The Jewish Community of Berlin and the Holocaust


Above: Stephan and Eva Pick, deported from their Berlin home on November 27, 1941 to Riga Latvia where they were murdered by the Nazis.

By Gideon

In the 13th century, the Jews began to migrate from south Germany to cities in the north, including Berlin, to escape the persecution and expulsions that had become a constant since the Crusades began in 1096.

 The Jews of Berlin were primarily engaged in money-lending and petty trade. They lived in a ghetto in the Grosser Judenhof (“Jew’s Court”) area, and on Juddenstrasse (“Jew Street”).

Conditions in Berlin were not much better. In 1349, the Jews were accused of starting the Black Plague that was sweeping through Europe, and were expelled – but not before many were killed, and had their houses burned down. The Jews were allowed back in 1354, but were expelled once again in 1446. In 1510 and 1571, the Jews were again expelled en masse, after having been allowed to return in between. The motivations behind these expulsions varied: in 1510, the exile followed an unfounded accusation of host desecration; in 1446 and 1571, the Jews were simply told to leave so the government could confiscate their property. Following the expulsion in 1571, virtually no Jews inhabited Berlin for a century.

In 1663, the elector of Bradenburg allowed Israel Aaron to enter Berlin as a court Jew. Soon afterwards, in 1671, 50 prominent Jewish Viennese families were allowed into the city as Schutzjuden, protected Jews who paid for a residence permit allowing them to engage in certain businesses and worship in private homes. The Jewish families were also given a cemetery, a mikveh (ritual bath), and a hospital. In 1714, the first synagogue, known later as the Old Synagogue, was established at Heidereutergasse in Mitte.

This community grew, despite the restrictions on residence and family size, and, by the beginning of the 18th century, there were approximately 1,000 residents of the Jewish ghetto. The community paid a great deal of its income in taxes: a protection tax, a residence tax, a head tax and a payment required to work in certain professions were all used at one point or another to extract money from the community.

The Jews excelled as merchants, mainly selling precious metals and stones, and as bankers. They were among the richest people in Berlin. By mid 18th century, the Jewish population totaled 2,000 people. At the end of the 18th century, Berlin became the center of the Haskalah, (Jewish enlightenment, which came to advocate Jewish equality and secularism). Many Berlin Jews moved out of the ghetto and became unaffiliated with traditional Judaism. In 1815, the Jews succeeded in attaining Prussian citizenship; the various regulations and taxes that had unfairly targeted the Jews were rescinded, although full equality came in 1850 with Prussia’s updated constitution. By this time, there were 9,500 Jews in Berlin, mostly involved in finance, commerce, and transportation.

By 1900, more than 110,000 Jews in Berlin, comprising more than 5% of the total population. Most settled in the center of the city, but also started to move to the outer districts of Spandau and Stralauer, and then to Charlottenburg, Schoeneberg, and Wilmersdorf. By 1925, 160,000 Jews lived in Berlin, representing less than 4 percent of the city’s entire population. By 1930, there were sixteen synagogues in Berlin.

Like the Jews of Germany as a whole, the Jews of Berlin faced persecution and discrimination after 1933. On April 1, 1933, Jewish stores and businesses were boycotted, an official action which spurred many subsequent unofficial boycotts of Jewish goods and services. In 1933 most Jewish civil servants and professionals were summarily fired or pensioned. In May of that year, “un-German” books—those written by Jews, liberals, and leftists, among others—were publicly burned in front of the opera house.

During Kristallnacht, the “Night of Broken Glass” pogrom on November 9–10, 1938, most of Berlin’s synagogues were burned down and Jewish-owned stores and homes were looted and vandalized. The shattering of shop windows, especially along Leipziger Street, gave the pogrom its name. Dozens of Jews were killed in Berlin. Thousands were arrested and taken to concentration camps, particularly to Sachsenhausen. One of the synagogues set ablaze was the New Synagogue. The building was saved when a police officer, Wilhelm Krützfeld intervened and convinced the fire department to put out the fire because the building was an officially protected monument. 

By 1941, many more areas of the city were declared off-limits for Jews, and laws were enacted requiring Jews to wear the yellow badge. Deportations of Jews from Berlin to ghettos and killing centers in eastern Europe took place between October 1941 and April 1943. Assembly points for the deportations were established at synagogues on Levetzow Street and Heidereuter Alley, at the Jewish cemetery on Grosse Hamburger Street, and on Rosen Street. Later, even the Jewish home for the aged, the community office building, and the Jewish hospital were used as assembly centers. After enough Jews for an entire transport (usually 1,000 people) had been assembled in these makeshift centers, they were taken to the rail station—usually the freight yards at Grunewald, sometimes the Anhalter or Putlitz Street train stations. They were then loaded onto passenger rail cars, or sometimes onto freight cars.

The first deportation of Jews from Berlin occurred in October 1941, when 1,000 Jews were transported to the Lodz ghetto in Poland. By January 1942, about 10,000 Jews had been deported from Berlin to ghettos in eastern Europe, mainly Lodz, Riga, Minsk, and Kovno. Elderly Jews from Berlin were deported to Theresienstadt in 1942 and 1943. Beginning in 1942, Jews were deported from Berlin directly to the killing centers, primarily to Auschwitz-Birkenau. In 1943, most of the staff of the Reich Association of Jews in Germany, the central Jewish representative organization, was deported to Theresienstadt. All Jewish organizations and offices were disbanded. The majority of the remaining Jews in Berlin were deported by the end of April 1943.

More than 60,000 Jews were deported from Berlin: more than 10,000 to the ghettos in eastern Europe, about 15,000 to Theresienstadt, and more than 35,000 to the killing centers in occupied Poland. Hundreds of Jews committed suicide rather than submit to the deportations. Thousands of Jews remained in Berlin, mostly those who had gone into hiding and also part-Jews and Jews with a non-Jewish spouse, who were initially excluded from deportation. Almost all of those deported were killed. By 1945, only 8,000 Jews remained in Berlin. Those who survived were either in hiding or were married to non-Jews. 

My family was among the Berlin Jewish families who were taken from their houses and were murdered by the Nazis. Their personal life stories are shown below.

Erwin ZusmanErwin Zusman - Edited

Erwin Zusman – as a child he dreamed on immigrating to Eretz Israel. For that reason, he joined the Blue and White Zionist youth movement. He immigrated from Germany to Israel as a young adult and worked in agriculture. As a son of a German Jewish ranch owner, he knew a great deal about agriculture and he wanted to share his knowledge with other farmers. For that reason, he taught agriculture in Mikveh Israel. (Mikve Israel was the first Jewish agricultural school. The school was established in 1870 by Karl Netter for the purpose of training the young generation for agricultural settlement. After many hardships, a farm was set up with a chicken coop, cow shed, vineyards and winery.) The difficult living conditions in Eretz Israel in the early 20th century, and the lack of medication and food, affected his health and he became ill, suffering from tuberculosis. His health deteriorated to a point that his friends couldn’t see him suffering anymore and forced him to return to Germany for treatment. He returned to Germany but his heart was in Eretz Israel and he made several attempts to return that didn’t work out due to his poor health. Erwin  lived with Annemarie in Yugoslavia. They raised orphans children. Eventually the Nazis captured them and they were sent to concentration camps. Erwin was taken to the concentration camp Danica Koprivnica in 1940 and died there presumably in December 1940. Annemarie was arrested by the ustascha in summer 1944 in Zagreb and was taken to the concentration camp Jasenovac. There she was murdered in spring 1945.


 Rudi (Rudolf) Pick – was a successful lawyer and headed the Jewish community in Berlin. Rudy considered immigrating to Eretz Israel to join his family, which was already established in the country, and to join his daughter from his first marriage. His daughter was a student at Beit Young Mizrahi in Jerusalem. However, with the rise of the Nazis in Germany, Rudi immediately understood the danger to the Jewish community in Berlin. He did not want to desert the community and searched for ways to save Jews and minimize the damage. As the head of the community, he tried to contact neighboring countries in order to establish underground resistance against the Nazis in the event that they’ll tighten their grip on the country. He also tried to contact the British and for that reason he came to Israel, but he wasn’t successful. When he was in Israel, his family begged him to stay. Rudi refused; he was true to his promise to help his Berlin Jewish community. After his return to Germany and the rise of the Nazis to power, together with his wife Ella Pick (Feibelsohn) and two children Stephan and Eva were murdered/perished in Riga, Latvia

Excerpt from Yad Vashem Central Database:

Ella Pick nee Feibelsohn was born in Schildberg, Poland in 1905. Prior to WWII she lived in Berlin, Germany. During the war she was in Berlin, Germany. Deported with Transport Da 31 from Berlin,Berlin,Berlin,Germany to Riga,Rigas,Vidzeme,Latvia on 27/11/1941. Ella was murdered/perished in Riga, Latvia. This information is based on a List of deportation from Berlin found in Gedenkbuch Berlins der juedischen Opfer des Nazionalsozialismus, Freie Universitaet Berlin, Zentralinstitut fuer sozialwissenschaftliche Forschung, Edition Hentrich, Berlin 1995.

Dr. Rudolf Pick was born in Ostrowo, Poland in 1892 to Avraham and Mina. He was married to Ella nee Fiebelsohn. Prior to WWII he lived in Berlin, Germany. Dr. Pick was murdered/perished in 1941 in Riga, Camp at the age of 49. This information is based on a Page of Testimony submitted by his nephew.

(Ervin Zusman was my mother’s uncle on her mother’s side and Rudi Pick was my mother’s uncle on her father’s side. May G-d bless their memory and avenge their and their families premature death).

Related story: 

The Jewish Family Tree fights the last battle against the Natzis


Jewish Virtual Library

Holocaust Encyclopedia