Named for philosopher Franz Rosenzweig, who had been one of the most important protagonists of the Jewish renaissance in the Weimar Republic, the memorial foundation began its work as an institution for adult education in Hamburg one year after his death, on November 28, 1930. Similar institutions were founded in Frankfurt am Main as well as in Berlin, Cologne, Mannheim, Munich and Stuttgart. Hamburg textile merchant Herrmann Philipp (1863-1938), who held Orthodox beliefs and was a long-standing board member of the German-Israelite Congregation Deutsch-Israelitische Gemeinde, DIG, managed to bring together prominent members of Hamburg's Jewish community in this foundation, including Ernst Cassirer, Max Warburg, and Joseph Carlebach. Important personal input was given by Hamburg's three Jewish lodges, especially by the Steinthal Lodge.
An extensive education system had always been part of the central Jewish understanding of culture, which also came to include intentions to reform pedagogy at the beginning of the 20th century. Among German Jewry, these were represented by Martin Buber and Franz Rosenzweig, but also by pedagogue and philosopher Ernst Simon. In the early 1920s Rosenzweig quickly became a widely known public figure. Along with Buber he became one of the most important protagonists of a Jewish renaissance. He published his main work, “Stern der Erlösung,” [The Star of Redemption] in 1921. In the summer of the same year he applied for the position of head teacher and deputy principal at the Jewish School Association Jüdischer Schulverein in Hamburg. He had been recommended for this position by Rabbi Nehemia Nobel, his Frankfurt mentor. He ultimately dropped this plan, however, when he finally agreed to assume the directorship of the Jewish adult education center Jüdische Volkshochschule in Frankfurt am Main. Under his leadership the adult education center Volkshochschule, soon renamed “Free Jewish Education Institute “ Freies Jüdisches Lehrhaus, developed an ambitious and successful curriculum that was to serve as a model for many other Jewish educational institutions. During the Weimar period, Hamburg's German-Israelite Congregation was only partly able to institutionally realize its demand to maintain and promote a sophisticated Jewish education. The Jewish community did not succeed in uniting the many yet ultimately disparate efforts in one Jewish education system. This would have required a kind of masterplan for cultural and educational initiatives in Hamburg. Especially the city's lodges, who were strongly interested in education, expressed their dissatisfaction with this situation and sought to activate educational initiatives outside the congregation's three religious associations. In Altona the situation was the same. All sides complained about the disparate nature of organized lectures. In 1928 the German-Israelite Congregation formed a rather unsuccessful “education committee.” The initiator of the Rosenzweig Memorial Foundation, Herrmann Philipp, instead sought to bring about a renaissance of Jewish education in Hamburg motivated by cultural politics, and in the following years he became the driving force of this development.
The naming was deliberately programmatic. In his volume of essays titled “Zweistromland,” Rosenzweig had written down his thoughts on a successful Jewish education for adults. In doing so, he picked up on earlier works. In the essay titled “Zeit ist's” [It’s about Time] (1917), he wrote: “The spirit of Judaism demands its own home and place of cultivation. The problem of Jewish education on all levels and in all forms is the current question of Jewish life.” The circle around Herrmann Philipp felt obligated by this diagnosis and this task. They intended to create an intellectual-religious network and a new institution inspired by educational reform and formally independent of the congregation that was able to attract a large number of Jews. They sought to counter the alienation from Judaism and increasing religious illiteracy by a medium-term project for a meaningful Judaism. For according to the justified view of the foundation's initiators, the German-Israelite Congregation, being a more formal bond, would not be able to achieve this.
On the founding day, an honorary board and a task force consisting of several members were formed, chaired by Hermann Philipp. In November 1930 the members of the honorary board were Prof. Dr. Ernst Cassirer, Hermann Gumpertz, Alfred Levy, Dr. Paul Ruben, and Max M. Warburg. In addition to Hermann Philipp, the task force included Rabbi Bamberger (Wandsbek), Chief Rabbi Dr. Carlebach (Altona), Rabbi Dr. Holzer, Rabbi Dr. Italiener, attorney Bernhard David, district judge Dr. Hermann Feiner, attorney Dr. Louis Levy, Dr. Ernst Loewenberg, Prof. Isaak Markon, Wolfgang Meyer-Udewald, Dr. Nathan M. Nathan and Dr. Max Plaut. The task force was chaired by Hermann Philipp until his death in March 1938. It acted both as a managing board and a coordinating committee. A smaller three-person board was formed by Hermann Philipp (Synagogue Association Synagogenverband), Dr. Hans Liebeschütz and Wolfgang Meyer-Udewald (Temple Association Tempelverband). There were many personal overlaps between the task force and the Warburg Library for Cultural Studies Kulturwissenschaftliche Bibliothek Warburg, specifically through Prof. Fritz Saxl, and also with Hamburg's Jewish Cultural Association Jüdischer Kulturbund, which was founded in 1934 / 35.
During its first years the foundation was far from reaching the intellectual level of the Frankfurt education center, because Hamburg's Jews still had to become aware of its existence. It seems paradoxical that while the foundation's outer circumstances fundamentally changed during the National Socialist rule, those years were its most successful in retrospect. Since life for Hamburg's Jews changed in every respect due to their increasing marginalization, a transformation of educational ideas occurred. The increasing ghettoization led to an expansion of Jewish cultural life, which Ernst Simon in 1959 characterized with the phrase “Aufbau im Untergang” [“Building amid Decline”] Ernst Simon, Aufbau im Untergang. Jüdische Erwachsenenbildung im nationalsozialistischen Deutschland als geistiger Widerstand, Tübingen 1959.
The foundation's task force decided on a mode of integrative planning by semester. For the 1934 / 35 winter semester a work schedule divided into eight departments was drawn up. Seven of these were supervised by the foundation and one of them by the congregation's education committee. Over the years the curriculum was structured cyclically into the following main subjects, which can be considered classic subject areas: I. Hebrew language (biblical Hebrew); II. Bible study (Midrash) – introduction to the Bible, The Talmud, and liturgy; III. Jewish history and literature; IV. Philosophy of religion – Jewish philosophy of religion; V. Pedagogy and philosophy; VI. Knowledge of nature – naturalist study; VII. General history; VIII. Art study; IX. Judaism and Jewry in world history. Methodically the main focus was on lectures and working groups. Especially the academic working groups offered the possibility to realize the kind of dialogic examination and preparation and further study at home that Rosenzweig had demanded. This ambitious program was open to anyone. In 1933 Martin Buber had programmatically declared: “The education center must help equip the young Jewish individual of today to endure the situation. Yet it also must equip them to endure it as a Jew.” Martin Buber, Ein Jüdisches Lehrhaus, in: Frankfurter Israelitisches Gemeindeblatt 3 (Nov. 1933), p. 1. However, the foundation's leadership had to concede that they did not reach the educationally deprived strata of society. Jewish youth, too, pursued their own interests by organizing in numerous associations. Therefore the foundation had to make concessions in its goals.
Nevertheless, the success of its activities remains remarkable. The classes offered by the foundation became a center of Jewish education in Hamburg. The activity report for the year 1934 illustrates its extensive program: for the first five years, a teaching staff of 16, a total of 514 work nights and lectures on 26 different topics were recorded while the overall number of regular participants in classes or lectures was estimated at about 750. In the 1935 / 36 winter semester, the number of teaching staff rose to 20 due to high demand, and in the 1936 / 37 winter semester this number rose to 23, some of whom taught multiple classes. According to the foundation's self-conception, it had now reached the status of a full-fledged education center. A slight shift in emphasis became noticeable: the study of contemporary Palestine in the sense of applied geography, for example, and Hebrew language classes not only served to gain a deeper understanding of the Torah, but could also be helpful in preparation for emigration from Germany to Palestine. An estimated tenth of all congregation members attended the foundation's events or courses. As of fall 1936, the continuation of the teaching program became difficult due to conflicts within the Jewish community. Ultimately the community's internal split and the incompatible views of Orthodox and Liberals led to the foundation's demise. The conflict broke out over the use of its event space. The Orthodox side continued to have religious reservations against the Gabriel Riesser Hall located in the building of the Liberal Temple Association Liberaler Tempelverband. In retrospect it is hard to understand such quarrels and partisan turf wars, especially during the National Socialist rule. In mid-May 1937 the Franz Rosenzweig Memorial Foundation, whose work had been so successful until then, informed the education committee of the German-Israelite Congregation that they would most likely close the Jewish education center by fall 1937 and that the foundation was only going to be continued on a modest scale. They still managed to plan a teaching program with a staff of 12 teachers for fall 1937, however. When the congregation's new community center on Hartungstraße was opened in spring 1938, the quarrels within the community could have ended, but it was too late. A final activity report was published in May 1938. The foundation's new chairman, private scholar Paul Ruben, was unable to lead its activities effectively. In November or December 1938 the foundation decided its dissolution. Thus Hamburg's Jews lost one of its most important cultural institutions that had been able to awaken and confirm the spirit of inner resistance and Jewish self-respect in the National Socialist state for a few years.
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Ina Lorenz (1940), Prof. Dr. phil. habil, deputy research director at the Institute for the History of the German Jews (IGdJ) until 2005 and professor at the Institute for Economic and Social History at Hamburg University. Her work focuses on German-Jewish history in the 19th and 20th century, as well as on social history of the Jewish comunity during National Socialism. She published several critical source editions on the history of the Jewish congregations in Hamburg, Altona and Wandsbek.
Ina Lorenz, The Franz Rosenzweig Memorial Foundation (translated by Insa Kummer), in: Key Documents of German-Jewish History, June 07, 2018. <https://dx.doi.org/10.23691/jgo:article-65.en.v1> [June 12, 2021].