Allenstein

General information: First Jewish presence: 1820; peak Jewish population: 612 in 1925; Jewish population in 1933: 448
Summary: Jews founded a community in Allenstein in 1820, soon after which they established a prayer room on Richterstrasse. When the need for larger quarters became acute, the Jews of Allenstein acquired a plot of land on Liebstadter Strasse and built, in 1877, a large and ornate synagogue there. Other communal institutions included a cemetery on Seestrasse (present-day Grundwalzka Strasse) and a Jewish school. The Association of East Prussian Jewish Communities maintained a retirement home in Allenstein, as well as an office that aided Eastern European immigrants Allenstein was the birthplace of Erich Mendelsohn (1887- 1953), the world-famous Jewish architect whose unique buildings can be found all over Europe, in many North American cities and in Israel. In Allenstein, Mendelsohn designed the mourners’ chapel (called Mendelsohn Haus) next to the cemetery. The Jews of Allenstein were closely involved in the social and cultural life of the town, with many serving on the boards of prominent committees. This tranquil life began to unravel in the early 1920s, as anti-Semitic incidents escalated with every passing day. The situation worsened considerably after 1933: Boycotts were enforced zealously, several Jewish- owned department stores were firebombed, Nazi hoodlums roamed the streets and physically threatened Jews and, in early 1936, the Jewish cemetery was vandalized. On Pogrom Night, storm troopers destroyed Jewish establishments and burned down the synagogue, after which the site served as a bomb shelter; we also know that a number of Jews were arrested and deported that night. The pogrom triggered a mass emigration of local Jews from Germany, so that by 1939 only 135 Jews lived in the town. Those Jews who still lived in Allenstein in 1940 were deported to concentration camps. The Jewish cemetery and the Mendelsohn Haus survived the war. In 1960, however, the cemetery was leveled. Now an open, grassy area, the old cemetery site is the only remnant of Jewish Allenstein. A restoration project of the Mendelsohn Haus began in 2008.
Author / Sources: Moshe Finkel; Sources: EJL, LJG www.ostpreussen.net
Located in: East Prussia