Gera is where my mother Toni Katz, her parents, and several Katz relatives resided after leaving Sokal. They lived in this German town starting around 1921/1922, until their deportation (or escape for my mother) in November 1938.

Gera is a mid-sized industrial city in Thuringia (aprox. 100 000 inhabitants today), located east of Weimar and south of Leipzig. It was part of East Germany until German reunification.

Siegmund Spiegel:

Gera was a very, very nice town, beautifully located. Basically it was an industrial town. We had clothing industry, carpet-weaving factories and machine works in that town.

And the Jews were mostly in commerce - you know, small businesses - except for the large stores like Bierman - they were the German Jews, the old established families. But the Eastern European Jews served the low-income bracket people, shall we say, who bought on credit.

Basically, these businesses grew out of... First you actually peddled, and then you had a little store and people came, and then you even went out and sold and you bought goods in (?) them and they paid off on credit. It was a tough existence.

Gera: Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Gera: Chamber of Commerce and Industry, 1927

Gera: Fürstliches Hoftheater

Gera: Theater (Fürstliches Hoftheater)

Gera: Marktplatz

Gera: Marketplace, 1912

Gera: Handelshof

Gera: Handelshof skyscraper

Gera's first skyscraper, built 1929.

Gera: Rossplatz

Gera: Rossplatz

Gera: MargaretenGasse.

Gera: MargaretenGasse

Margaretengasse where Leo Katz's family lived until 1937 or 1938 was located in the city center, between Roßplatz and Mühlengasse. Margaretengasse was closed in 1958.

Gera:  Opolkaner Schnapsfabrik, 5 Margaretengasse.

Gera: Opolkaner Schnapsfabrik, 5 Margaretengasse

Leo Katz's family lived 6 Margaretengasse until 1937 or 1938 - across from this building?

Jewish Community in Gera

The first Jewish presence in Gera dates from the mid-1300s; Expelled from the town in the mid-1400s, Jews did not return until 1880. The modern community, formed in 1885, established and maintained a small prayer room.

With an influx of Jews from Poland around and after WW1, Gera’s Jewish population grew to a total a peak size of 510 members in 1925.

To accommodate the growing congregation, the Jewish community convinced the owners of the Hotel Kronprinz on the corner of Schülerstraße and Roßplatz to allow them to build an extension to the hotel to serve as a synagogue. This new synagogue was inaugurated in 1919.

Gera Kronprinz Hotel.

Gera Kronprinz Hotel

The Orthodox Jewish community continued to maintain its own synagogue in Hospitalstraße (Karl Liebknecht Straße).

My mother mentioned that German Jews went to one synagogue, while the Ostjuden attended their own; the communities didn't mix.

Gera Synagogue.

Gera Synagogue

Collection Werner Simsohn, from "Juden in Gera, I". Retrieved from Yad Vashem

There was a Jewish school in the Meistergässchen. ("parish hall with a school"?)

The city also counted various Jewish associations and organizations, such as the youth association "blue-white", a local chapter of the imperial union of Jewish front soldiers, and, starting in 1935, a local group of the sports club "Bar Kochba". (At first, the Nazi authorities tolerate the group, as the regime is toning down its antisemitic policies in preparation for the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. This policy later changes and the club will eventually be dissolved after the Gestapo's intervention.

By 1933, the Gera census counted 378 Jews - 0,5% of the city's population. By 1938, according to the list set up for their imminent deportation, there were 83 Polish Jews in Gera - 68 adults and 14 children, among them the three Katz brothers and their families.

Timeline of anti-Jewish measures in Gera and Thuringia.

While anti-Jewish measures would be adopted across all of Germany starting in 1933, Thuringia was in many ways a precursor to the national Nazi takeover of German institutions, with early electoral successes resulting in racial legislation at the state level even before Hitler's rise to power.

Sources and References
Timeline and several photos from gera-chronik.de
Author: Werner Simsohn Juden in Gera vol I, vol II Publisher: Hartung-Gorre Verlag Konstanz
germansynagogues.com

This family history project started September 2009.
All photos and documents belong to the author and are © Daniel Abraham, except for maps and where indicated.
This is a work in progress. Please contact me if you have any more information to contribute.

Last Modified: Sunday, January 21, 2018