The Admission of Baptized Students to the Talmud Torah School in Hamburg Beginning in Late 1938

Christiane Pritzlaff

Source Description

This ca. one pagelong memorandum written by the Hamburg school administration authority and dated November 24, 1938 records a statement by Arthur Spier, director of the Talmud Torah School and the Israelitischer Gemeindeverband in Hamburg’s [Association of Israelite Communities in Hamburg] delegate for educational matters, on the Talmud Torah School’s admission policy. This memorandum belongs to a series of memoranda written by the school administration authority documenting their conversations with Arthur Spier and the situation of the Talmud Torah School.

With regard to the school’s admission policy, Spier states that the Talmud Torah School only admitted students of the Jewish faith according to its by-laws. The decisive factor was a student’s belonging to the Jewish faith, not membership in the Israelitischer Gemeindeverband [Association of Israelite Communities]. He gives several examples to illustrate this point. Under the circumstances at the time, however, the school was willing to admit all students – including those who did not identify as Jewish – who were excluded from the public schools based on the Nuremberg Laws. Children who belonged to another religion, such as Christianity for example, were excluded from admission. The last paragraph of the memorandum states that Spier had subsequently revoked this restriction and that the school was now willing to admit Christians – baptized “Jews” – while excusing them from religious education classes. The memorandum is signed with the abbreviation “Sch.” Most likely it stands for Studienrat Schallehn of the school administration authority.

  • Christiane Pritzlaff

The contents of this memorandum documents the changes the Talmud Torah School was forced to make due to National Socialist legislation. On November 24, 1938, only nine days after Senator Karl Witt had issued a circular “regarding the dismissal of Jews from German schools,” Arthur Spier, director of the Talmud Torah School and the “Israelitischer Gemeindeverband [Association of Israelite Communities] Hamburg’s delegate for educational matters,” was requested to give an account of the Talmud Torah School’s admission policy. In his letter of November 15, 1938 addressed to “The principals of all public and non-public schools in the city of Hamburg,” Witt referred to an order issued by the “Reichsminister für Wissenschaft, Erziehung und Volksbildung,” [Reich Minister for Science, Schools, and National Education] Bernhard Rust, which stipulated that “Jews of German citizenship are no longer permitted to attend German schools.” Stating that Jewish students were only allowed to attend Jewish schools from now on, Witt added that in Hamburg this meant the Talmud Torah School and the Israelite Girls’ School [Israelitische Mädchenschule]. This meant that the Talmud Torah School was supposed to admit even more students who were not eligible according to its by-laws and who often were opposed to attending the Talmud Torah School because they did not identify as Jews, for example. The memorandum sheds light on the view of the Talmud Torah School as well as on the pressure it was put under.

Reactions among baptized students and Liberal Jewish families


Sources documenting the admission and fate of Hermann Kaftal provide an example of the situation Christian children who were declared Jewish by the National Socialists and their families faced. Illness, private tutoring, and preparation for emigration were probably all reasons given in order to delay or avoid the attendance of one of the Jewish schools. On the other hand, Mrs. Kaftal’s protest against the dismissal of teacher Richard Levi in the spring of 1941 suggests that her son Hermann was happy to attend the classes he taught.

One example illustrating just how absurd it seemed to Liberal Jews to send their children to an Orthodox Jewish school was the foundation of the “Blankeneser Schulzirkel” by Rahel Liebeschütz. In a retrospective account that probably stems from an interview with Joseph Walk, which probably took place in 1971, Dr. Max Plaut, chairman of the Jüdischer Religionsverband Groß-Hamburg [Jewish Religious Association of Greater Hamburg] from 19381943, described the issue of school attendance between the community’s Orthodox and Liberal members as virtually uncontroversial, however.

The question of belonging to Judaism


The memorandum also needs to be considered in the context of the fact that Hamburg’s Israelitischer Gemeindeverband [Association of Israelite Communities in Hamburg] in September 1933 had rejected the establishment of additional Jewish schools and the introduction of other classes on the grounds that they would exacerbate the Talmud Torah School’s and the Israelite Girls School’s struggle for survival. Following a decree issued by the Reich Minister for Education of July 2, 1937, the aspect of religious denomination became increasingly significant. The decree stipulated that so-called “Jewish mixed bloods” [jüdische Mischlinge] were now allowed to attend Jewish schools and had to be reported immediately to the school authority [Kultur- und Schulbehörde],which caused problems with regard to the admission of students. A school administration authority memorandum dated November 3, 1937 sheds light on this issue. The Talmud Torah School – being an Orthodox Jewish confessional school – considered all its students as Jews. In the memorandum, Spier explained the discrepancy between the halakhic definition of who was considered a Jew and the definition according to the new citizenship law [Reichsbürgergesetz]. Law passed on Sept. 15, 1935 by the National Socialists depriving the Jews of all political rights. In order to prevent conflict with the community, the school deliberately did not investigate whether students applying for admission were “Volljuden” [full Jews] or Mischlinge” [mixed bloods]. They attended religious education classes despite not being considered Jews according to Jewish religious law. According to the citizenship law, Law passed on Sept. 15, 1935 by the National Socialists depriving the Jews of all political rights. however, their attendance of religious education classes was interpreted as conversion to Judaism. Many students therefore left the school, so that the Talmud Torah School was worried for financial reasons. Consultations at the state school authority that were taken up after an inquiry by director Spier resulted in a new rule entitling the school to require proof of membership in the Jewish congregation from each student (see memorandum of 12/28/1937). The Talmud Torah School was also under pressure from the religious associations [Kultusverbände] who sought to increase their influence on the curriculum. All demands to this effect were rejected, however.

The admission of Christian students


While the memorandum of November 24, 1938 reflects Spier’s insistence, based on the school’s by-laws, on admitting only students who “genuinely” professed the Jewish faith, this had already no longer been mandatory in 1937 (see memorandum of 11/3/1937). The school remained consistent in its rejection of Christian students though. In this context it may seem surprising that the Talmud Torah School had always also employed Christian teachers; among the last ones were Paul Niemeyer, who taught German and history, and physical education teacher Hans Mähl. While the school’s board had repeatedly expressed reservations against employing Christian teachers, it did not succeed in preventing it; the board members feared that the school would lose its Jewish identity, as had happened in the case of the Stiftungsschule von 1815 [Foundation School of 1815], which had begun admitting Christians. Spier’s subsequent concession to admit “Jews” baptized as Christians while excusing them from religious education classes was doubtless made under pressure.

Selected Bibliography


Arnulf H. Baumann (ed.), Ausgegrenzt. Schicksalswege »nichtarischer« Christen in der Hitlerzeit, Schalom-Bücher vol. 3, Hannover 1992.
Ursula Büttner / Martin Greschat, Die verlassenen Kinder der Kirche. Der Umgang mit Christen jüdischer Herkunft im »Dritten Reich«, Göttingen 1998.
Christiane Pritzlaff, Text und Dokumentation. Produktion: Lewandowski, Bernd, Tonbildschau: Entrechtet – ermordet – vergessen. Jüdische Schüler in Hamburg, Hamburg 1994.
Christiane Pritzlaff, Entrechtet – ermordet – vergessen. Jüdische Schüler in Hamburg. Begleitmaterialien zur Tonbildschau. Geschichte – Schauplatz Hamburg, Hamburg 1996.
Christiane Pritzlaff, Henriette Arndt, eine jüdische Lehrerin in Hamburg, in: Miriam Gillis-Carlebach / Wolfgang Grünberg (ed.), »Dem Himmel zu pflanzen und die Erde zu gründen« (Jesaja 51, 16). Die Joseph-Carlebach-Konferenzen. Jüdisches Leben. Erziehung und Wissenschaft, Hamburg 1995, pp. 224–237.
Ursula Randt, Die Talmud Tora Schule in Hamburg 1805 bis 1942, München et al. 2005.

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About the Author

Christiane Pritzlaff, Dr. phil., studied German studies and evangelic theology in Bonn and Hamburg. She wrote her dissertation about Thomas Mann and made several publcations about the destinies of Jewish pupils and teachers, the Jewish elementary school in Lübeck and lately about Jean Paul's youngest daughter Odilie as well as Wolfgang Borchert and the reformation. Her latest publication is a contribution to a interdisciplinary online project about the reformation (reformation-reloaded.net). She worked as high school teacher and in the field of teachers' training and curriculum development; she gave courses on Jewish school history and on the Holocaust at the University of Hamburg.

Recommended Citation and License Statement

Christiane Pritzlaff, The Admission of Baptized Students to the Talmud Torah School in Hamburg Beginning in Late 1938 (translated by Insa Kummer), in: Key Documents of German-Jewish History, February 13, 2017. <https://dx.doi.org/10.23691/jgo:article-178.en.v1> [May 28, 2017].

This text is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution - Non commercial - No Derivatives 4.0 International License. As long as the work is unedited and you give appropriate credit according to the Recommended Citation, you may reuse and redistribute the material in any medium or format for non-commercial purposes.