“Wilhelmshaven – Rüstringen”
Encyclopaedia of Jewish Communities:
Germany volume 4
(Wilhelmshaven, Germany)

53°31' / 8°08'

Translation from
Pinkas ha-kehilot Germanyah

Published by Yad Vashem

Published in Jerusalem, 2007


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This is a translation from: Pinkas Hakehillot: Encyclopaedia of Jewish Communities, Germany
Volume 4, pages 670-675, published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, 2007


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[Page 670]

Wilhelmshaven – Rüstringen

Translated by Michael Teper

Edited by Yocheved Klausner

 

Wilhelmshaven: Until 1933 City in the Prussian province of Hannover. Rüstringen – Up to 1933 City in the Free State of Oldenburg. From 1937 – a unified City, from 1946 – part of the Federal State of Niedersachsen.

Subordination of government: Wilhelmshaven – 1853–1873 Kingdom of Prussia. 1873–1937, Prussian Province of Hannover. 1937–1945 Oldenburg Free State. Rüstringen – 1813–1918 Grand Duchy of Oldenburg. 1918–1937 Free State of Oldenburg.

Administrative status: Wilhelmshaven – 1873–1937 Government District of Aurich. 1873–1919 District of Wittmund. 1919–1945 City without government district. Today – Weser–Ems, City without government district. Rüstringen – up to 1902 included in the District of Jever. 1902–1911 Jever–Rüstringen District. 1911–1937 City without government district.

Wilhelmshaven and Rüstringen were under the Emden and Oldenburg state rabbis respectively.

 

Population of Wilhelmshaven

Year Residents Jews %
1885   47  
1895 19,422 76 0.4
1905   103  
1925 25,403 127 0.5
1933 28,016 109 0.4
1939 * 103,842 75  

* Includes Rüstringen

 

Religious affiliation in Wilhelmshaven (%) in 1925

Protestant 86.21
Roman Catholic 9.17
Jewish 0.50
Others 4.13

 

History of the Place

In 1383 the chief of the Edo Wiemken tribe built a fortified castle in today's Siebethsburg quarter. The remains of the fortress destroyed by the Hanseatic League in 1433 still exist. Following the war with Denmark over Schleswig–Holstein in 1848–1851 and the Danish threat to the shores of Northern Germany came the idea to establish a Prussian naval port in the Jade Basin. On 20th July 1853 the Kingdom of Prussia acquired from the Grand Duchy of Oldenburg an area of 313.5 hectares for the construction of a Prussian naval port. On [17th] June 1869 Kaiser Wilhelm I inaugurated the harbour. On [1st April] 1873 the settlement around the port received the right to become a town, which was named Wilhelmshaven after its founder. In 1888 the Ems Canal was completed – its construction had taken eight years. Surrounding communities belonging to Oldenburg – Bant, Neuende and Heppens, were also influenced by the development boom of the Prussian port. In 1902 the three were included in a regional union with Rüstringen, which became a city in 1911. On 1st April 1937 the two cities of Rüstringen (Oldenburg) and Wilhelmshaven (Prussia) merged into the city of Greater Wilhelmshaven.

 

History of the Community

Imperial Reich (1918–1871)

In 1875, some two years after Wilhelmshaven received its constitution the rabbi of the state of Emden, Dr. Paul Buchholz, draw the attention of the Aurich authorities to the Jewish residents of the new Prussian city who did not belong to any Jewish community. In response, in about March 1876, the Aurich District Commissioner attached the four Jewish families living at the time in Wilhelmshaven to the existing Jewish community in Neustadtgödens (qv). But from the outset this remote community dissatisfied the Jews of Wilhelmshaven, who waged a long struggle against being forced to join them, preferring to join ‘The Free Religious Association of Bant’ (see below), which grew in the eighties into ‘The Jewish Association of Wilhelmshaven–Bant’. Finally in 1901 the District Commissioner of Aurich officially recognized the independent Jewish community of Wilhelmshaven. In 1900 a general assembly of the Jews in Wilhelmshaven, which numbered 14 households at the time, chose merchant Louis Leeser as chairman of the Jewish community. Wilhelmshaven had a regular place of worship since the signing of a long–term lease in October 1899 with the owner of the Berliner Hof Hotel. The official inauguration of the chapel of the new community in Börsenstrasse on 28th February 1902 was attended by the head of the County of Emden, Dr. Jonas Löb, Captain Börner, Mayor Dr. Ziegner–Gnüchtel and six city council members. A Chevra Kadisha was formed in 1901.

However, the Jews residing in the three Oldenburg villages near Wilhelmshaven – Bant, Heppens and Neuende – were subject to the religious authority of the state rabbi of Oldenburg. We do not know exactly when they established an independent community. There is no evidence that Jews lived in these places before the year 1840 when five Jews lived in Neuende. The 1858 ‘Jewish Law’ of Oldenburg recognized the existence of nine independent Jewish communities in the duchy and planned the creation of a community of rich Jews. It is unclear whether this was ever realized. In reality until the end of the century, only Bant, founded in 1879, was considered an independent Jewish community (The Free Religious Association of Bant). After official recognition in 1905 the Jewish community of Rüstringen was extended in 1911 to include Heppens and Neuende.

Close relationships were forged between the Jews of Wilhelmshaven, Bant, Heppens and Neuende. They prayed together in the house of prayer in Wilhelmshaven, buried their dead in the cemetery in Heidmühle, established in 1910 and sent their children to the same religious studies teacher. Yet each of the two communities remained separate. In the Wilhelmshaven community the following were chairmen: 1905–1908 – Julius Margoniner, 1908–1919 – Jacob Müller, 1919–1925 Julius Margoniner again, in 1925–1931 – Leo Bein and from 1931 – Jonas Fränkel. In Rüstringen the chairmen were: Max Jacobs – 1911–1931, 1931–1932 – Siegfried Margoniner and from 1932 – Hermann Cohn. Control of the religious communities was similarly divided between the state rabbis of Emden and Oldenburg. There was also a teacher in Wilhelmshaven authorized to conduct marriage ceremonies, while in Rüstringen only the state of Oldenburg was entitled to do so.

The Jewish population also increased in the first decades of the 20th century. In 1910 the community of Wilhelmshaven alone was 131 people. In 1925 the combined Wilhelmshaven–Rüstringen community was 239 persons, the highest number throughout its history. Preparations for the construction of a permanent joint synagogue gained momentum after 1911 when the Wilhelmshaven community acquired suitable land at the corner of Börsenstrasse and Parkstrasse, where it was accessible to Jews from Wilhelmshaven and Rüstringen alike. In 1913, with the approval of the necessary loans from the county of Aurich, the time came to build the synagogue. Construction was completed in two years, even though in the meantime the First World War had broken out. This magnificent building, with a solid central dome, reflected the self–confidence of the community leaders and the expectations and hopes for the future. The number of spaces for worshipers – 400 – far exceeded the needs of the community at that time and may have allowed room for the Jewish sailors who were stationed at the port. Special arrangements were made to build a ritual bath in the basement of the building and the construction of a classroom for 42 students. The inauguration ceremony, on 7th September 1915, was attended by the mayor of Rüstringen – Dr. Lüken and the commander of the naval base and head of the state of Oldenburg – Dr. David Mannheimer. Further evidence of the public recognition won by the Jewish community can be found in the demand by the Jews for the introduction of mandatory classes in Jewish religious studies for students in the general school community which was met in 1913.

The employment patterns of Jews differed between Wilhelmshaven and Rüstringen but are typical of a naval port city and surrounding settlements. While educated residents were employed as civil servants and naval officers and others found jobs in the port and dry dock, most of the Jewish breadwinners were business owners and merchants. As was common in this part of North West Germany, many Jews were engaged in the cattle trade and butchery; one of them was even a horse butcher. But there were also musicians and a theatre director. A shop specializing in supplying clothing to the fleet stood out among Jewish–owned shops. Anton Milch, a pharmacist, won a special medal for the invention of a special camouflage paint for sailors' uniforms in the tropics. His half–Jewish son was Field Marshal Erhard Milch of the German Aviation Ministry during the Hitler era. In 1904 for the first time, the Imperial shipyard employed a Jew, Gottlieb Magnus, as a technical draftsman. He took part in building German submarines during World War I. The close relationship between the Jewish community and the Navy was also expressed in that the Jewish sailors took their oath in the synagogue, a custom confirmed by military order in 1903. As for participation in local political life, Schiff was known to be a member of the city council in the 1870s and pharmacist Milch in 1891–1905.

Little is known about the internal Jewish life of the Community before the Weimar period. The degree of religious life is evident from the existence of a mikvah and the personalities of the state rabbis of Oldenburg and Emden. There was no known friction between members of the veteran community with German roots and the immigrants from Eastern Europe, who were a notable element in the community. There had been a Zionist branch in Bant since 1907, but it was not enough to change the patriotic nature of the German Jews of Wilhelmshaven–Rüstringen.

Two Jews from Wilhelmshaven were killed during WWI. One community member received a medal for his contribution to the civilian war effort. Teacher and community preacher, Siegfried Wetzler, gave religious services during the war to Jewish sailors in Wilhelmshaven.

 

Weimar Republic (1918–1932)

The wave of nationalist anti–Semitism in Germany after the humiliating defeat in the First World War was particularly noticeable among residents of the military port city whose source of livelihood had been damaged by the German naval limitation treaty of Versailles. Most active in this field was the German Nationalist Protection and Defiance Federation (Deutsch–Völkischer Schutz und Trutzbund), which opened a branch in Wilhelmshaven in late 1919. Even the local branch of the National Association of German Soldiers – Ehrhardt – was blatantly anti–Semitic. These organizations were outlawed in 1923 and the focus of anti–Semitic incitement moved temporarily to the Association of German Thinkers (Verein Deutschdenkender Arbeiter). A key role in this association was played by Captain Stever, who was also an active member of the Nazi party.

There were significant changes in almost every area in a public setting. Shechita (ritual Jewish slaughtering) at the municipal slaughterhouse had been banned since 1916. W. Burgemeister, Secretary General of the Deutschnationale Volkspartei – German National People's Party (DNVP) in Wilhelmshaven, was fired in January 1920 after he dared to raise his voice against the ‘excesses of anti–Semitism’ of the Pan–German League (Alldeutsche Verband), and left the party. In the Parent Teacher Association of the Girls School Luisenschule in Wilhelmshaven the chairman of the local branch of the DNVP spoke against the election of a Jewish mother to the PTA because ‘Jews have no German feelings and emotions’. The Jewish mother chose to give up her candidacy. In December 1920 swastikas were engraved on the school desks of Jewish students. When the educational institution ordered the removal of the swastikas, an anti–Semitic newspaper accused the Deutsche Zeitung of ‘Serving the Jews’. In the same month, a group of sailors were caught putting anti–Semitic posters on walls in the city. The leader of the group was punished by his commander, after residents filed a complaint about the incident.

Concern about growing anti–Semitism was the background and motivation for the lively participation of the public in the Constituent Assembly of the local branch of the Central Association of German Citizens of Jewish Faith (CV) held on 27th February 1921. This was attended by more than a hundred people – almost the entire adult community members. More than fifty members of the branch were recorded, many of them – not as expected – were Jews from Eastern Europe. Leo Bein was appointed chairman. He was later elected chairman of the community. A year earlier, the teacher Wetzler established the Jewish Literature Association with 60 members. A branch of the Orthodox ‘Agudat Yisrael’ was established in 1924.

In Reichstag elections during the transition period from the Weimar Republic to the Third Reich the Nazi party garnered an increasing share of both the Wilhelmshaven and Rüstringen vote. In Rüstringen the Social–Democrats dominated. They were aware of the rise of Hitler and the Nazi Party's achievements were much less:

 

Election Wilhelmshaven Rüstringen Reich
14th September 1930 32.8% 20.4% 18.3%
31st July 1932 48.0% 33.3% 37.4%
6th November 1932 40.7% 26.7% 33.1%
5th March 1933 49.1% 35.9% 43.9%

 

In the election campaigns in the thirties the Nazi party in Wilhelmshaven used anti–Semitic incitement for political ends. The Reich presidential election of March 1932 was accompanied for the first time by physical violence when rioters shattered the glass of the Wallheimer garment piecework and tailoring store.

 

Under the Nazis

On the eve of the Nazi regime the community of Wilhelmshaven–Rüstringen included a hundred Jewish families and a few Jews living alone. The fact that the income of 70 out of 120 Jews were linked to the commercial sector, ensured that they would be a prime target of anti–Semitic activity of the Nazi League of Struggle for the Commercial Middle Class (Kampfbund des gewerblichen Mittelstandes). This organization also undertook to co–ordinate the preparations for the general boycott on 1st April 1933. On behalf of the Organization, the local newspaper. the Wilhelmshavener Zeitung, published a detailed list of Jewish–owned businesses in Wilhelmshaven–Rüstringen on 29th March 1933. The events of 1st April and the inflammatory anti–Semitic atmosphere in the navel port led some of the Jewish families to leave Wilhelmshaven in 1933–1934. Among those who left Germany in the first couple of years were Sofia Bacharach, Herbert and Charlotte Bein, who came to London and twenty–year old Ludwig Cohn who immigrated to Israel. Siegfried Margoniner, former chairman of the Rüstringen Community fled to Rome with his wife and son.

In July 1934 Kurt de Taube, chairman of the local branch of the Central Association of German Citizens of Jewish Faith – Centralverein Deutscher Staatsbürger Jüdischen Glaubens (CV), sent a letter to the headquarters of the naval base in Wilhelmshaven complaining about sailors marching through the city streets singing the infamous anti–Semitic song ‘We shall rejoice when Jewish blood will squirt from the knife…’. The overall increase in the intensity of anti–Semitic activity in the summer of 1935 was particularly severe in Wilhelmshaven. On the night of 21st July, graffiti was written on the pavement in front of the home of a Jewish wholesaler in a long–term relationship with an ‘Aryan’ woman. It read: ‘The Entrance to the Race Desecration Institute: Discreet Treatment. Independent Recipe. Long–term practice’. After this incident the couple fled Wilhelmshaven. At dawn on 27th July, a police patrol found a pig's head nailed to a wooden board at the entrance to the synagogue and a pig's penis attached to the handle of the front door. On 29th July at the opening of the end of season sales a large crowd stood at the doors of the Wallheimer store carrying signs saying ‘Germans do not buy from Jews’. Customers who ignored the requirement were photographed leaving the store. For the Jewish merchants at the Wilhelmshaven market the Commissioner marked out a special remote corner as the ‘Place for the Jews’. Even before the publication of the Nüremberg Race Laws in September 1935, a Jewish man and his ‘Aryan’ wife were arrested in Rüstringen for ‘racial purity’.

Compared to this brutalization of the human spirit and image, in February 1935 the Wilhelmshaven Synagogue heard a scholarly lecture from the State of Oldenburg official rabbi on the novel ‘Joseph and His Brothers’ by Thomas Mann. The Gestapo noted in a report the comment that the lecture ‘was somewhat pure science’. Jewish organizations operating in Wilhelmshaven in the early years of the Nazi regime included – apart from the community itself – the Central Association of German Citizens of Jewish Faith (CV), the ‪Zionist Federation of Germany‬ – ‪Zionistische Vereinigung für Deutschland‬ (ZVfD) and the Reich Federation of Jewish Front Soldiers – Reichsbund Jüdischer Frontsoldaten (RjF). A meeting convened by the local branch of ‘ZVfD’ in the Synagogue classroom in October 1934 was attended by twenty people. The February 1935 meeting of the regional branch of ‘CV’ was attended by 110 people. With the publication of the Nüremberg Laws there was also a resurgence of the Jewish emigration movement. Early in 1936 the rest of the Bein family went to Hamburg (qv), en route to London and the Wallheimer garment piecework and tailoring store was transferred into ‘Aryan’ hands. [Added: to Kaufhaus Bartsch–v.d. Brelie] Gottlieb Magnus, the Jewish engineer was fired from the shipyard in 1935 despite his glorious military past and moved with his wife and daughter to Hamburg. In 1936 there were still 120 Jews in Wilhelmshaven–Rüstringen, less than two–thirds of the Jewish population in June 1933. On 1st April 1937 the city of Wilhelmshaven was created as part of the State of Oldenburg, finally merging the Jews and Wilhelmshaven and Rüstringen into one community, under the authority of the State of Oldenburg.

The expulsion of Polish Jews from the Reich in October 1938 before the ‘Kristallnacht’ pogrom included the couple Leo & Lotte Hirschberg and their daughter, Lucie. Major roles in organizing the pogrom in Wilhelmshaven were played by Johannes Hintz, the SA commander, Kirschner, the Gestapo officer, Ernst Meyer, the Nazi party district chief and Gunkel from the Nazi Motor Corps – Nationalsozialistisches Kraftfahrkorps (NSKK). On the evening of 9th November, 1938 after the formal commemoration of the Nazi [Added: Beer Hall] Putsch of 1923 the four converged to get the orders for the operation from Hintz. At midnight flames rose from the synagogue. After firefighters had managed to extinguish the fire, the next day the order was given to re–ignite the fire, until the synagogue was completely destroyed. In April 1939, the courts transferred all that remained of the synagogue to the Reich for 6848 RM.

Alongside the events at the synagogue on the evening of November 9th, the SA commander Hintz ordered a special police unit to arrest Jewish residents, including women and children and to destroy Jewish property. On the morning after police released the women and children. On 11th November 34 Jewish men who remained in detention were marched to the train station. They were initially transferred to Oldenburg (qv) and from there to Sachsenhausen concentration camp from where they were released only after six weeks. On the night of 9–10th November SA men ransacked the Jewish stores. Most of the stolen goods were transferred the next day to the National Socialist People's Welfare Organization – Nationalsozialistische Volkswohlfahrt (NSV).

By May 1939, 75 Jews remained, more than half aged 50 and over. Most of them were included in the forced removal of the Ostfriesland and Oldenburg Jews in the first months of 1940. In May 1941, the octogenarian Simon Hess committed suicide and in February 1945 two Jewish women married to ‘Aryans’ were deported to Theresienstadt . In the absence of thorough research on the subject, there is no exact data on the final fate of the Jews of Wilhelmshaven–Rüstringen in the Nazi period. In 1962 the Wilhelmshaven municipality prepared a partial list of 146 Jewish residents. 54 names were identified as having perished in the Holocaust. Presumably the actual number of victims was greater. Among the victims were the chairman of the Jewish Community in Wilhelmshaven, Jonas Frankel and his wife, engineer Gottlieb Magnus and his wife and daughter. 37 of those listed managed to get to safety in England (13), Argentina (7), United States (7), South Africa (3), Uruguay (3), Shanghai (2), Israel (1) and Switzerland (1).

Towards the end of the war a concentration camp was established at Alter Banter Weg in Wilhelmshaven as a satellite of the Neuengamme camp. Some 1,200 male prisoners were selected from the Neuengamme main camp to perform heavy physical labour at the German navy shipyards and to carry out clearance work. [Original amended.] These included one hundred Jews from Hungary many of whom were killed.

 

After the War

A few Jews were left in Wilhelmshaven after 1945, including an elderly woman released from Theresienstadt and Siegfried Berliner, a member of the Communist party and its representative on the city council from 1947.

Those involved in the ‘Kristallnacht’ riots were sentenced: Ernst Meyer, district commander of the Nazi party, two years in prison and Gunkel of the Nazi Motor Corps (NSKK), sixteen and a half months in prison for their part in the synagogue arson. In another trial, Gunkel was accused of taking part in the deportation of Jews and was sentenced to nine months in prison. Proceedings against the others involved had been suspended at the outset. A memorial to the Jews of the community was dedicated on 10th November 1980 at the place where the synagogue stood.

 

Note: [ ] denotes additions to the original made by Michael Teper.


Archives:
Yad Vashem Archives: JM/2884; JM/2949; TR–10/441
CZA: 1/336 A 142/88/5; KKL.
Archive ‘Osoby’, Moscow: 721/1–231, 232 485,
Microfilms CAHJP: 2/8706 HM; 2/8699 HM.
Pinkas Hakehillot Germania: Written List of Wilhelmshaven Jews produced by the Municipality, 08/22/1960, 12/04/1962.
BA Berlin: R 8150 Nr. 33.
GStA Berlin: Rep. 90 P.

Newspapers:
IFB 15.8.1900; 26.5.1904; 1.12.1904; 21.11.1913; 2.7.1914; 3.9.1914; 26.8.1915; 16.9.1915; 9.3.1916; 25.10.1917; 9.1.1919; 8.10.1919; 12.2 0.1920; 11.03.1920; 05.20.1020, 16.12.1920, 01.13.1921, 26.04.1922, 10.19.1922, 16.12.1926, 04.01.1934.
Isr. 19.11.1903, pp. 2025–2026; 02.06.1914, p. 12; 09.02.1915. p. 7, 27.1.1927, p. 11.
J.Chr. 16.08.1935, p.13, 18.10.1935, p.19, 06.26.1936, p. 26, 16.10.1936, p. 16.
JP 03.27.1902, p. 124.
JR 22.12.1915, p. 33, 13.08.1935, p. 9; 28.1.1936, p.12; 19.6.1936, p. 4.
MVAA 24.1.1920, p. 16, 26.04.1922, p. 56.

Books and Articles:
Appelius Stefan & Feuerlohn Bernd, Die braune Stadt am Meer. Wilhelmshavens Weg in die Diktatur, Hamburg 1985.
Büsing Hartmut, … so viel unnennbare Leiden erduldet. Zur Geschichte der Rüstringer und Wilhelmshavener Juden (Historischer Arbeitskreis des Deutschen Gewerkschaftsbundes, Wilhelmshaven, 2), Wilhelmshaven 1986.
Credé Norbert, ‘Die Synagoge in Wilhelmshaven’, Die Synagogen des Oldenburger Landes (Oldenburger Studien, 29), ed. Enno Meyer, Oldenburg 1988, pp 207–224.
Manns Hergen, Das Scheitern der Weimarer Republik und die nationalsozialistische Machtübernahme in Wilhelmshaven–Riistingen: zwei Städte im Schatten der Reichsmarine (Oldenburger Studien, 42), Oldenburg 1998.
Murken Theodor, ‘Wilhelmshavens “Kristallnacht”. Die Rolle der Juden in der Geschichte der Jadestädte’, Heimat am Meer Wilhelmshavener Zeitung, 22, 28.10.1978.

 

The Synagogue of Wilhelmshaven. Inaugurated in 1915
(Photo Archive Yad Vashem)

 

Wilhelmshaven – Synagogenplatz. Memorial dedicated 10th November 1980

 


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