“Gdansk” - Encyclopedia of Jewish
Communities in Poland, Volume VI

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Translation of “Gdansk” chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Polin

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This is a translation from: Pinkas Hakehillot Polin:
Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities, Poland, Volume VI, pages 33-42,
published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem

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[Pages 33-42]

Gdańsk (Danzig)

(A Free City in the Region of Pomerania in the period between the two World Wars)

Translated by David Lewin, with proofreading by Tamar Amit,
and assistance from Ada Holtzman and Logan Kleinwaks



Year Total
1570 40,000  
1817 48,000  
1869 89,300  
1880 90,000  
1910 2,717
1924 9,239
1929 10,448
1937 12,000
1939 449,990 1,666

Danzig is first mentioned as a town settlement on the shores of the Baltic Sea in written sources dating back to 997. In 1148, it is mentioned in documents as the capital city of the Pomeranian Princedom, with a port having a great deal of activity of sailing vessels. From an administrative point of view, Danzig belonged to the Quioric[?] diocese, which ruled over wide areas of Pomerania, as far as the Baltic Sea. The population of Danzig was employed in fishing, amber processing, metal extraction, and in crafts such as metalworking, shoemaking etc. The town was surrounded by a wall and its population in that year was 250 families. Poland's feudal division in the 12th century assisted the development of Danzig as an independent port city. During the period of the Pomeranian Prince Œwiętopełk (1215 – 1266), Danzig obtained privileges of a city in accordance with the Magdeburg Law. In 1306, Władysław Łokietek annexed Danzig to Poland that was united under his reign for a long period of feudal divisions. A few years thereafter, in 1309, Danzig was conquered by the crusader knights. The new rulers attracted settlers from Germany and the town enjoyed a period of economic prosperity. In 1361, Danzig became a member of the Hanseatic League, and raised as a maritime force and a center of commerce. During the war which broke out between Poland and the crusader knights, Danzig secretly supported the Polish Kingdom, and in 1454 placed itself under it's protectorate. Based on the privileges from King Kazimierz IV, Danzig enjoyed a semi-independent position – it dispatched ambassadors to foreign countries, conducted wars between the years 1523 to 1557 as a member of the Hanseatic League, joined the Reformation movement, and became a Protestant town in Catholic Poland. The town experienced an economic and cultural prosperity from the second half of the 15th century up to the first half of the 17th century. Danzig was one of the four most important of the Hanseatic cities providing the main export port, as well as a commercial center for the wheat and timber of Poland and Latvia. But it was not only the commerce and the port that contributed to its economic power; the town had artisans that worked in the processing of iron, which was produced in Sweden, provided workshops and shipyards, and became known throughout Europe as a center for arts and crafts.

During the 16th and 17th centuries, it was common for disputes to break out between the strong and flowering city and the Kingdom of Poland, whose rulers strove to strengthen the position of their Kingdom on the Baltic Sea, and to build their own strong fleet. Despite these disputes, Danzig kept its alliance with the Polish Kingdom, and during the Swedish wars, fought on the Polish side. The Swedes laid a siege on Danzig, and their invasion caused a break in the commercial contacts it had enjoyed in the Baltic Sea, deteriorating its economic position. An additional cause for the economic deterioration of Danzig was the major crisis of the feudal markets in Poland, and the destruction meted out to Poland as a result of the many wars in which it participated. The Polish wheat export diminished steeply and the export of timber from Latvia was almost entirely halted, bringing about the closure of many workshops in Danzig.

In 1733, there was a struggle about the choice of a new King for Poland; the population of Danzig supported the majority's candidate, Stanisław Leszczyński, against the minority candidate, who was supported by the Polish and Russian estate owners (the “Schlachta”).

From the time of its establishment, Danzig enjoyed three periods of economic and cultural growth – the first during the Crusader rule and two more under the Polish rule. The second period under the Polish Kingdom continued for 318 years from 1454 until 1772 – the year in which Poland was partitioned for the first time, and Danzig was separated from her. During the second Polish partition in 1793, the city was annexed to Prussia. According to the Tilsit treaty of 1807, Napoleon made Danzig a free city, under the joint protection of Prussia and of “the Princedom of Warsaw.” In 1815, the Vienna Congress decided to return the city to Prussia despite the objection of its citizens.

During the first half of the 19th century, Danzig experienced an economic stall, but, from the middle of that century, there was a renewed awakening as a result of the laying of railway lines from Danzig to several of the Posen Principalities and the introduction of an efficient internal transport system. In the port, a Royal shipyard was established, as well as several other shipyards and additional new industrial factories. The population also grew rapidly; in 1880, Danzig had a population of more than 109,000 inhabitants.

At the end of the First World War, in accordance with the Treaty of Versailles, Danzig was declared to be a Free State under the auspices of the League of Nations, and a representative of the League, entitled “High Commissioner,” was stationed there. Generally, the Commissioner was a citizen of a neutral country. He was responsibility for the upholding of the constitution and also acted as an arbiter and mediator between Poland and the elected representative body of Danzig (Citizens' Council). In cases where there was a dispute, the High Commissioner acted as the superior judge, despite the fact that, in practice, he had no power of enforcement; there was no set procedure for a case where one of the sides would refuse to follow his instructions.

The Citizens' Council, elected for a period of four years in a system of Proportional Representation, was the city's Parliament. It elected the City's government, titled “Senate,” and was headed by a President. In order to change the constitution, a majority of two thirds was required. Even the Nazis did not interfere with this structure for as long as the League of Nations was still strong, despite the fact that it limited their freedom of action in the city. From a political point of view, Danzig was a free city with autonomy to deal with its interests as it wished; only the foreign policy was in the hands of the Polish government. From an economic point of view, Danzig was part of the Polish customs area, and Poland had the right to use its port.

From the late 1920s, the influence of the Nazi party over the city's institutions grew, and, in the 1930s, it established a majority in all of these institutions. In 1937, the Nazis succeeded to alter the city's Constitution according to their will, without any reaction from the Polish government or the League of Nations. In practice, the Nazis obtained a total hold over the city even before the outbreak of the Second World War.

On 1st September 1939, the Nazis invaded Poland, and, on that same day, occupied Danzig.

The Jews until the end of the First World War

Until the middle of the 15th century, Danzig was closed to the Jews in accordance with the laws of the Crusaders. Despite this, and despite the meticulous upholding of their rules and regulations, towards the end of their reign, the town was visited by Jewish merchants who carried out important business there. In 1454, Danzig became a Polish city and subject to the Privileges of King Kazimierz IV Jagiellon, which allowed the Jews to trade in the city and to participate in the fairs there. Because of the strong opposition by the city's inhabitants, the Jews did not settle there but they did take part in its commercial activities, the markets and the port. Jewish merchants came to Danzig from cities such as Kraków, Poznań, Toruń, Lublin, and even Lwów; however, they were prohibited from staying overnight in the city and for that reason they found secret accommodations in neighboring settlements, despite the fact that it was also prohibited. The Jewish merchants made efforts to prove to the city authorities that their stay in the city would be of benefit, but they did not succeed in having the sleeping prohibition overturned.

In the 16th and 17th centuries, a period during which Poland was an important exporter of agricultural products, the commercial involvement of the Jews grew greatly. A Jewish merchant of that period, Reuben Dekhoka, wrote a detailed description of the Jewish commercial activity. According to his description, the most important of the Jewish merchants dealt with the export of grain and timber. Jewish merchants from Kraków, Poznań, and Lublin complained to King Zygmunt III about the fact that the local authority was conspiring against them and preventing them from carrying out proper trade. In 1616, the King instructed the cancellation of the restrictions and the removal of obstacles which hindered the Jewish merchants, but only in 1619 were they permitted to stay in the city for three consecutive days after the termination of the trade fair, and in 1620 they were permitted to a remain a further day, the fourth, in the settlements adjacent to the city which, in time, had become an integral part of the city itself.

In some of these adjacent settlements, Jewish communities developed over time, which later on became part of the Danzig congregations. The wealthiest congregation was from the community of Altschottland, having 46 members in 1757. The largest of these was the congregation of Langfuhr. During the Polish reign, Langfuhr belonged to the Polish nobleman Wrzeszczewo[?]. Later on it passed into the hands of the nobleman Langfuhr and then to Count Weiher, who allowed the Jews to settle in his estates. The congregation of Langfuhr used to accommodate the Jewish merchants who came to Danzig to conduct their business, and these erected a synagogue of their own there. In 1776, Count Weiher sold Wrzeszczewo-Langfuhr to the King of Prussia, Friedrich the Great, and the Jews were compelled to leave.

In the meantime, the congregation of Altschottland had grown and established itself, absorbing several of the Jewish merchants – in particular, those trading in grain and timber, who wanted to live as near as possible to the port. In 1777, the congregation of Altschottland built a synagogue and a hospital where two nurses and two Jewish doctors were employed: Phoebus, the son of the renowned merchant Meshullam of Prague, and another doctor. Rabbi Elchanan, formerly the Rabbi of Fordon, acted as the Rabbi of Altschottland at that time. From 1850, the Rabbi was Dr. Abraham Stein, who later on became the first Rabbi of the united congregation.

Rabbi Abraham HaCohen, composer of “Uri Ve'Yish'ee,” officiated in Danzig in 1741. After him Rabbi Meir Posner, author of “Beit Meir,” officiated. In 1837, Rabbi Israel Lipschits, author of the renowned Mishnayot “Tiferet Israel,” became the Rabbi of Danzig. Rabbi Lipschits raised the standing of the Danzig congregation in the Jewish world.

In 1772, with the first partition of Poland, Altschottland, Langfuhr, and Weinberg became part of Prussia, and, in 1793, Danzig was also annexed to Prussia.

The early years under Prussian reign were difficult for the Jews of Danzig. In the city itself, their number was small, and most of them continued to live in the suburbs. Only a small number of the Danzig Jews were recognized as “protected Jews” – most of them were compelled to accept the status of “tolerated Jews.” Both these groups carried a heavy burden of taxation, and were subject to economic restrictions.

At the beginning of the 19th century, a wide-ranging movement of Jewish settlement started in the whole of the Danzig area. Most of the arrivals were involved in trade. After the middle of the century, a stream of settlers and Jewish traders from the Russian empire also began to settle in Danzig. The Russian Jews created a separate congregation, which had close to 300 members. The city authorities intended to expel the Russian Jews, but temporarily rescinded this as a consequence of the strong resistance of the established Jews, whose standing in the second half of the 19th century was strong, thanks to their important contribution to the development of the city and the port.

In the middle years of the 19th century, a struggle for some sort of emancipation of the Jews arose in Prussia, a struggle in which the Danzig Jews took an active part. Already in the years 1850 – 1852, Jews participated in the cultural life of the city, filled managerial positions in civic life, were elected as members of the City Council and its Government, and also became executives of the city's merchants Guild. The change in their civic and social standing also brought about far reaching changes in their way of life, in their ambitions, and in their world outlook. With that, differences became evident among the Jews themselves by measure of their integration with the general population. There were some whose integration was faster and more complete than that of the others. The minority objected to any integration with non-Jews as a matter of principle.

Five separate congregations existed in Danzig, one beside the other – three established ones that grew in the suburbs, and two newer ones. Their separate existence was contrary to the Prussian law of 1847, according to which the Jews were compelled to organize themselves in a single congregation per city. Despite that fact, the congregations in Danzig were adamant in their refusal to unite, and, in 1853, the city authorities temporarily waved this demand, even though it was evident that the unification would eventually come to be. The basis of these separate congregations in Danzig was not territorial, but rather social and historical. The Orthodox were fearful of religious change and the spirit of Reform, as was the custom in Prussian congregations, and the communal leaders were fearful of loosing their positions. In contrast to this, the leading congregation was working towards unification, not only because it wanted to obey the law, but also, according to its leaders, out of consideration for the common good, and, above all, in order to advance the subjects of Education, Charity and Welfare.

Altschottland congregation's success in deferring the expulsion of the 300 Russian Jews kindled the hope in the leaders of the congregation that a unification of the five congregations would increase the power of the Jews in similar future conflicts. The discussions about unification of the congregations lasted for three years from 1878 to 1881. In February 1883, elections were held for the communal institutions of the united congregation. In 1885, two years after the unification, the German Minister of the Interior repeated the order for the expulsion of the Russian Jews from Danzig, but the congregation opposed this vehemently and succeeded in obtaining support of German public bodies, who argued that the Jewish merchants including those who had come from Russia were supporting the economy of the city. The Danzig Representatives in the Prussian Reichstag and the Liberal delegate Rickert denounced the expulsion order, and denied the claim of the authorities that the Jews were a negative influence. Also, the regional West Prussian ruler remonstrated the Interior Minister about the expulsion order and acted towards its annulment, and even the Danzig chamber of commerce objected to it. The protest actions against the expulsion did eventually succeed in a way and it was decreed that only the poorest of the community would be expelled – peddlers, small shopkeepers, and owners of small workshops. The congregation assisted these to immigrate to the United States.

The United congregation consisted of groups varying one from the other in their historical background and customs. The Jews from Russia were known for their pedantic detail in the keeping of religious laws, and belonged to the orthodox camp. In contrast, the other Altschottland Jews were adherents of the Enlightenment movement and the Liberal stream in Judaism. The Jews of Danzig did not take an active part in the struggle between the Reformers and the Orthodox, but they did enact a number of damping rules in the rituals and in the synagogue prayer books, in accordance with the outlook of Ludwig Philippson, the editor of the publication “Allgemeine Zeitung des Judentums” [“General Newspaper of Judaism”], the voice of the Liberal Jews in Germany. But despite the difficulties and the differences of outlook, the unification did contribute to the awakening of community life. In 1887, the united community built a new and spacious synagogue.

The Rabbi at that time, Dr. Abraham Stein, worked vigorously to bring about the unification. His successor, Dr. Cossman Werner, a graduate of the conservative Rabbinic school in Breslau, objected to far-reaching changes in the order of prayer and its liturgy, but did agree to the playing of an organ in synagogue, and to the women's choir which accompanied the services. Reciprocal to this, the propagators of reform rescinded their demands to drop the N'eila [closing] prayer on the Day of Atonement. The United Danzig congregation discontinued the use of separates prayer houses, apart from the Orthodox synagogue. From 1896, Rabbi Dr. Louis Blumenthal officiated in Danzig. In 1900, the Liberal Dr. Max Freudenthal came in his place. His successor in office (from 1908) was the Rabbi Dr. Robert Kaelter.

In the main, people of standing and substance were elected to important posts in the Jewish community. The first head of the united congregation was Gustav Davidson, the former head of the Altschottland community and one of the pioneers of industry in the city. He was a member of the management in several large manufacturing concerns, and in philanthropic non-Jewish organizations, and represented the Liberal “Freedom party” in the city's institutions and of the united congregation. The other members of the committee were also primarily major merchants, industrialists, and self-employed professionals. Among the new social and welfare organizations established in Danzig towards the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, was a branch of Bnai Brith (established in 1900). It operated in the educational and cultural spheres, and offered assistance to a wide-range of needy adults and youth. In 1899, a branch of the society “History of the people of Israel and its literature” was established in Danzig with 120, and operated in the city until the 1920s. Many of the enlightened Jews objected to the operation of the branch, seeing it as an obstacle to the integration of the Jews of Danzig in the general cultural.

Danzig was known as a liberal city in character, and, amongst its Jewish and non-Jewish inhabitants, relations of trust and friendships were created. The Liberal leader, Dr Heinrich Rickert, the Danzig representative to the German Reichstag in the 80s and 90s, was known as a friend of the Jews and defended them with courage. The city elders and members of his party recognized the large contribution of the wealthy and enlightened Jews towards the development of the city and its port. During the latter part of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, most inhabitants of Danzig were members or supporters of the Liberal party.

The liberal environment that existed in the city moved the Jews to believe that anti-Semitism had no hold, in the noble circles or among the working class in Danzig and environs. And yet, towards the end of the 19th century, anti-Semitic riots broke out in the surrounding villages. The fermenting anti-Semitism was not restricted to the farmers; among the leaders of those inciting the attacks were Estate owners, civil servants, and religious leaders. The government, assisted by a military force, reacted quickly and with determination, to stop the riots and to return order. At the decline of these riots, the Jews created, in 1898, a new fund and a society with the purpose of fighting anti-Semitism. One of the central aims of this was the political struggle against anti-Semitic candidates for the Reichstag. The Bnai Brith branch, established in Danzig in 1900, also took part in the fight against anti-Semitism, and even assisted in the creation of a separate organization of Jewish commercial clerks, after the anti-Semites managed to get a commanding position in the general commercial clerks union.

The Zionist movement was developed later in Danzig than in the majority of the other West Prussian communities. The initial striving in this direction met with fierce opposition. Thus, for example, the objectors argued that Zionism distorted the religious destiny of the Jews, and that it was nothing other than an illusion whose chances of being actualized were negligible. The majority of the Rabbis also objected to Zionism, as they saw in it a cause which encouraged anti-Semitism. In July 1897, the Rabbis of Germany published a manifest that stated amongst others: “Zionism is likely to cause damage to the Jews as it gives validity to anti-Semitic actions,” and it continued to bring explanations and examples to explain this. Rabbi Abraham Stein, the first Rabbi of the Danzig united congregation, also signed this Declaration, and only a Rabbi Selig Gronemann from Hanover, formerly a Rabbi in one of the five Danzig congregations, objected publicly to this document.

Only a few participated in the first Zionist assembly in Danzig, which took place in 1902, and the assemblies thereafter also did not attract a large public. Among the leaders of the objectors to Zionism were the head of the congregation, Davidson, and members of the Congregational Council. Despite this, the few Zionists created a small Zionist cell (30 members), with J. Nermensohn[?] as the leader. The leaders of the community argued that there was not a single Jew amongst the leaders of the Zionists whose origin was in Danzig, and that all of them originated in Russia – an argument in which there was more than just a hint of truth. The Zionist branch in Danzig developed slowly. In 1908/9, the Zionists of Danzig purchased only 17 Zionist Federation “Shekels,” in 1910, 36 “Shekels,” and, in 1911, 55 “Shekels.” By 1912, however, the Zionists in Danzig already had a substantial footing, and, in the following years, they managed to attract the Jewish youth movements to the Zionist vision. Also, Dr. Kaelter, the Rabbi of the congregation in the years 1907 to 1924, had a friendly disposition towards the Zionist activities, and encouraged the congregation to support the Zionists funds – “Ha Keren Ha Kayemet” [Jewish National fund] and “Keren Hayesod” [Foundation Fund]. Despite this, the majority of the Jewish population in the city related with reservations to the Zionist movement, especially out of fear that the anti-Semitic circles would demand to rescind the emancipation of the secular Jews, but also because most of the Zionist activists originated in Russia. Matters got so far that the Liberals called to revoke the right of the Russian immigrants to participate in the elections for the Jewish and the Civic institutions.

The internal struggle between the Zionists and their objectors that on the one hand, deteriorated a year or two before the outbreak of the First World War, brought to life on the other hand, a spur of activity in social and political organizations, and youth movements, and involved wide circles among the Jews. Rabbi Dr. Kaelter expressed reliably the liberals' and their followers stands: “were it not for our wholehearted belonging to our motherland (Germany) we would not be entitled to demand that our civil standing will remain in force. We are Germans, according to our tongue, our customs and innermost feelings”. The liberals' and their followers were the majority amongst the Danzig congregation.

On the eve of the First World War, the Danzig congregation numbered close to 2,500 individuals. From the point of view of its human and social structure, it was similar to other congregations in the Poznań principality. Most of the breadwinners were shopkeepers, traders, and artisans – a part of the middle class. There were amongst them many professionals – doctors, lawyers and teachers – some of whom moved to other towns in central and western Germany as time passed. The number of manufacturers, bankers, and large merchants was not very large at that time, and there were virtually no Jewish labourers in existence. To this composition there was an added “flavor” by the Russian immigrants that settled in Danzig in the second half of the 19th century. These were traders and worked in the export of wheat and timber.

With the outbreak of the First World War, the Jews of Danzig were swept, as were the Jews in Germany, in a wave of patriotic enthusiasm. Many young Jews enlisted into the German army and fought at the front, and the congregation was also harnessed to the war effort and assisted to the full extent of its ability. With that, even during this difficult period, the Danzig Jews did not neglect their brothers who were in need. Close to the city of Danzig was a prisoner of war camp in with prisoners who were Jews that served in the Russian army. Rabbi Kaelter turned to the authorities and attempted to convince them that they should not treat the Jewish prisoners as they would enemies, and to allow the members of the community to employ them. He promised that the local Jews would vouch for them, and that they would not escape. At the beginning, 150 prisoners were allowed to exit of the camp, and later their numbers grew up to 250. The Bnai Brith branch in Danzig supplied them with civilian clothing, and they were employed in a variety of jobs. In practice, Germany also profited from this, because these prisoners worked in factories and workshops that manufactured goods for the German army.

But all the patriotic enthusiasm that the Danzig Jews exhibited – their devoted service in the German army, their large number of casualties and wounded, and the numerous citations and commendation for bravery which they earned – did not stop the wave of anti-Semitism which flooded the Danzig area after the war.

The Jews between the two world wars

At the end of the First World War, the statute of Danzig was decided anew in accordance with the Versailles Treaty, and it became a Free State, under the auspices of the League of Nations. The citizens of the European countries were entitled to enter Danzig without any special visas. Accordingly, Jewish refugees from Russia and immigrants from Poland could come freely and settle there. The new Jewish settlers quickly established themselves in the local economy, and, by 1935, even filled important civil positions in the spheres of law, politics, and culture. Also in Danzig, as in the Weimar Republic, a Jew participated in the drafting of the new constitution of the city – the Jewish jurist Felix Fabian, a functionary and member of the Liberal party. Fabian was elected to represent his party in the Senate of Danzig, declined the position, with the argument that his function as the chairman of the congregation (in the years 1921 to 1931) demanded all his time. In economic circles, Dr. Curt Nawratzki, the founder of a large commercial company for marine transportation that brought considerable profits to the port of Danzig, stood out. The government of Danzig (the Senate) appointed Dr. Nawratzki to be in charge of (the Consul for) the commercial activities of the city. Other Jews carried ministerial positions. The Senator J. Jewelowski, owner of large manufacturing plants for timber processing, was known for his Liberal outlook and was well received in the political circles of Danzig. Jewelowski continued with his ministerial functions even after 1933, when there was already a majority to the right-wing coalition in the Danzig Senate. Another Jewish senator, the Social Democrat jurist Dr. Kamnitzer, served in the First World War in the German army and was severely wounded. In 1921, he was elected as a District Judge. He also officiated in the Senate, for short intervals, and, similar to Jewelowski, filled functions in the economic circles and the represented the local commerce towards foreign entities, achieving comfortable loans and other important achievements. The main achievement of Dr. Kamnitzer was the cancellation of war reparations which were imposed on Danzig by the Allies because the city had been part of the German empire in the past.

As said, the majority of the Danzig Jews after 1921 were refugees and migrants from Eastern Europe. These Jews continued here with their former occupations; many of them were traders and businesspeople also at their original locations, but in Danzig they were able to develop new enterprises. Thanks to them, the port developed drastically, and became an important transit port for international trade. In time, they established a considerable economic and political power in the city. Jews were also pioneers in the creation of general stores in the town.

In contrast to this, they were not given any access into the metal production and ship building, which had developed in the city since the second half of the 19th century. The Jewish industrialists in Danzig concentrated primarily on light industry, with focus on Amber and tobacco processing. Even after the government made tobacco processing a state monopoly, the Jews continued to manage the processing plants. Also, many of the manufacturers of foodstuffs in Danzig, alongside the Poles, were Jews.

Jewish banking developed only after Danzig became a Free State. Before that, it appears that only one Jewish bank operated there. In 1923, the “Jewish Emigration Bank” was established. In that period, the Jews filled an important position in the development of banking in Danzig, both as the bank owners and managers.

The number of professionals amongst the Jews of Danzig before the First World War was not large, but, after Danzig became a Free State, their number grew considerably. In 1925, Jewish lawyers constituted one-third of all the lawyers in the city, and the ratio of Jewish doctors and dentists was even greater.

Jews from Poland that settled in Danzig and were employed in different occupations, such as at the tanning, tailoring and carpentry – traditional Jewish occupations. In comparison to their brothers in other occupations, it was difficult for the artisans to earn their living, because they had to compete not only with their Polish competitors and with the economic downturn, but also with the alienation of the authorities. Many of them required assistance from the Jewish social institutions, but the main difficulty which they encountered was the requirement to obtain work permits from the authorities, who heaped many obstacles on them, and often refused to give them a permit altogether. As a result, many of them were forced to work illegally, in cellars and other hidden locations, and it is obvious that their earnings were very low.

The refugees and immigrants who settled in Danzig after the war, brought to the community demands to receive Orthodox religious services. The leaders of the community, who had the unity of the community at the top of their interests, responded to some of these demands, and appointed as Dayan the Orthodox Rabbi Jacob Sagalowitsch. The small Orthodox faction “Agudat Israel” even had a delegate to the representative committee who cooperated with the Liberal majority. The religious life of the Orthodox centered on the synagogue in their locality. The congregational committee established two Torah-schools in which the children had religious studies after their daily lessons in the secular schools.

The Jews of Danzig were aware of the spreading anti-Semitism in Danzig and its environs. Already in October 1920, even before Danzig was declared a Free City, the Committee for Jewish Matters sent a memorandum to the League of Nations in which they demanded that the future government to be established in the city be forced to recognize the rights of the Jewish inhabitants, including the refugees and immigrants. The League of Nations acceded to the Committee with some exceptions and limitations. The constitution of the Free State enabled the Jews of Danzig to be involved as citizens and to fight the anti-Semitism, but with the increase in the hold of the Nazi party in the 1930s, the anti-Semitic trend gained the upper hand in the city. In the first years, there was cooperation between the city police and the Jewish representatives in all that concerned their personnel safety and their rights.

Many Jews were injured in the course of the bloody collisions between the left-wing parties and the Nazis which erupted in the city in 1931. The police opened an investigation, and even detained some Nazis who had attacked Jews, but, from that time on, the Union of Liberal Jews, which had a large membership in Danzig, took upon itself to deal with the complaints of the Jewish population in matters of anti-Semitic aggression. As the Nazi power increased, cooperation was created between the Liberals and the Zionists, whose numbers in the city grew in the 1930s. The leaders of the community and the Liberal Union tried to fight together against the attacks of the Nazis, with judicial means as well and took upon themselves the outlook of the city - the rule of the law must prevail. The Commissioner of the League of Nations encouraged the Jewish leadership to turn with their complaints in every case where the law was broken and Jews were attacked, to the appropriate institutions of the League of Nations, and the Social-Democrat opposition also acted the same.

From the early years of Danzig as a Free City, which is before 1933, the Zionist youth movements developed vibrant activity, and organized many fundraising events towards Zionist objectives. In 1922, for example, 125 pounds Sterling were sent from Danzig to the Zionists Federation in London, and, in 1923, 180,000 Marks were sent. Also, the Central Committees of the Zionist Federation in Warsaw and Lwów used to channel their income from the sale of the Zionist “Shekel” via the banks of Danzig, which was, in practice, the centre of Zionist activity for the whole of Europe. By the end of 1924, the headquarters of the World Union of the Zionist Socialist Party was also established there, later to be transferred to Berlin. David Ben Gurion and Zeev Jabotinsky visited Danzig in preparation of the 18th Zionist Congress, which took place in 1933.

As previously said, the majority of the youth movements in Danzig were Zionist, but “Comrades” (Friends), the first Jewish youth movement founded there, was far from Zionism. This was a Jewish-German youth movement with a deep-seated affinity to German nationalism and to the Jewish religion, which saw in the Religion the essence of Judaism, and enjoyed wide support among the liberal Jews in Danzig. Apart from this movement, another non-Zionist Jewish youth movement active in Danzig – “The Young Jewish Alliance,” which promoted the continued Jewish existence in the Diaspora. According to its outlook, Jewish nationalism was spiritual-cultural in its consistency, and for that reason the Jews did not require a territory. The “Alliance” supported the idea of building in Israel one of the Jewish centres, but not the most important of these, and it also participated in Zionist fundraising. The number of its members in Danzig reached about 150. The outlook of this movement was influenced by the opinions of the historian Simon Dubnov, and, to some extent, also by the outlook of Martin Buber.

In 1924, a cell of the “HaShomer Hazair” [“The Young Guard”] was formed, and, at about the same time, there was also established the pioneer movement “Blau-Weiss” [“Blue-White”]. These two movements, which were ideologically close to one another, united in 1926. “Yehuda Hatzair” [“Young Judah”] and “Hechalutz” [“The Pioneer”] were also active in Danzig. The pioneering movements belonged to the Zionist-Socialist camp. In 1930, a cell of the revisionists' movement “Beitar” was established in Danzig.

The Zionist activity in Danzig grew in the 1930s. One of the reasons for this was the change in the demographic structure of the community, with the arrival of the new Jews from smaller communities in the area and from Poland. The increase in anti-Semitic incitement and the numerous attacks on Jews also influenced this increase. More Zionist representatives were voted into the city's institutions in the presence of the increasing anti-Semitism, and the liberal Jews, who continued to believe in emancipation and to struggle in its cause, suffered a defeat. During this period, several of the prominent activists, who were responsible for the liberal education and who had soaked up the German culture, left the Jewish-Liberal camp; a small number of them joined various streams of the Zionist movement. Their disillusionment with Liberalism brought them to a total rejection of the long and deeply held beliefs – some of them became Zionist leaders and even attempted to obtain for themselves a standing in the community with their new outlook. However, the majority of them took on extremist positions, which made cooperation between them and the Liberal members difficult, damaging the unity of the community, precisely in the days in which the Jews desperately needed to unite all their forces in the struggle against the Nazis. The most moderate amongst the new Zionist leaders, Dr. Joseph Segal, was, in fact, one of the immigrants. Dr. Segal succeeded in convincing his Zionist associates to cooperate with the Liberals in the common struggle, and even obtained an agreement with them, according to which the leadership of the community as well as the decisions about forms of worship in the synagogues would be by them, whilst the Zionists would have the responsibility for the education curriculum in the community and the various funds. Alas, this agreement held only for a short period, and, soon the struggles between the two camps started anew.

The Zionists won with an impressive representation in the 1931 elections for the leadership of the community and the leadership of the city: The “Eretz Israel Ovedet” [“Working Land of Israel“] list won with 247 votes, the revisionists received 191, and the joint list of the “Mizrachi” and the “general Zionists” obtained 78 votes. All the Zionist lists together received 516 votes. In the 1933 elections, which took place after the victory of the Nazis in the elections for the institutions of the “Free City,” the number of supporters of the Zionist lists grew even further: 716 people voted for the Zionist-Socialist list, 246 supported the revisionists, 116 voted for the “general Zionists,” 31 voted for “Mizrahi,” and, altogether, the Zionist lists obtained 1,109 votes.

The communal activists, in particular the chairman, fulfilled their tasks without a salary; Members of the communal management were wealthy, honored individuals – big merchants, jurists, bankers, and doctors. Most of the community income came from payments for religious services such as Kosher slaughter, the sale of seats at the synagogue, burial, and also from property and taxes. In 1925, the annual budget of the Danzig community was 294,000 gulden; in 1926/7 it was 269,000 gulden; in 1927/8 it was 275,000 gulden; in 1930 it was 310,000 gulden; in 1931/2, 300,000 gulden; and, in 1933, 245,000 gulden. The responsibility of paying communal taxes rested on all the Jews who were citizens of Danzig and who paid income tax to the government. The expenses of the community were many and varied, and included salaries for the community clerks and various religious services. Religious education for the Jewish students was paid out of the city's funds, but the community also added substantial sums in order to cover the difference between the hours authorized by the city and the hours and the actual hours taught. Until 1928, the teaching curriculum was laid down by Rabbis and teachers on the basis of the Liberal outlook, but, from then on, the Zionist teachers and Orthodox Rabbis were also involved. In 1927, a new liberal Rabbi, Dr. Ivan Grün from Frankfurt on the Oder, was elected to replace Dr. Kaelter.

The Danzig community published its own newsletter, which contained information about the activities of its institutions and public bodies.

During the Second World War

In the first years after their seizure of the city institutions, the Nazis conducted an inconsistent policy full of internal conflicts; at that time, they still thought it necessary to consider external factors such as the League of Nations and its Commissioner. But there was also a variety of opinions amongst the local Nazi leaders in various topics, and in particular - the question of the Jews. This state of affairs helped the Jewish community in Danzig to fight the Nazi intents of expulsion, as they intended to seize control of the community's funds and to remove the Jews from their positions. In this struggle, the community was assisted both by past experience, and also by international Jewry.

Despite the fact that, from 1933, the desire to leave city and to emigrate grew amongst the Jews, their numbers did not diminish in the city until 1937, because, in these years, other Jews from Poland settled there. In the May 1933 elections for the city leadership, the Nazis won. They obtained more than 50% of the votes, and the leader of the Christian Conservative party, Hermann Rauschning, became the head of the Senate. Rauschning objected to the persecution of Jews out of economic considerations. Under the leadership of Rauschning, the new Senate of Danzig declared that its prime objective was to rehabilitate the fiscal and economic state of the city. Rauschning understood well that, without the full cooperation of the Jews, this task would be impossible to carry out, and, for that reason, made attempts to calm their fears. But the position and attempts of Rauschning did not prevent the Nazi movement from spreading their poisonous anti-Semitic propaganda. In November 1934, Rauschning was dismissed by the head of the local Nazi party, Gauleiter Albert Forster, and replaced by the veteran Nazi Arthur Greiser.

In 1935, the political struggle in Danzig intensified. The opposition parties created a Parliamentary fighting block and accused the regime of corruption and inefficiency. The economic difficulties increased and the regime was unable to defend itself with totalitarian means, as was done in the Reich. The head of the opposition, Dr. Kamnitzer, who had initiated the struggle, was a Jewish senator and a delegate of the Social Democratic Party. On the 11th of May, 1935, the Jewish community turned to the League of Nations under the auspices of the Commissioner in Danzig, the Irish S. Lester, and submitted a report detailing all the complaints that had been handed to the Senate at the end of 1933. Among these, the complaints that, since 1933, the bias of the city institutions and other elements against the Jews seeking work had increased. Within this struggle, the community sought legal actions; from this it can be seen that the law courts still had a somewhat independent position. In January 1935, the court ruled in favour of a Jewish doctor and against a German doctor. In October of the same year, the Independent Jewish Merchants Union succeeded in obtaining a ruling which forced the City Health Department to remove from its office walls posters calling for the boycott of Jewish businesses. The City Health Department appealed the judgment, invited an expert jurist from Germany, and succeeded to obtain an annulment of the order. Despite this, the Jews continued to claim their rights, and to struggle in every possible mean. But as time passed, their position worsened. On 16 July 1936, the Senate forbade kosher slaughter, and, after four days, the shop owners, workshops, and guesthouses were required to put up signs with their names written legibly, with the aim of making the anti-Jewish boycott easier to perform by the non-Jews. In the autumn of 1936, anti-Semitic attacks increased – in the streets and in the markets, at schools, and in public places. All these occurred while the Jews were still supposed to be enjoying the protection of the League of Nations, and before the Nuremberg laws were enacted in Danzig. In that period, before the Nazi boycott had brought about the annihilation of the Jewish middle class, many of the Jews continued to work in their professions such as Medicine, Law, and Education. In 1937, there were still Jewish merchants in Danzig who held on to their key positions in international trade, and their influence on the local economy was still considerable.

In September 1937, Gauleiter Forster called for an intensified campaign against the Jews, in face of the continuing stream of Jewish refugees from the East. Forster declared that the Jews who arriving from Poland would not enjoy any rights whatsoever. This was a direct violation of the agreement between Poland and the city of Danzig. In October 1937, the Nazis opened an energetic propaganda campaign, which, within a year and a half, brought total destruction to the economic existence of the Jews of Danzig. The last Commissioner of the League of Nations, the Swiss Dr. Burckhardt, attempted to defer the implementation of the anti-Jewish steps with the argument that their incorporation would cause international complications. He even obtained the Hitler's agreement, in September 1937, to defer the realization of the Nuremberg laws in Danzig out of foreign policy considerations.

However, only one month later, on the 20th to 23rd of October, a small pogrom was instigated in city in the course of which Jewish shopkeepers and small traders suffered, and Jewish apartments were damaged. Burckhardt denounced the persecution of Jews by the Nazis as the “shame of the 20th century” and remonstrated about each anti-Semitic act before the Danzig Senate. These protests included an exact account of the atrocities, and the damages caused to the Jews, in addition to harsh remarks. The cynicism of the Nazis reached its peak when their party published a declaration of opinion in which it states that the violence is “damaging” from the political point of view, and denied that its members had any part in the breaking of Jewish shop windows. The protests or the emissary seemed to help in a small way, as some of the rioters and looters were arrested. The Jewish press in the world reported in detail about the pogrom and the following events.

The achievements of the Nazis in the international arena – in particular, the annexation of Austria to Germany (the “Anschluss”) and the diplomatic activity before the signing of the Munich agreement – encouraged the Nazi leaders in Danzig to enact the Race Laws (Nuremberg laws) in Danzig Jews as well. On 23 September 1938, at the height of the Czechoslovakian crisis, the Danzig Senate annulled the work permits of Jewish doctors, who had graduated in Germany – as all of the Jewish doctors in Danzig, with the exception of one, were graduates of German universities, the practical outcome of this decree was that all of them had to cease their work. While the representative Burckhardt protested this time as well, it was of no consequence. On 21 October 1938, the Senate implemented the Nuremberg Laws on the Jews of Danzig. On the 13th of December, 1938, the “Kristallnacht” [“night of broken glass”] occurred in Danzig as well, about one month later than the rest of Germany. The Nazi activists did not forgive themselves for not participating in this important occurrence at the time when it had occurred in Germany itself, as they saw in it an expression of German patriotism, as expressed by the Nazi leadership in Danzig. For that reason, they did not give up on this, and staged a “Kristallnacht” of their own, with the same precision and diligence which typified them. In the course of these pogroms, the shops of the Jews, the Jewish school and the synagogues were badly damaged, windows were smashed and dozens of Jews were assaulted and injured. The Commissioner protested, but in vain.

In January 1939, the Senate decreed the deportation of all the Jews of Danzig, and, on the same month, the deportations started. On 1st September 1939, the German army invaded Poland and marched into Danzig, thereby violating the international agreements that signed by Germany.

Already in May 1933, when the Nazi party became the major party in the Danzig Senate, great changes occurred in the daily life of the Jews of Danzig. The Nazi youth movement “Hitler youth”, acted out against the Jewish children and youth until the community was forced to establish a separate school for them. Leaders of the community demanded that the Senate participate in the up keeping cost of this institution, because, according to the constitution, one of the city's duties was to finance education. At a time when Rauschning was in power, this demand was received with understanding and agreement, with the logic, among other arguments, that the separation of the Jewish students from their Aryan peers absolved the Senate from the obligation to protect the Jewish students and teachers from the “Hitler youth” and Nazi teachers. Up to 1937, there were still Jewish parents who sent their children to Polish and even German schools, but, from then on, all of the Jewish children studied at the Jewish school. In the latter years of its existence, intermediate level classes were added and the school was authorized to issue Certificates of Matriculation [High school Diplomas]. The headmaster of the Jewish school, Samuel Echt, a long-standing and well-known teacher-educator, strove to prepare his students for immigration to Palestine under the auspices of “Aliyat Hanoar” [Youth Aliya], and, for that reason, added lessons in agriculture, carpentry, and agricultural machine maintenance to the normal curriculum. The first (and last) Matriculation exams took place in the Jewish school on 3rd February 1939.

The community council also did everything it could to ease the hardship of the Jews in the town, which faced losing their possessions and being dismissed from their work. For this purpose, three separate Jewish professional bodies were created – for artisans and merchants, for professionals, and for other workers – these dealt primarily in job hunting for those who needed it. From 1937, the workers organization began to hold training courses for jobs which would be required in the countries to which they were emigrating. In June 1938, 700 Jews were taking part in training courses of 8 new subjects – agricultural mechanization, vehicle maintenance, carpentry, etc. Because of the many difficulties from within and outside, the preparation for emigration and Aliyah were well organized. Even those who had been members of the Liberal Freedom party and had believed that their positions in city were secure now understood that they had no choice but to emigrate from their city. The Community Council dealt with all matters of emigration and Aliyah to Palestine. Despite the great difficulties which the British mandate in Palestine heaped upon them, quite a few of the Danzig Jews succeeded to enter Palestine illegally, or to immigrate to other countries. According to an agreement between the Community Council and the Senate, the Senate was obliged to ensure a cessation of the terror actions, which were on the increase, and to ease the issuing of passports. In return, the Jews had to publicly declare their willingness to leave the city. This declaration was given on the 17th of December, 1938, a few days after the “Crystal Night” in Danzig, during a meeting in which all the members of the community were present.

In 1937, close to 12,000 Jews still lived in Danzig, but, on the 19th of July, 1939, their number had dropped to 1,700. In August 1939, options to emigrate from Danzig decreased, after the Senate had refused to issue the emigrating Jews, access to their own bank accounts, which were frozen, to get money to be used for travel. The new decree endangered the departure of those who had emigration permits, among them children and youths who had received entry permits into England.

The economic situation of the 1,700 Jews who remained in Danzig deteriorated in the summer of 1939, and about half of them lived on the alms received from the Joint; the rest of them earned a living from the sale of various possessions or from the Trustee of Jewish Wealth. About 160 of them dealt in import and export as “protected Jews,” and about 40 others were employed in public positions under very harsh conditions. These workers were described in the Jewish press in the world as “detainees.”

In the summer of 1939, the Torah Scrolls and religious vessels were sent to New York and deposited for safekeeping in the Jewish Theological Museum. On 1st September 1939, the day the war broke out; they were 1,666 Jews in Danzig, of whom 716 were citizens of the city, many of them old. The council continued its efforts to enable them to get to Palestine in an illegal manner. The last group of Jews sailed to Palestine on the ship “Patria,” which was sunk in Haifa harbour. After their departure there were still 600 Jews in the city.

At the end of February 1941, 395 Jews were deported from Danzig to the “General Gouvernment,” and 200 inhabitants of old age homes were deported to Theresienstadt.


Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People, Jerusalem, P/40/56.

Yad Vashem Archives, Jerusalem, 03/2085, 2101, 2333, 2377, 2378, 2379; 05/96; 08/21, 73; 015/460, 849; 054/1; M9/66; M21/I/308, 707, 775.

Central Zionist Archives, Jerusalem, L7/332, 334; Z1/415; Z2/402, 409, 410; Z3/796; Z4/215/68, 215/69, 231/18, 2023III, 2400, 2529.

A Stern, History of the Danzig Jews from the Emancipation until the Expulsion during the Nazi Regime, Jerusalem 1978.

M. Andrzejewski, “Antyżydowski terror w Wolnym Mieście Gdańsku w 1937-1938”, BŻIH (1987), no. 141, pp. 111-127.

S. Echt, Die Geshichte der Juden in Danzig, Leer 1972.

E. Lichtenstein, Die Juden der Freien Stadt Danzig unser der Herrschaft des Narionalsozialismus, Tübingen 1973.

J. Morgensztern, “Regesty z metryki koronnej do historii Żydów w Polsce (1633-1660)”, BŻIH (1966), no. 58, pp. 118, 132, 141, 145, 147.

Sz. Zajczyk, “Bóznica w Kępnie”, BŻIH (1962), nos. 43-44, p. 63.

Heint [Today], 18.9.1923, 7.10.1923, 15.10.1923, 30.10.1923, 21.9.1925, 11.6.1926, 31.3.1937, 24.10.1937, 27.10.1937, 28.10.1937, 29.10.1937, 3.11.1937, 4.11.1937, 11.11.1937, 25.11.1937, 30.11.1937, 1.12.1937, 6.12.1937, 26.12.1937.

Volkszeitung [Public Newspaper], 2.4.1938, 6.4.1938, 14.4.1938, 27.6.1938, 28.6.1938, 7.7.1938, 1.8.1938, 9.8.1938, 14.8.1938, 26.8.1938, 25.9.1938, 15.11.1938, 21.11.1938, 1.1.1939, 28.1.1939, 11.3.1939, 8.5.1939, 4.8.1939.

Allgemeine Zeitung des Judentums, 18.1.1837, 24.4.1838, 8.5.1838, 15.9.1838, 15.9.1840, 8.5.1841, 17.1.1847, 18.11.1850, 18.8.1851.

Nasz Przeglad, 6.2.1929, 16.2.1929, 17.6.1930, 5.7.1931, 27.7.1931, 24.11.1931, 31.3.1932, 6.4.1932, 9.8.1932, 8.9.1932, 16.9.1932, 11.1.1933, 9.4.1933, 12.9.1933, 28.11.1933, 25.6.1934, 27.11.1934.


“[?]” following a word indicates uncertainty in the translation of that word.

The Jewish population of Danzig was in decline before the First World War, having been 3,798 as early as 1816, according to Samuel Echt's Die Geshichte der Juden in Danzig, cited above.


The founders of the TAZ [(A Jewish Health-Care Association)] Organization in Danzig, 1930s
(courtesy of “Beit Hatfuzot” [the Museum of the Diaspora], Tel Aviv)


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