The first Jews probably settled in Solingen in the 15th century; but it was not until after 1710 that other families moved in, which merged into a small community in the course of the 18th century. Most of the Solingen Jews were small traders at that time, selling textiles, hides and skins; few traded in products from the blade production that was and is still so important for the region.
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There came round about 120 interested citizens to the adult education centre of Solingen to join the "round table" for a memorial and educational centre on may 4, 2019, Foto: Christian Beier max-leven-zentrum.de
In 2004 the first "Stolpersteine" were put for the Dessauer family. On the left: Mayor Franz Haug, on the right: Gunter Demnig. Foto: H. Mähner stolpersteine-solingen.de
On May 28, 2004, the first “Stolpersteine” (stumbling blocks) were installed in front of the building at Klemens Horn Strasse 6. Here, the artist Gunter Demnig laid three stones for the murdered members of the Dessauer family: Samuel, Marianne, and Heinz. Born out of an initiative of the “Solingen Appeal”, the “Circle of Supporters of the Stolpersteine for Solingen” was established. Mayor Franz Haug assumed patronage of the project. Since then, more than 120 "Stolpersteine" have been laid for Jews, the politically persecuted and deserters, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and victims of euthanasia. The Solingen City Archive took over the biographical research and elaboration of the individual biographies of the victims of the Nazi regime in Solingen, as well as the presentation of these fates on the Internet. Time and again, descendants of the victims also take part in the installments, such as, most recently, twenty members of the Jewish Feist family, who had travelled to Solingen from all over the world. Since 2018, twelve secondary schools have taken on the sponsorship of the regular cleaning of the Solingen "Stoplersteine". In 2020, the Solingen City Archive published the volume “Man soll mich nicht vergessen!” Stolpersteine in Solingen, Schicksale 1933–1945 (“Do Not Forget Me!” Stolpersteine in Solingen, Fates 1933–1945) by Armin Schulte.
Leonid Goldberg, chairman of the Jewish community of Wuppertal in the "Bergische Synagoge" during an interreligious city tour for pupils in January 2015. Foto: Daniela Tobias
In January 1997, the Circle of Friends of the New Synagogue was founded in Wuppertal, a citizens’ initiative that advocated a new building with a community center for the Bergische region. The Protestant regional church supported the project by donating a plot of land near the site of the former Barmer synagogue. On December 2, 2002, the new synagogue was inaugurated in the presence of Israeli President Moshe Katzav, German President Johannes Rau, and the Chairman of the Central Council of Jews, Paul Spiegel. The Jewish Religious Community of Wuppertal also includes some 250 members from Solingen, including the long-time chairman Leonid Goldberg. The new building had become necessary because of the strong increase in the number of community members from the former Soviet Union. The space in the former Jewish retirement home at Friedrich Ebert Strasse 73, which the congregation had used as a prayer room since 1956, was no longer large enough for them. Characteristic of the synagogue building designed by the Wuppertal-based architects Goedeking & Schmidt are the glass tower and the nine narrow, high windows that symbolize a Hanukkah menorah.
Report on the signing of the fraternization charter between Solingen and Ness Ziona in the Solinger Tagesblatt of 19.6.1987. Source: Solingen City Archive juedischer-friedhof-solingen.de/geschichte-der-ag
In 1987, the Alexander Coppel Comprehensive School (formerly the Solingen Municipal Comprehensive School) assumed sponsorship of the Jewish Cemetery. Since March 1988, a working group has maintained the gravesites and the grounds on Estherweg. In this way, hundreds of students have already become acquainted with the history and culture of the former Jewish community. The formation of the working group is inseparably connected with the launch of the sister city partnership between Solingen and Ness Ziona in Israel. The partnership document signed in June 1987 by Mayor Nissan Krupsky (Ness Ziona) and Mayor Gerd Kaimer in Solingen states: “With this partnership, we wish to plant a tree of friendship which cannot hide the painful past of the Jews during the National Socialist regime in Germany, but which can be both a sign of hope and a warning.” With the founding of the working group, three main priorities were defined: Maintenance work in the cemetery correspondence with emigrated Jews from Solingen and their descendants dealing with the topic of “Jews and Germany”. A further focus was added later: The school partnership and student exchange with the Menachem Begin Junior High School in Ness Ziona, Israel.
Newspaper article about the renaming of "Hohen Gasse" in "Max-Leven-Gasse". Solinger Morgenpost, March 1, 1979. Source: Solingen City Archive
On the basis of a citizens’ petition, the Solingen-Mitte district council decided to rename Hohe Gasse as Max Leven Gasse in memory of the former cultural critic of the newspaper Bergische Arbeiterstimme, who was shot here in the pogrom night, and whose fate was in danger of being forgotten. The decision was not a foregone conclusion. The four dissenting votes of the CDU and the FDP were justified, among other things, by the fact that the NS victims were already remembered at various places in Solingen and that Max Leven had, after all, been a communist. Four years after the successful renaming, the Neumarkt interest group demanded that name change be revoked, since the local residents allegedly continued to call it Hohe Gasse. In 1979, a memorial plaque was also placed on the air raid shelter on Malteserstrasse to commemorate the destroyed synagogue that had stood on this site. Students from the neighboring grammar school on Schwertstrasse had collected signatures for a petition to these ends. It was only in 1991 that the city of Solingen erected a gravestone for Max Leven in the Jewish cemetery after a working group of the Solingen Comprehensive School had located his grave.
Silent protest in remembrance of the November Pogroms of 1978, Source: Solingen City Archive
The newspaper Rhein-Echo of July 23, 1949, on the sentencing of the murderer of Max Leven and other perpetrators of the pogrom night. Source: Solingen City Archive solingen.de/de/inhalt/november-1938
Oskar Rieß (SPD) was Managing Director of the Solinger Spar- und Bauverein until 1933. After the Americans invaded, they appointed the Social Democrat as provisional mayor. Source: Solingen City Archive max-leven-zentrum.de/closedbutopenorganisation-a
On April 17, 1945 “around 1:00 p.m.,” US Colonel Lansing wrote in his war diary, “the entire region of Solingen and its surroundings was under our control.” The American invasion took place with practically no resistance, since anti-fascist groups had ensured a peaceful handover in several places. Already at 2:00 p.m., Oskar Rieß was appointed provisional mayor by the Americans. Oskar Rieß, who had been Managing Director of the Solinger Spar- und Bauverein since 1928, was dismissed in late 1933, not only because of his SPD membership but also as a so-called “half-Jew.” He and his brothers Max and Willi belonged to a Social Democratic resistance group that distributed leaflets at the end of the war with the “order” to surrender to the Allies without a fight. On May 1, 1945, Oskar Rieß delivered a speech at the joint funeral of seventy-one prisoners who had been killed on April 13 by members of the SS in a ravine on the border between Solingen and Langenfeld as part of an “Endphaseverbrechen” (final phase crime): “May the dead rest in peace before this town hall and may the crime serve as a deterrent to all citizens, so that they will do everything in their power to prevent such inhumanities forever. We are unable to dry the ocean of tears that Hitler’s regime has created.”
Jenny Giesenow and her husband Georg ran a haberdashery at the Ufergarten. Both were deported to Theresienstadt in July 1942. Source: Solingen City Archive max-leven-zentrum.de/closedbutopen-deportationen
Pfaffenberger Weg 190, aerial photograph from 1928, geoportal Solingen. Copyright: Map Service (WMS): © The State of NRW (Geobasis NRW, Cologne) Data license Germany – Attribution (DL-DE/BY-2.0) max-leven-zentrum.de/closedbutopen-pogrom-am-pfaffenberg
Although individual actions against Jews were forbidden, the participants in a training evening of the NSDAP local group Solingen-Dorp let themselves be carried away to a pogrom in the night from July 12 to 13, 1941. After a subsequent drinking bout, some of the men, heavily intoxicated, moved on to the “Judenhaus” (Jewish house) at Pfaffenberger Weg 190. The windowpanes were smashed with stones, accompanied by threats and shouts of abuse. Walter and Herta Brauer were brutally beaten and finally managed to escape from the house. Vera Stock and Gisela Freireich were beaten and bloodied with sticks in their beds and then dragged down the stairs. Two other women were luckily able to find a hiding place in the house just in time. On his own initiative, the responsible constable Hubert Küpper saw to the transport of Vera Stock, who had suffered life-threatening head injuries and broken bones, to the hospital. Although the affair made waves as far as Berlin, the perpetrators were not legally prosecuted. The prosecution of the Pfaffenberger Weg pogrom was one of the first trials after the war. Although it could not be proven that the accused acted intentionally, the court nevertheless emphasized the particular brutality of the mistreatment. The perpetrators were sentenced to prison terms ranging from ten months to two and a half years.
The burial register with the entry for the communist Max Leven, who had since left the synagogue community and re-entered in the mid-1930s, which led to the remark “His life was a mistake; the need led him back to his community ”was acknowledged. Above it is the note: "The morgue was destroyed !!!". Source: Solingen City Archives, Ve 44-2
In the so called "Kristallnacht" from November 9 to 10, 1938, an SA troop first stormed the synagogue. Another group of high-ranking party officials, members of the city administration, and representatives of the business community joined in and brought sawdust as tinder. The men devastated the interior and set the wooden furnishings on fire with gasoline. The fire department only protected the neighboring houses from the flames. Even the police did not intervene. After midnight, four members of the NSDAP invaded the apartment of Max Leven, a former cultural critic of the newspaper Bergische Arbeiterstimme. They devastated the apartment and threatened Leven and his wife. Armin Ritter, janitor of the neighboring AOK insurance company, finally pulled out a pistol and shot the bedridden Max Leven in the head. Afterwards, the men left the completely distraught wife Emmy alone with the dying man. That night, members of the SA, the SS, and the NSDAP demolished apartments and stores throughout the city, including those of baptized Jews and those who lived in “mixed marriages” with Christian partners. In the following night, the chapel in the Jewish cemetery was destroyed. The press reported on thirty-two Jews from Solingen who were taken into “protective custody” on November 10. Twenty men are known by name. They were locked up in the cellars of the townhouse on Potsdamer Strasse. On November 17, eleven of them were deported to the Dachau concentration camp near Munich.
Albert Tobias' men's clothing store at today's Friedrich-Ebert-Str. 120 on April 1, 1933 during the "Jewish boycott", source: Solingen City Archives, RS 27324 (VVN-BdA)
The textile merchant Albert Tobias came from a Jewish family near Neuwied. In 1918, he married a non-Jewish woman from Solingen-Wald and founded a men’s clothing store there. Although not religious himself, his business, like many other shops and practices, was affected by the nationwide “boycott of Jewish businesses” on April 1, 1933. Nevertheless, the threatening gesture did not seem to have a profoundly negative effect most of them. The campaign did not stop customers in Wald from continuing to buy from him. According to the records of his friend and tax consultant, who advised him until November 1938, sales even increased significantly until 1937. Through marriage to his non-Jewish wife Toni, Albert Tobias was initially still legally protected to a certain degree. In the pogrom night in 1938, however, his store was completely devastated. Albert Tobias was taken into “protective custody” and deported to the Dachau concentration camp. In order to retain the business, his wife divorced him in early 1939. The alleged immoral harassment of the former housemaid was acknowledged as the reason for the divorce. Since Albert Tobias was now no longer protected by marriage to a non-Jewish woman, he was deported from Cologne to Lodz in late October 1941. In early May 1942, he was murdered by the introduction of exhaust fumes into a truck in the Chelmno extermination camp. His body was buried in the nearby forest, along with over a hundred thousand others.
The Solingen court assessor Dr. Curt Gaertner died on February 25, 1915 as a non-commissioned officer in the Brigade Replacement Battalion No. 27 in France a headshot. He was the second victim from the Solingen synagogue community and was 26 years old.
As a non-commissioned officer of Brigade Ersatz Battalion No. 27, Dr. Curt Gaertner from Solingen, a “Gerichts-Aassessor” or judge on probation, succumbed to a shot in the head on February 25, 1915 in France. He was the second victim from the Solingen synagogue community and was twenty-six years old. His younger brother Fritz fell two years later at the age of twenty-one. In addition to the loss of both sons, the Gaertner family also had to cope with the loss of its menswear business, which had gotten into economic difficulties due to the outbreak of the war. When the third son Willi was arrested in Mainz in 1938 during the pogrom night, his mother Juliane went to the Gestapo headquarters there and demanded the surrender of her son, since she had, after all, already sacrificed two sons to the fatherland. Willi Gaertner was released and was able to emigrate to the USA in 1940. From the Solingen synagogue community, altogether eight men and the nurse Käte Strauss died during the First World War. Several Jewish participants in the war were distinguished with the “Frontkämpferkreuz,” honoring combatants on the front. In 1920, the memorial stone for the fallen was erected adjacent to the Jewish cemetery mortuary, which was destroyed in 1938.
Gustav Coppel, source: Solingen City Archives, RS 12646
The Solingen synagogue on Malteserstrasse. Source: Solingen City Archives, RS 15816
In 1861, the synagogue congregation purchased a plot of land on Malteserstrasse, because the half-timbered house on Südwall, which the community had been using since 1787, had become much too small as a synagogue due to the sharp increase in the number of Jewish residents. The financing of the new building took several years. In addition, the construction work was interrupted by the Franco-Prussian War, so that it was not until March 8, 1872 that the neo-Romanesque domed building with 90-100 seats for the men, sixty seats for the women, a classroom, and a residence for the teacher could be inaugurated. It was a solemn ceremony with a procession, in which both dignitaries of the city and the population of Solingen participated. Rabbi Dr. Schwarz’s sermon was quoted in the newspaper Allgemeine Zeitung des Judenthums as stating that “in Solingen, famous for centuries for its productive activity, no better steel had ever been forged than that of brotherly love among all confessions; this is the best weapon against fanaticism.” In November 1884, Max Joseph was employed as a prayer leader and teacher of the synagogue congregation. He held this office for nearly fifty years. When he was buried on October 26, 1933, he was carried to his grave by former students and escorted by the Solingen “Sänderbund,” of which he had been an honorary member.
Invoice letterhead from Alexander Coppel, source: Solingen City Archives, RS 20014
The house on Südwall / Ufergarten served as the first synagogue and schoolhouse for the Solingen Jews. Source: Solingen City Archives, RS 20004
The oldest surviving tombstone in the Solingen Jewish cemetery, Sprinz Coppel, b. Hertz (1744-1820) Photo: Daniela Tobias
Minutes of the "Schleifergericht" (grinder tribunal) with mention of a Jew, presumably from May 6th 1568. Source: Solingen City Archives, Historical Archives, GH 3, p. 143