General information: First Jewish presence: mid-13th century; peak Jewish population: 1,035 in 1910; Jewish population in 1933: 855
Summary: A Jewish presence in Giessen was first recorded in the mid- 13th century. The modern community, founded in the 1720s, peaked in 1910 with 1,035 Jews belonging to the mainstream community and approximately 300 in the separate Orthodox community. The Jews of Heuchelheim and Steinbach were affiliated with Giessen. Giessen, a center of Jewish learning from the 18th century onwards, became home to a district rabbinate in 1842. The community conducted services in prayer rooms until 1867, when a large synagogue was inaugurated; this synagogue was enlarged in 1890 and renovated in 1912. Jews were able to send their children to a Jewish elementary school between 1822 and 1841, after which the community employed a teacher of religion. A Jewish cemetery was consecrated inside the town’s general cemetery in 1836, and in 1897 a community center was built next to the synagogue. Giessen’s Orthodox Jews seceded from the main community in 1887, after which, in 1888, they received a separate plot in the cemetery. The Orthodox community appointed a rabbi in 1896 and inaugurated a synagogue (with 198 seats) in 1899, whose building also housed a classroom and a mikveh. In 1910, the town consecrated a new cemetery with a section for Jews of both communities; the Orthodox Jews, however, received their own section in 1912. Although the University of Giessen was a center of anti- Jewish activity, Jews held approximately 10% its academic positions during the Weimar period. In 1928, a chair for rabbinical scholarship—unique in Germany—was established there. In 1933, Dr. David Sander was district rabbi. The mainstream community had 855 members, the Orthodox community several hundred. One hundred and ninetyseven children (127 from the main community, 70 from the Orthodox community) studied religion. Many Jews were arrested in Giessen during the 1930s, and all Jewish academics and staff members were dismissed from the university. In 1939, the Jews of Wieseck (a district of Giessen town) were affiliated with the Giessen community. Both synagogues were burned down, together with their ritual objects and Torah scrolls, on Pogrom Night. Homes and businesses were ransacked, and Jewish women and children were detained in the police station until evening. The men were held in a Jewish-owned house and then sent to Buchenwald, where one died. Many Jews moved to Giessen after 1933, therefore the Jewish population grew to 1,265 during that period. Four hundred and sixty-five Giessen Jews emigrated, 478 relocated within Germany, 60 left for unknown destinations, 112 passed away and four committed suicide. In March 1939, the remaining Jews were moved to the oldage home, from which they were taken for forced labor in 1941. In 1942/43, 142 local Jews were deported to Poland and to Theresienstadt; several Jews, all of whom were married to Germans, were deported in 1944/45. At least 346 Giessen and Wieseck Jews perished in the Shoah. The new Jewish community, founded in 1976, inaugurated a synagogue in 1997. Earlier, in 1982, a memorial plaque was unveiled at the new cemetery.
Photo: The Orthodox synagogue of Giessen, on Steinstrasse. Courtesy of: Giessener Verkehrshandbuch, published by Hermann Osterwitz, Giessen, 1907.
Author / Sources: Nurit Borut
Sources: AJ, EJL, PK-HNF
Located in: hesse