Koenigsberg

General information: First Jewish presence: 1508; peak Jewish population: 5,324 in 1880 (4% of the total population); Jewish population in 1933: 3,170 (1% of total pop.)
Summary: The earliest records of a Jewish presence in Koenigsberg, dated 1508, mention two Jews. Jewish merchants were permitted to settle in Koenigsberg in the 17th or 18th century, but it was not until 1812, as a result of the Edict of Emancipation, that their living conditions improved. The Jewish community established a prayer room in 1680 and a synagogue on Schnuerlingsdamm (later Synagogenstrasse, or “synagogue street”) in 1756. The synagogue was destroyed in a neighborhood fire in 1811, after which, in 1815, it was rebuilt. Eastern European Jews operated three prayer rooms. In 1896, liberal Jews in Koenigsberg inaugurated a synagogue, called the “New Synagogue,” on Lindenstrasse. The Orthodox Adass Jisroel congregation, which had begun conducting its prayer services at the old synagogue in 1893, maintained its own school for religious studies, mikveh and slaughterhouse. The community consecrated its first cemetery, on Wrangelstrasse, in 1703/04. Additional burial grounds were consecrated in 1875 and in 1929. Jews contributed greatly to the city’s social, political and cultural life. After World War I, however, as anti- Semitic parties gained a foothold in Koenigsberg, local Jews were assaulted, their institutions attacked and their businesses boycotted. In 1932, SA members destroyed Jewish-owned properties. In June, 1933, 3,170 Jews lived in Koenigsberg; 457 children received religious instruction, and 36 students attended a Hebrew school on Lindenstrasse. Active in the community were 14 welfare associations, several social work foundations and branches of nation-wide Jewish organizations. We also know that the community maintained a library and published a journal. In March 1933, the old synagogue and Jewish-owned stores were set on fire; a local Jew was murdered by SA men. Jewish social life continued to flourish, however, and a Jewish school was founded in 1935. On Pogrom Night, Nazis burned down the New Synagogue and destroyed Jewish institutions and prayer rooms. The following morning, Jewish-owned stores and homes were looted, a cemetery was damaged and 400 men were imprisoned in Methgethen. Beginning in 1939, Koenigsberg’s remaining Jews were confined to designated “Jews’ houses” and subjected to forced labor. Approximately 1,100 local Jews were deported to Minsk, Riga and Theresienstadt in 1942/43. In 1943, Polish Jews from Stutthof and Soldau were brought to Koenigsberg as forced laborers. In January 1945, approximately 7,000 Jews were marched from Koenigsberg to Palmnicken. Today, nearly 2,000 Jews live in Koenigsberg. In October 2011, the new community laid the foundation stone of a synagogue on Lindenstrasse (present-day Oktyabrskaya Street). A plaque was affixed to the former Jewish orphanage in 2006.
Photo: The main synagogue of Koenigsberg. Courtesy of: Unknown.
Author / Sources: Heidemarie Wawrzyn
Sources: AH, EJL, FJG, LJG, W-E, W-G
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Located in: East Prussia