Jews in Postwar East Germany


While numerous Jews fled Germany before, during or after WWII or stayed there for want of a better place, a number of Jews actually chose to return to East Germany in 1945 in the hope of helping to establish a “Workers’ and Peasants’ State”.

They were socialists and communists who wished to take part in the creation of a new country that would be free of all the evils that had led to Hitler’s rise to power. Such Jews included writers Anna Seghers and Arnold Zweig, literary scholar Hans Meyer and philosopher Ernst Bloch.

These people were not numerous, an estimated several hundreds, but were soon disappointed. Immediately after the end of the war, restitution became an important issue in both West and East Germany but in the latter the Communist Party refused to contribute, considering that East Germany was innocent of the Nazi past. Moreover retribution was viewed as a “bourgeois” gesture.

In addition Stalinist party purges in Eastern Europe, accompanied by anti-Semitic show trials in Prague and Budapest sparked fear among Jews in East Berlin. Jews who were communist party members often found themselves accused of being “Zionist agents” or “Jewish nationalists” As a result in early 1953, more than 600 Jews escaped to the West within a six-week period.

It was not until the fall of the Berlin Wall that things improved for the Jews of East Germany. In 1989, around 1,000 Jews, most of them elderly, were living in the German Democratic Republic – thus the Jewish community in East Berlin amounted to fewer than 500 people. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 and the peaceful downfall of the East German regime, the new GDR government under Lothar de Maizière allowed Jews from the then crumbling Soviet bloc into Germany. When the two Germanys later reunited in October 1990, this ruling was upheld.

You can read about Jews in Postwar West Germany here.

12 thoughts on “Jews in Postwar East Germany

  1. Thanks for yet another fascinating and informative post!

    They were socialists and communists who wished to take part in the creation of a new country…
    My first reaction was that in hindsight, it’s very hard to understand how these Jews could have been so naive. But when one remembers all they had suffered and endured during the Holocaust, it becomes impossible to judge them…

  2. Thank you for another wonderful and informative post.

    I am an American Jew, who will never forget the wall coming down…a moment of history where one remembers where they were when they heard the news.

  3. That picture is from Berlin, right? That’s one of the synagogues I would like to go back and see this year, if we can.

    This is an unbelievably relevant post – we have just been re-watching the BBC series ‘Auschwitz: The Nazis and the Final Solution’ and me and my OH had a very lively discussion about judging people. feel a post coming on, if I have time…

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