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Geller, book cover

Rebuilding Jewish Life in Germany,
1945 - 1953

Book Essay on:
Jay Howard Geller, Jews in Post-Holocaust Germany, 1945-1953

(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 330 pages.
UCSB: DS 135.G332G39 2007

by Eteri Samsonidze
June 5, 2007

for Prof. Marcuse's lecture course
Germany, 1945-present
UC Santa Barbara, Winter 2007

About the Author
& Abstract
and Links
Plagiarism Warning & Links
$6 & searchable
at amazon

About Eteri Samsonidze

I am a senior Political Science (w/ emphasis in international relations) and Slavic Languages and Literatures double major. I am interested in learning about politics and history of different European cultures. Being that I was born and raised in Europe, I have always wanted to study European history more deeply. I chose this particular topic because my knowledge on this subject was very small.

Abstract (back to top)

In this book, Jay Howard Geller describes the challenging journey of Jewish Germans toward reestablishment of a Jewish community in Germany. Geller compares and contrasts the attitudes held and policies adopted towards Jews in East and West Germany. The author discusses a variety of problems which the Jewish population was faced with as it tried to organize for the common goal. Furthermore, he talks about the roles of different German politicians who aided Jews in the reconstruction of Jewish communities across Germany. Geller argues that Jews survivors of Holocaust and WWII were successful in rebuilding their lives in Germany between 1945 and 1953. The author states that by organizing under important political organizations, working with powerful German politicians and unifying for a common goal, German Jews overcame many political, social and economic obstacles and successfully reestablished their lives in Germany by the early 1950s.

Essay (back to top)

Summary of Book

Between 1945 and 1953 Jews living in Germany were able to successfully reestablish Jewish community in the country. International organizations argued about the fate of Holocaust survivors. While the majority of Eastern European Jews (displaced persons) wished to settle in newly established state of Israel, most German Jews wanted to stay in Germany. The displaced persons looked for support from the Allies in their hope to immigrate to Israel as soon as possible. German Jews, on the other hand, were largely isolated from the world Jewish community and thus they often turned to German politicians for help with the reestablishment of Jewish community in their native land. Due to these differences in the two communities, there was a lot of tension among groups of Jews in Germany. However, after the creation of state of Israel, most displaced persons were finally able to emigrate. This contributed to the stabilization of the situation in Germany, because at this point most Jews remaining in West Germany united in Central Council of Jews and worked together to establish a strong Jewish community in West Germany. Although Jews in East Germany were united in various Jewish communities, they were under strong control of the unfriendly and suspicious communist government. In both East and West Germany, the key for Jewish success was establishment of ties between Jewish leaders and powerful individuals in each of the two governments. In East Germany, the State Association worked together with the German communist party, while in West Germany, the Central Council of Jews and its leaders worked with German politicians with great effort to help the reestablishment of Jewish life in Germany. In West Germany, most German politicians were reluctant to severely criticize the Nazi past due to their own political interests; however they put a lot of effort into helping the reestablishment of Jewish community. Finally, after a great deal of hard work the agreement for reparations to Israel and German Jewry was concluded in West Germany. Jews in East Germany faced a variety of problems when dealing with the communist government and its hidden anti-Semitism. For a long time East German government refused to aid their Jews. It claimed that communists themselves were major victims of the Nazi party and thus the communist government did not owe anything to the Jews. Furthermore, communists in East Germany often persecuted Jewish leaders and forced them to flee to West Germany. However, gradually Jews in both East and West Germany achieved stability and progress. The organized communities were able to set their roots in Germany. Active leaders who worked through the Central Council built ties with important German politicians and made the reestablishment of Jewish life in Germany possible.

Essay: Introduction

In his book, Jews in Post-Holocaust Germany, Jay Howard Geller answers questions regarding Jewish life in Germany in the post World War II and post Holocaust years. What were the major problems that the post Holocaust Jewish population was faced with while trying to reestablish Jewish community in Germany, and how was it able to overcome these problems? How did the two German governments (East and West) approach the Jewish question? Was a Jewish community able to successfully reestablish itself in Germany after 1945? In this book Gellar answers these questions and argues that Jews were successful in the quest to reestablish their roots in Germany after surviving an almost complete destruction during the Holocaust years. Through a variety of internal and external factors like the establishment of the Israeli State, unification of German Jews, important political organizations, active leaders and ties with German politicians the Jewish community was able to gradually overcome tremendous economic, political and social obstacles and successfully establish a new Jewish community in their native Germany between 1945 and 1953.

Disunity of Jews in Germany

According to Geller one of the most significant obstacles that the Jewish population in Western Germany faced was the social division in the country, where the Jewish population was divided into two groups: Jewish Germans and Eastern European Jewish refugees (displaced persons). This cultural divide was a serious impediment to the reestablishment of Jewish communities in Germany because it was manifested into ideological differences between the two groups as “German Jews considered themselves legal successors to the prewar communities and were intensely interested in restitution, while the displaced persons wanted all efforts to be directed toward resettlement in Palestine”(Geller, 50). Since the divided Jewish population did not think that they all shared the same interests, establishing a single, unified Jewish association that would aid in the organization of Jewish communities in Germany became a big challenge. Leaders of postwar Germany as well as various Jewish organizations were faced with problems since “German Jews’ cool relations with the displaced persons in the American zone kept the Jewish community in western Germany divided, despite its small size and need for unity as it sought critical assistance” (Geller, 52).

German Jews unite

However, with time divided communities finally found a way to make peace with one another and cooperate in order to achieve their desired goals. According to Geller several important changes contributed to final unification of Jews in Germany. With the establishment of State of Israel in 1948 a large number of displaced persons who wanted to emigrate were finally able to do so. Most Jews who were left in Germany by this time could plan for a common future: establishment of a strong and functioning Jewish community in Germany. With the founding of Federal Republic of Germany in West Germany, the new government became in charge of the Jewish affairs since the Allies were losing interest in Jewish affairs. Furthermore, “foreign Jewish organizations, promoting Jewish emigration form Germany, isolated the German Jews,” since they did not want to see Jews resettle in Germany (Geller, 88). Due to all these reasons, German Jewry was forced to unify in order to achieve their goals. As Geller states, “only in the face of abandonment by the American occupiers, isolation by world Jewry, and the imposition by the West German government of an official representative did they put aside their disputes and found the Central Council of Jews in Germany” (Geller, 89).

Unfriendly East German government

Geller contends that while Jews in West Germany struggled from cultural and ideological disunity, their counterparts in East Germany were faced with the need to deal with the Soviet military administration and German Communist government in order to reestablish a Jewish community in the country. Although Jews in Eastern Germany were unified, they found it extremely hard to set up Jewish organizations that would aid their population in the establishment of a new Jewish community. The Communist government of East Germany saw the organization of independent Jewish associations with suspicion, and thus often declined to authorize the formation of groups that were so vital for Jews at this time. Furthermore, the government claimed that it was communists and not Jews who were the major victims of the Nazi regime, thus it refused to provide reparations for the Jews. As Geller states, “many Communist officials, motivated by either anti-Semitism or opportunism, hindered the Jewish community’s efforts to reestablish itself”; thus the Jews in Eastern Germany oftentimes became victims of “Communist anti-Semitism” (Geller, 119). Jews in Communist Germany had no other choice but to depend on the few political leaders who cared enough about the Jewish concerns to try putting pressure on the East German government.

Important politicians

According to Geller, the triumph of renewed Jewish life in Germany can largely be attributed to dedication and courage of some politicians. Success of renewed Jewish life greatly depended on the devotion and hard work of leaders like Schumacher, Adenauer, and others. One of the strongest supporters of the Jewish communities in Germany was the Social Democratic Party (SPD). Schumacher, the leader of the SPD until 1952, dedicated his life and career to the Jewish issues. Schumacher fought for the reestablishment of Jewish communities in Germany because he yearned to see a new “morally reunified Germany after the Nazis” and deeply regretted “the loss of the Jewish contribution to Germany’s spiritual, cultural, and economic life” (Geller, 128). He continuously struggled to achieve reparations for Jews and urged them to return to Germany. Adenauer, the leader of Christian Democratic Party and chancellor of West Germany from 1949 to 1963, was another important politician whose work served as an important contribution to the reemergence of Jewish life after the Holocaust. Although Adenauer was not as brave and direct when it came to confronting the Nazi past due to his own electoral interests, he nevertheless became seriously involved in postwar Jewish affairs when he pressed for West German reparations to Israel and international Jewish organizations. The two politicians and activists are a good example of the importance of individual leadership for “supporting renewed Jewish life in Germany and immediate reparations to Jews” (Geller, 158).

Anti-Semitism in East Germany

The Jewish population in East Germany was faced with a number of difficulties that their counterparts in West Germany did not have to go through in order to successfully reestablish Jewish life in the post Nazi Germany. The Communist Government of East Germany treated Jews and independent Jewish organizations with great deal of suspicion. As it preached “freedom from religion” in everyday life, Communist East Germany showed hostility and lack of sympathy towards religious individuals, and followers of Judaism were no exception. Coupled with hidden anti-Semitism and Cold War tensions that characterized much of East Germany, Jewish communities were seen with great suspicion and mistrust. In the age of the Cold War, the East German government saw Israel and world Jewry to be the main collaborator with the United States and thus deemed the Jewish population in Germany as being untrustworthy. Due to this doubt and disbelief, in the early 1950s, “Jewish Communists and Jewish communal officials were purged from their positions of power, placed on trial, and imprisoned or executed” (162). This process was an important impediment to the reestablishment of Jewish life in East Germany for many years, because many Jewish communal leaders were forced to flee to West Germany, which meant that “the State Association and the Jewish communities had lost their biggest proponent within the government” (Geller, 176). As the majority of Jewish leaders fled East Germany, by 1953 the already vulnerable Jewish population and their organizations (like the State Association) completely lost their independence from the hostile Communist government and were forced to go along with the regime in order to preserve Jewish life in East Germany.


Geller asserts that after West German Jewish community was able to overcome disunity and establish under a communal organization it was able for a large part to move ahead toward the desired goal of establishing a strong Jewish community by “building a relationship with political elites and state officials” (Geller, 185). The success of the Central Council of Jews in Germany in establishing connections with key politicians such as Konrad Adenauer serves as a great example for Geller’s argument. As Jews in Germany found themselves isolated from world Jewry, the Central Council directed all its efforts toward West German politicians. In response, Adenauer and his government worked towards the establishment of reparations for Jews. Although in the beginning Adenauer faced significant opposition from his own government, “eventually Konrad Adenauer’s government opened ties to the Central Council and broached the topic of reparations for crimes committed against the Jews during the Holocaust” (Geller, 218). Already in 1952 Adenauer was successful in approving the Luxembourg Agreement for collective reparations for Israel. This agreement stabilized the relationship between Israel and Germany and thus became a stepping stone for the success of Jewish life in Germany because, “the link to world Jewry, was as it was, was essential to continued Jewish life in Germany” (Geller, 243). This step granted German Jews admittance to many world Jewish organizations, which was important for political and economic support of Jewish communities throughout Germany. Soon after the Luxemburg Agreement the Central Council was able to negotiate reparations for individual Jewish victims of the Holocaust living in Germany. Therefore, through negotiations with powerful political leaders, “the Central Council had stabilized the postwar Jewish community in Germany and set it on a course that would last many years” (Geller, 286).

Counterevidence in the East

Although Geller makes a convincing argument about the reestablishment of Jewish communities in Germany, his case is somewhat weakened by the counterevidence in East Germany in the early 1950s. Due to the socialist nature of the East German government as well as hidden antisemitism of its leaders, Jews in East Germany could not expect much help from important politicians since “even those SED officials who were not openly anti-Semitic, displayed hostility and a marked lack of sympathy to the concerns of the local Jewish community” (161). Most East German politicians were loyal to the communist party and thus also viewed Jews as a threat to socialist East Germany. In the midst of Cold War, Jews were associated with Israel, a country friendly to the capitalist USA. Organizing Jewish communities in East Germany was extremely difficult, if not impossible as “less than eight years after the Holocaust, representatives of a German government were invoking the bogeyman of an unseen Jewish conspiracy tainting the German nation” (172). Thus, communist leaders of East German Government harassed, interrogated and even arrested Jewish leaders. In 1953, As Jewish community leaders like Meyer fled to West Germany to escape the hostile East German government the hope for establishing a strong Jewish community in East Germany quickly faded; even “the State Association’s very existence was now in doubt” (177). As the few powerful leaders of the East German Jewish community fled to West Germany, “In 1953, the Jewish community of eastern Germany lost its true independence” and found itself “under strict observation and control of the government and the Communist Party” (181 & 183).


Through a variation of internal and external factors the Jewish community in Germany was able to achieve stability between 1945 and 1953. Many conditions contributed to the successful reemergence of Jewish community in Germany. With the creation of state of Israel and emigration of the displaced persons, the Jews remaining in Germany were finally able to unite in order to achieve their common goal. The Central Council’s ties with important leaders of the West German federal government made sure that the World Jewry as well and German Jews received much needed reparations. The Luxemburg Agreement assured West German Jewry an open door into important international organizations and provided for future success. As Geller puts it, “after the chaos of the immediate postwar years … an organized community established roots in Germany” (Geller, 295).

Bibliography and Links (back to top)(links last checked 6/x/07)

Book Reviews:

    • Rapaport, Lynn. “German Politics and Society”. 23.2 (Summer 2005): 110(4). Expanded Academic ASAP. 24 Apr. 2007.
      Rapaport argues that while Geller’s book is well-researched and useful for scholarly study in the field, it is “a dry read”. According to Rapaport, Geller focuses too much attention on the importance of institutions and forgets to talk in detail about the roles of individuals. Rapaport believes that while writing his book, Geller should have concentrated more on the “motivations, frustrations, and feelings, of the Jewish leaders regarding the reconstruction of Jewish community in Germany. Furthermore, Rapaport thinks that Geller misses a big point in his book: the fact that Jews had to rebuild their community while still in transition. According to Rapaport, many Jews (even after DPs left for Israel) “were ambivalent about remaining, even while they were rebuilding”.
    • Levy, Richard S., in: The American Historical Review. (2006). Vol.111, Issue 1. http://www.historycooperative.org/journals/ahr/111.1/br_177.html
      Levy thinks that Geller’s book is well researched and clearly told. According to Levy, the book is concise and well written so that it is easy for the reader to keep track of important details. Levy also praises the book because it is based on archival evidence containing significant and trustworthy information. Levy argues that Geller’s book is wise, since it concentrates on facts and outcomes more than the psychological dimensions of history. In Levy’s opinion Geller’s book is a success, because it is well balance and informative.

Books and Articles:

  • Brenner, Michael. After the Holocaust: rebuilding Jewish lives in postwar Germany. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, c1997. 196 pages. Main Library DS135.G33B7513 1997
    The book talks about the new life of Jews in Berlin, restoration of Jewish community, various Jewish associations, the role of Jewish Aid Organization, continued Jewish life in postwar Germany, etc. It covers a variety of topics discussed by Geller regarding the restoration of Jewish life in Germany.
  • Bessel Richard and Schumann Dirk. Life after Death: Approaches to a Cultural and Social History during the 1940s and 1950s. Washington D.C.: German Historical Institute; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003. Pages 363. Main Library D842.5.L48 2003
    The book discusses different path taken toward normalization after the persecution of Jews in Europe; the relationship between DPs and Germans in post-Nazi Germany and etc. It hits upon many important points discussed in Geller’s book.
  • Lustig, Sandra and Ian Leveson. Turning the Kaleidoscope: Perspectives on European Jewry. New York: Berghahn Books 2006. Pages 239. Main Library DS135.E83T87 2006
    The book discusses the process of rebuilding of Jewish life in Europe; Jewish cultural renascence in Germany; Women’s role in the renewing of Jewish life in Europe, etc. This book can serve as a useful addition to Geller’s book for describing Jewish life in post Nazi Germany.

Web Sites:

  • Shyovitz, David. “The Virtual Jewish History Tour Germany”. American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise. May 24, 2007.
    Shyovitz discusses Jewish life in Germany after the Holocaust. He talks about different opportunities for the reemergence of Jewish life after WWII and German – Israeli relations.
  • Meng, Michael L. “After the Holocaust: The History of Jewish Life in West Germany”. Cambridge University Press. May 24, 2007.
    (Cambridge journals)
    Michael L. Meng describes the difference between East and West Germany. While in West Germany Jews were able to reconstruct their communities, in East Germany Jews faced many difficulties.
  • Mega Essays LLC. “After the Holocaust”. May 24, 2007. http://www.megaessays.com/viewpaper/74569.html
    This essay talks about the fate of Jews in the Displaced Persons’ camps (DPs) and how they were able to reestablish Jewish community.

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Any student tempted to use this paper for an assignment in another course or school should be aware of the serious consequences for plagiarism. Here is what I write in my syllabi:

Plagiarism—presenting someone else's work as your own, or deliberately failing to credit or attribute the work of others on whom you draw (including materials found on the web)—is a serious academic offense, punishable by dismissal from the university. It hurts the one who commits it most of all, by cheating them out of an education. I report offenses to the Office of the Dean of Students for disciplinary action.

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