization and several welfare organizations were active in Darmstadt. On November 10, 1938 (Pogrom Night) SS and SA men, acting on orders issued in Starkenburg, burned down both synagogues and blew up the mikveh. The rabbinate building, which housed the archives and the synagogue caretaker�s apartment, was spared. Private properties (including a furniture shop owned by an ethnic German whose wife was Jewish) were destroyed, and 169 Jewish men were arrested and later sent to Buchenwald. A makeshift school, presided over by the community chairman and a teacher named Rothschild, was established in Darmstadt in 1939; in February of that year, 68 students attended classes there. Eleven older students attended school in Mainz. In the spring of 1939, Rabbi Mertzbach immigrated to Palestine, where he became the head of a yeshiva in Jerusalem. Rothschild, the teacher, replaced him as rabbi. The deportations of Darmstadt's Jews began in December 1940. Between 1942 and 1943, approximately 380 local Jews were deported to Theresienstadt, Auschwitz and other death camps. Darmstadt's Jewish population was 491 in 1940, 464 in 1942 and 213 in July 1944. At least 1,000 Darmstadt Jews perished in the Shoah. In 1959, bronze memorial plaques were unveiled in Darmstadt. Memorial "stumbling blocks" were, in recent years, also laid there. Jewish arrivals from the former USSR rejuvenated the community - 130 Jews were living in Darmstadt in 1992 - and the cemetery was enlarged in 2001.
Photo: The synagogue of the liberal Jewish community in Darmstadt, in or around the year 1910. Courtesy of: City archive of Darmstadt.
Photo 2: The synagogue of the Orthodox Jewish community in Darmstadt, on fire, November 10, 1938. Courtesy of: City archive of Darmstadt.
Author / Sources: Esther Sarah Evans
Located in: hesse