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Westphalia, Germany

Westphalia is a region in Germany. During the Middle Ages Jews lived not only in the duchy of Westphalia but also in many of the bishoprics, cities, and earldoms of the region known as Westphalia. Jews were present in most areas by the beginning of the 13th century; many came from Cologne, where a flourishing community existed at the end of the 12th century. They generally settled in small numbers; the first organized communities existed in Muenster, Minden, and Dortmund, where Archbishop Conrad of Cologne granted the Jews a charter of privileges in 1250. Until the middle of the 14th century, they were under the jurisdiction of the country nobles. Later, with the strengthening of the towns, the Jews were placed under the municipal jurisdiction, and the number permitted to settle was limited. They earned their livelihood primarily by moneylending. The Jews of Westphalia were victims of the Black Death persecutions in 1348–49, but during the second half of the 14th century they returned to the towns from which they had fled or had been expelled. Despite local expulsions, Jewish settlement continued in Westphalia. In the latter part of the 17th century, as well as in the 18th century, Jewish autonomy was severely restricted by governmental control and regulation. Nevertheless, the number of Jews increased. They were engaged not only in moneylending but also as merchants in gold, silver, cloth, and livestock.

The establishment of the Kingdom of Westphalia by Napoleon in 1807 brought a dramatic change in the status of the Jews. The Napoleonic kingdom was located to the west of Westphalia and was made up of portions of Hanover, Hesse, and other states. On January 27, 1808, the Jews were granted civic rights and – as the first Jews of Germany – could settle throughout the kingdom, engage in the profession of their choice, and had total freedom of commerce. After a few months, a consistory was founded using the French institution as a prototype, and existed from 1808 to 1813 in the capital, Kassel. Its president was Israel Jacobson, financial adviser to King Jerome Bonaparte, assisted by rabbis Loeb Mayer Berlin (1738–1814), Simon Kalkar (1754–1812), and Mendel Sternhardt (1768–1825). Also participating in the work of the consistory were two scholars, David Fraenkel (1779–1865), publisher of Sulamit, and Jeremiah Heinemann (1778–1855). The secretary was S. Markel, the attorney for the municipal council of Kassel. Its task was the supervision of all Jewish activities in Westphalia. Innovations in the religious service were introduced that aroused considerable controversy, and new schools were formed, including a seminary in Kassel for the training of teachers and rabbis in 1810. Of particular interest was the experimental school in Kassel that combined secular and Jewish studies. Westphalia was divided into seven districts, each with its rabbi and his assistant. Jews were compelled to choose family names. Many were attracted by the liberal policies of the kingdom, and by 1810 the number of Jews had risen to 19,039. In 1813, however, the kingdom was abolished, and with it the consistory was dissolved.

Parts of the region known as Westphalia were included in the Prussian province of Westphalia in 1816, and the status of the Jews became similar to that of their coreligionists of Prussia. Together with them, they gradually obtained their emancipation between 1847 and 1867. In 1881 an organization of Westphalian communities was formed. The notorious anti-Semite Adolf Stoecker was active in Westphalia at the end of the 19th century. The Jewish population of Westphalia numbered 21,595 in 1932 (0.45% of the total). The principal communities were Gelsenkirchen (population 1,440); Muenster (600); Bielefeld (860); Bochum (1,152); Dortmund (3,820); and Hagen (650).

The rise of Nazism led to considerable Jewish emigration from Westphalia, as well as intensive adult education efforts on the part of the Jewish community. Many synagogues were destroyed in November 1938, and mass deportations emptied Westphalia of its Jews by 1941.

The community was renewed after the war, and a number of synagogues rebuilt. In 1946 Westphalia became a part of the modern federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia. There were 924 Jews living there in 1970. In 1989 the nine Jewish communities in Westphalia numbered 745. In 2004 there were ten communities with 7,204 members. The biggest communities are Dortmund (3,409); Bochum (1,147); and Muenster (753). This remarkable increase of membership is explained by the immigration of Jews from the former Soviet Union after 1990. In 1992 the Jewish museum of Westphalia was opened in the small town of Dorsten.


A. Gierse, Die Geschichte der Juden in West-falen waehrend des Mittelalters (1878); F. Lazarus, in: MGWJ, 58 (1914), 81–96, 178–208, 326–58, 454–79, 542–61; B. Brilling, in: West-falische Forschungen, 12 (1959), 142–61; idem., Rheinisch Westfalische Zeitschrift fuer Volkskunde, 5 (1958), 133–62; 6 (1959), 91–99; H.C. Meyer, Aus Geschichte und Leben der Juden in Westfalen (1962), bibliography, pp. 242–57; B. Brilling and H. Richtering (eds.), Westfalia Judaica (1967), includes bibliography; Germania Judaica, 2 (1968), 880–1; 3 (1987), 2055–60; L. Horwitz, Die Israeliten unter dem Koenigreich Westfalen (1900); A. Lewinsky, in: MGWJ, 50 (1906); G. Samuel, in: ZGJD, 6 (1935), 47–51; M. Stern, in: Ost und West, 17 (1917), 255–68. ADD BIBLIOGRAPHY: H. Stratmann and G. Birkmann, Juedische Friedhoefe in Westfalen und Lippe (1987); W. Stegemann (ed.), Juedisches Museum in Westfalen (1992); C. Gentile (ed.), Begegnungen mit juedischer Kultur in Nordrhein-Westfalen (1997); K. Menneken (ed.), Juedisches Leben in Westfalen (1998); G. Birkmann, Bedenke, vor wem du stehst. 300 Synagogen und ihre Geschichte in Westfalen und Lippe (1998); E. Brocke, Zeitzeugen. Begegnungen mit juedischem Leben in Nordrhein-Westfalen (1998); M. Sassenberg, Zeitenbruch 19331945 (1999); M. Brocke, Feuer an Dein Heiligtum gelegt (1999); A. Kenkmann (ed.), Verfolgung und Verwaltung (20012); S. Gruber and H. Ruessler, Hochqualifiziert und arbeitslos (2002).

[Zvi Avneri /

Larissa Daemmig (2nd ed.)]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.