Sondershausen – Thuringia (English)

Location: Thuringia
About this community: Jews lived in Sondershausen during the 13th and 14th centuries, suffering persecution in 1348/49. We know very little about the medieval community. However, a mikvah (ritual bath) that existed around 1300 on the western periphery of the town was excavated in 1998/99 and proves the early settlement of Jews in Sondershausen.
The modern-day Jewish community was founded in the late 17th century. It maintained a mikvah, an elementary school and a cemetery on Pollengasse (in use 1699-1939). A prayer hall was operated in a private Jewish home in 1698. From the early 18th century until 1826, the community gathered in a prayer room in a rear building at 31 Bebrastrasse.
A new synagogue was festively dedicated on April 1, 1826 at 6 Bebrastrasse. It was renovated several times. In April 1838, Thuringia's sovereign visited the synagogue attending a service there. He was accompanied by local senior clergies and members of the magistrate. For the following decades, the synagogue was the center of Jewish life. The Jewish population numbered 26 Jewish families in 1815 and reached its population peak of 149 in 1871.
Moritz Schoenlank served as chazzan (cantor), teacher and shochet (kosher butcher) from 1864 until 1910. J. Wolfsohn was employed as the congregation's teacher and preacher from 1826 until 1837. He was succeeded by Philipp Heidenheim (1814-1906), who served the community for more than 60 years, first as teacher and preacher and later, from 1845, as rabbi. He founded a private Jewish boys' boarding school in 1842. His wife Lina assisted him. When she passed away in 1897, an obituary praised her life and work: "She was a model of a real-Jewish woman, her house was founded on piety, diligence and peace. As a true housewife, she managed her huge household wisely and economically from the dawning morning until the late evening. Furthermore, she was also the spiritual companion of her husband and his assistant in philanthropy." Rabbi Philipp Heidenheim was the community's last rabbi. From the 1880s, the membership of the Jewish community in Sondershausen dwindled due to migration. After Rabbi Heidenheim's death in 1906, his post remained vacant.
In 1933, approximately 67 Jews still resided in Sondershausen. A Jewish women’s association and a humanitarian society conducted welfare work. Fourteen Jewish schoolchildren received religious instruction. Many local Jews managed to emigrate before the beginning of the war. They found refuge in the United States, Australia, New Zealand, England and Palestine.
On Pogrom Night in November 1938, the synagogue was damaged. Jewish-owned shops were looted and Jewish homes vandalized. These anti-Semitic attacks took mainly place on Hauptstrasse and Lohstrasse. Jewish men, among them the lawyer Dr. Ludwig David, were arrested and temporarily incarcerated in Buchenwald concentration camp. In 1939, the last burial took place in the Jewish cemetery, that of Selma Baruch. In 1942, the town’s few remaining Jews were deported to Theresienstadt and Riga. At least 28 local Jews perished in the Shoah.
In the spring of 1945, the synagogue building was partially destroyed by enemy action and the ruins were torn down in 1960. A shopping mall was built at the site and a commemorative plaque was later affixed there. A memorial stone was erected at the Jewish cemetery in 1988; the cemetery was desecrated in 1990, in 1997 and again in 2003.
Sources: Schwierz, Israel: Zeugnisse juedischer Vergangenheit in Thueringen. Eine Dokumentation. Erfurt, 2007.
Spector, Shmuel (ed.): The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before and During the Holocaust, Yad Vashem and New York University Press, 2001.
Synagogue Memorial "Beit Ashkenaz": Pogrom Night 1938: A Memorial to the Destroyed Synagogues of Germany, Jerusalem, 2013.
Zentralwohlfahrtsstelle der Deutschen Juden (Ed.): Führer durch die Jüdische Gemeindeverwaltung und Wohlfahrtspflege in Deutschland 1923-1933 [1933/34].
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Located in: Thuringia