The first Jews to reach Germany were merchants who followed the Roman legions and settled in the Roman founded Rhine towns.  The earliest detailed record of a Jewish community in Germany is that of Cologne mentioned in imperial decrees issued in 321 and 331 c.e.  Until the end of the 11th century, Jews were engaged in international trade and appeared to be a respected element of the urban population.  The first reports of persecution date from the 11th century, particularly during the first crusade in 1096.  

       As a result of being forced out of the trades and regular channels of commerce during the 12th and 13th centuries, money lending became the main livelihood of the Jews in Germany.  The 13th and 14th centuries brought ever increasing anti-Jewish laws and regulations as well as mob excesses, including numerous massacres.  The 15th century was generally marked by libels against Jews and their expulsion from certain areas.  Many of these expulsions were designed to extort money from the Jews.  These last few centuries of the middle ages were a period of severe and difficult changes for the Jews of Germany and resulted in the shift of the population and intellectual activity eastward.  

       With the Reformation and the development of the mercantile system of economy introduced into certain kingdoms and principalities, some changes in the position of the Jews took place.  In many areas, rulers welcomed wealthy Jews with capital and economic experience who could further internal and international trade.  It was at this time that court Jews began to appear.  Toward the end of the 18th century, many changes affecting the Jews took place.  The Jewish population was significantly increased by the incorporation of large parts of Poland into Prussia.  At the same time certain groups of wealthy Jews began to assimilate into German society, particularly in the larger cities.  By 1870, the civil and political restrictions that applied to Jews were abolished, and in the period from 1871 to 1914, German Jews became part of the German people from a constitutional view and from practical view.  They were, however, still barred from from official positions and could not become officers in the army.

Jewish Population in Germany, 1871-1944.

Year                Jewish population

1871                512,158

1880                562,612

1890                567,884

1900                586,833

1910                615,021

1925                564,379

   1933                503,0001

   1939                234,0002

  1941                164,000

1942                51,000

1943                31,910

1944                14,574

1 Jews defined by religion.

2 Jews defined by Nuremberg law.

Table from the Encyclopedia Judaica, CD-Rom Edition

       With Nazi seizure of power on January 30, 1933, the entire structure of Jewish life in Germany collapsed.  In April, the first large scale anti-Jewish demonstration took place in the form of a boycott of all Jewish-owned shops and offices of Jewish professionals.  A new phase was marked with the adoption of the Nuremberg Laws in September, 1935, which, among other things, deprived Jews of their status as citizens and made them "subjects of the state."  Things took a decisive turn for the worst with the annexation of Austria in March, 1938.  Extreme anti-Jewish excesses began and culminated with the Kristallnacht discussed below.  This resulted in a fine of one billion marks imposed on the Jews.  These measures put the Jews in great jeopardy, culminating in 1940 with start of large scale deportations to the extermination camps.

       As might be expected, one of the principal activities of the organized Jewish community was to assist in emigration efforts.  As set forth in the following table, in excess of 300,000 Jews emigrated from Germany in the period from April, 1933, to May, 1939.

Emigration of Jews from Germany in the Period April 1933 to May 1939,

including Areas occupied by Germany by May 1939

Country of


# of


USA          63,000
Palestine  55,000
Great Britain  40,000
France  30,000
Argentina  25,000
Brazil  13,000
South Africa    5,500
Italy    5,000
Other European




Other South

American Countries



Far Eastern




Other    8,000
Total 304,500

       At the outbreak of the war in September, 1939, there were still in excess of 200,000 Jews in Germany.  By October, 1941, this number had been reduced to 164,000.  Most of this reduction was due to Jews leaving Germany, but many of these only moved to countries that soon came under Nazi control.  At this time, mass transfers commenced to ghettos in Eastern Europe (Lodz, Minsk, Riga, Kovno).  About 30,000 Jews were so transferred.  Beginning in October, 1942, Jews were transferred to Auschwitz and other extermination centers, at first by way of concentration camps, and later, directly.  By May, 1943, Germany was declared free of Jews.  Any Jews remaining and not imprisoned were primarily spouses of non-Jews, or "half-Jews" as defined under the Nuremberg Laws.  It is estimated that about 160,000 to 180,000 German Jews were murdered by the Nazis in Germany, or to have died as a result of persecution.

       Reestablishment of Jewish communities began after the war.  By the end of 1967, it was estimated that over 30,000 Jews lived in West Germany and West Berlin.  This figure remained fairly constant until about 1990 when the Jewish population exploded with the reunification of Germany and the large influx of immigrants from the Soviet Union.  In 1995, Germany's Jewish population was estimated at about 60,000 persons.  




       On November 9, 1963, East Germany issued the above 10 pfennig stamp to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Crystal Night, that night of terror when Nazis roamed the cities of Germany and Austria killing Jews and burning synagogues.  The stamp depicts a burning synagogue and, in the foreground, the yellow badge which all Jews were required to wear under Nazi rule.

       The pretext for Crystal Night was the assassination, on November 7, 1938, of Ernst von Rath, a Nazi official, in Paris by a young Jewish emigre, Herschel Grynspan, who was distraught over the expulsion of his parents from Germany as a result of being Polish citizens.  Although the official claim was the the night of terror was a "spontaneous" reaction to the assassination, the extent of the pogroms was proof that it was an organized Nazi campaign to confiscate Jewish property and burn synagogues.

       In fact, prior to Crystal Night, local Nazi officials were advised that attacks on Jews were expected but that precautions should be taken to protect property of non-Jews.  The letters carrying these instructions were sent in envelopes marked "Kristallnacht".  At the same time, 20,000 of the wealthier Jews were arrested.  However, this, unfortunately, was only the beginning in that, in addition to a billion mark levy being imposed on the Jews, a deluge of new restrictive laws against Jews were enacted.

       Shortly after Crystal Night, Reinhard Heydrich reported to Goering that 7,500 Jewish owned businesses were wrecked, 191 synagogues and 171 apartment houses were burned, and 36 German and Austrian Jews were killed.


Communities Represented






























                               Mulheim an der Ruhr











Encyclopedia Judaica, CD-Rom Edition, Keter Publishing

Israel Philatelist, Vol. XV, No. 5, P. 1081-82)  See Society of Israel Philatelists

Kristallnacht Information on the Web

Copyright 1998-2002 Edward Victor