REICHSVEREINIGUNG (Reichsvereinigung der Juden in Deutschland – Ger. Reich Association of the Jews in Germany), compulsory organization of all Jews in Nazi Germany (excepting Austria and the Protectorate of Bohemia-Moravia), established on July 4, 1939, by the tenth executive ordinance (10. Verordnung) appended to the Reich's citizenship law (Reichsbuergergesetz) of 1935. The Reichsvereinigung replaced the previous framework called the Reichsvertretung der Juden in Deutschland ("Reich Representation of the Jews in Germany"), which in turn replaced the Reichsvereugbgung der Deutschen Juden (Reich Representation of German Jews). The name changes are significant, representing a worsening of the situation of the Jews in Germany, who were no longer considered by the regime as German Jews. There were several distinctions between the two organizations. From the Jewish communal perspective, the Reichsvereinigung was imposed upon the Jewish community rather than formed by a consensus of Jewish organizations. More importantly, the Reichsvereinigung included all Jewish subjects of the Nazi Reich as defined by the *Nuremberg Laws (1935), not only Jews by religion, it included those who had converted or even those whose parents had converted. The Reichsvereinigung was supervised by the Ministry of the Interior, i.e., by the security police. Its duties, as fixed by law, were to promote Jewish emigration from Germany – still possible and still desired by both the regime and the Jews in Germany – and to support the Jewish school system and Jewish welfare. A special provision empowered the minister of the interior to assign additional tasks to the Reichsvereinigung. To the Germans, the Reichsvereinigung was an instrumentality of its control much like the Jewish Councils which were later formed in the ghettos. It is clear that the Germans regarded it as useful to have the appearance of continuity of Jewish leadership rather than install their own puppets. This policy was also followed with regard to the Jewish Councils. The centralization of Jewish communal representations into one body was a matter of convenience and effectiveness; instead of dealing with many organizations, the Germans imposed unity on the Jews at least with regard to their dealings with the state. The existence of the Reichsvereinigung enabled the Nazis to implement many of their deadliest orders without much publicity and to play off the Jewish leadership against the Jewish population, who naturally blamed their own leaders, and thus responsibility and guilt was shifted onto a leadership that had few resources and even fewer options. Jewish leadership perceived itself to be struggling under difficult and soon to become impossible conditions for Jewish survival. Emigration was deemed essential, a matter of life and death. The prior leadership of the Reichsvertretung now filled the leadership positions in the Reichsvereinigung. Rabbi Leo *Baeck, Otto *Hirsch, Paul *Eppstein, and their colleagues continued at their posts until their arrest and deportation. There was no need to set up new departments because all the functions assigned by law to the Reichsvereinigung had already been carried out by its predecessor. The local activities of the Reichsvereinigung were executed by the Jewish communities, called Juedische Kultusvereinigung ("Jewish Synagogue Association") and its own Bezirkstellen ("district offices"). The latter dealt with small communities or with single Jewish families. In the course of time the Jewish communities were dissolved and their property transferred to the Reichsvereinigung. Under the leadership of the Rechsvereinigung Jewish education continued until June 1942. It undertook vocational training to teach Jews basic skills for survival and earning a living abroad and it attempted to provide welfare for the needy. All Jewish publications were suspended and only the publication of the bulletin of the Reichsvereinigung, Juedisches Nachrichtenblatt, was permitted. It served as a channel for the Gestapo to inform the Jews of new restrictions and confiscations without stirring up too much dissent from the outside.
From the start of World War II the activities of the Reichsvereinigung were slowed down. In the planning of the "Final Solution" (see *Holocaust, General Survey), the Gestapo used the statistical material prepared by the Reichsvereinigung and even utilized the activity of its statistical section for its own purposes. Its leadership protested the deportations in 1940 and from 1941 onward the central leadership was not involved in the deportations, but various branches were forced to cooperate. In the deportations the Gestapo used the services of the Reichsvereinigung: the organization cared for the deportees in the roundups, with the notion that they could alleviate their suffering – they did not perceive themselves to be an instrumentality of destruction – while the Reichsvereinigung leaders and staff served as hostages against the exact delivery of fixed batches of deportees. Several hostages were deported in place of Jews who escaped. Others were shot in retaliation for sabotage. Under orders of the *RSHA, the Reichsvereinigung concluded the "home buying agreements" (Heimeinkaufsvertraege) for *Theresienstadt, i.e., in which Jews were forced to sign away their money to the German government in return for an "alleged" apartment in Theresienstadt to which they were deported. On June 10, 1943, the remaining staff was arrested and the Reichsvereinigung in its original form dissolved. Only two of its leaders, Leo Baeck, who had refused offers to leave Germany and offers of personal safety, and Moritz Henschel, survived the Holocaust. In assessing their behavior one must see the dual function of Jewish leadership as instrumentalities – however unwilling – of the Germans and as representatives, however powerless and ultimately ineffective, of the Jews. The tightrope they walked was the result of their impossible situation. Integrity and wisdom could not compensate for the absolute lack of power and the murderous intent of those in power.
S. Esh, in: Yad Vashem Studies, 7 (1968), 1–38, includes bibliography; R. Hilberg, Destruction of the European Jews (1961, 1985, 2003), index; K.J. Ball-Kaduri, Vor der Katastrophe: Juden in Deutschland 1933–1939 (1967); Fabian, in: Festschrift… L. Baeck (1953), 85–93; K.J. Herrmann (ed.) Das dritte Reich und die deutschjuedischen Organisationen (1969). ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: O.D. Kulka, "The Reichsvereingigung and the Fate of German Jews 1938/1939–1943. Continuity or Discontinuity?" in: A. Paucker (ed.), The Jews in Nazi Germany 1933–1943 (1986).
[Yehuda Reshef /
Michael Berenbaum (2nd ed.)]
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.