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.
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, 1927
Gera: Theater (Fürstliches Hoftheater)
Gera: Marketplace, 1912
Gera: Handelshof skyscraper
Gera's first skyscraper, built 1929.
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
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
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.
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.
08/10/1923: The first National Socialists in Gera
The first local group of the NSDAP (National Socialist German Workers Party) is founded in Gera. The group will soon be banned after the failure of the coup d'état staged by Adolf Hitler on November 9, 1923.
02/1924: Participation of the Völkisch-Sozialer Block in the Thuringia parliament
In February 1924, the anti-Semitic writer Arthur Dinter is elected to the state parliament of Thuringia.
As a representative of the electoral alliance Völkisch-Sozialer Block ("Peoples Social Bloc"), he demands as a condition of joining a bourgeois minority government "...that Jews be unconditionally removed from all government and civil service (including the Gera city council) ... In the legal sense, we consider as "Jew" a member of the Jewish race, the son or grandson of a member of the Jewish race, baptized or not."
Dinter's demands include "the expulsion of the Eastern Jews who have immigrated to Thuringia since 1914, confiscation of their entire property", a ban on cattle and grain trade for Jews, a professional ban on Jewish doctors, lawyers and notaries, a ban on hiring of Jewish teachers at Thuringian schools and at the University of Jena, a ban on children of Jewish parents from attending public schools.
These demands do not succeed, but foreshadow what will be implemented in the years to come.
02/25/1925: The NSDAP in Gera
The local branch of the NSDAP is re-established in Gera, with 12 registered party members.
12/11/1925: Hitler in Gera
Hitler visits Gera with his deputy Rudolf Hess. There are about 1800 people in the establishment "Heinrichstraße". In front of the bar, there are protests from Communists and Social Democrats intoning the International.
05/02/1926: The first group called "Hitler Youth" is created in Gera
A Hitler Youth group is created for young men between the ages of 14 and 18.
Members of the NSDAP (National Socialist German Workers' Party) smash the windows of two Jewish stores, "Buetow" and "Hermann Tietz". The perpetrators are arrested.
1929: The Gera NSDAP gains in strength
The Gera chapter of the NSDAP now counts 146 members.
1930: First SA group in Gera
The first group of SA (Sturmabteilung - the paramilitary wing of the NSDAP Party) is created in Gera with about 70 to 80 men.
01.1930: Thuringia the first local governement with a National Socialist minister
As the price for joining the coalition government of the Land (state) of Thuringia, the NSDAP receives the state ministries of the Interior and Education. Wilhelm Frick is appointed to these ministries, becoming the first Nazi to hold a ministerial-level post at any level in Germany, making Thuringia the first German local state government with National Socialist participation.
Frick uses his position to dismiss Communist and Social Democratic officials and to replace them with Nazi Party members.
Shortly after assuming office in the Thuringia government, Frick issues a decree for the reintroduction of the school prayer, bans several newspapers, and bans Erich Maria Remarque's anti-war novel "All Quiet on the Western Front" in schools. On his order, 70 paintings and graphics are removed from the Weimar Museum as "degenerate art", including works by Otto Dix and Paul Klee.
Frick also appoints the eugenicist Hans F. K. Günther as a professor of social anthropology at the University of Jena. On October 1, 1930, the "Chair for Race Questions and Racial Science" is created under the leadership of Günther, helping to establish a scientific basis to the racial ideology of the Nazis. Gunther's "Racial Doctrine" is adopted in the school system by the Thuringian Ministry of Education.
05-06/09/1931: Hitler in Gera
Hitler Rally in Gera: 5-6 September 1931. Hitler comes to Gera on the occasion of the 7th Gauparteitage (the NSDAP's "District Party Day") and gives a speech in the market place. According to the "Geraer Zeitung", 13,000 Hitler supporters attend and march.
Hitler in Gera, 1931. Marktplatz.
03/12/1932: Early calls for boycott
Three months before the Reich-wide call of the National Socialist government, Thuringia Minister of the Interior Sauckel calls for a boycott of Jewish businesses in a radio speech.
07/26/1932: Hitler in Gera
Hitler speaks in Gera in the Schützenplatz in front of about 40,000 supporters. His appearance is accompanied by protests by the members of the "Iron Front" and the KPD (Communist Party).
07/31/1932: Reichstag and state elections
In Gera, the Social Democrats receive 20,323 votes, the NSDAP 20,191, and the Communists 6,422. With this election, the NSDAP have almost doubled their results compared to the 10,746 votes they received in the September 1930 vote.
12.1932: Increased NSDAP membership
At the end of 1932, the NSDAP in Gera has now 1,413 members and the SA (combat organization) 600 members.
01/31/1933: Torchlight procession of the National Socialists
The NSDAP (National Socialist German Workers Party), SA (the "Brownshirts"), SS, and the Hitler Youth march in a torchlight procession in honor of Hitler. A counter-demonstration by the Communists is forcibly disbanded, followed by numerous arrests.
02/12/1933: The first purges in Gera
The National Socialists begin to carry out the first political purges into the town councils of Gera. Social Democrats, Communists and Jews are removed from office and replaced by National Socialists.
02/27/1933: Police action against the Communists in Gera
After the Reichstag fire on February 27, the police sent to prison more than 20 Communist officials, including members of the city council.
09/03/1933: "Rathenau Platz" renamed "Adolf Hitler Platz"
Named after Walther Rathenau, the Jewish Foreign Minister during the Weimar Republic, "Rathenauplatz" is renamed Adolf Hitler Platz.
03/30/1933: Implementation of the national anti-Jewish boycott in Gera
The "Geraer Beobachter", an NSDAP newspaper, announces the boycott of all Jewish businesses in Gera scheduled for April 1, 1933, and "draws the public's attention to the fact that it is treason to buy from the Jew".
Newspapers in Gera print detailed lists of shops whose owners are Jewish. Among them, for example, the department store of Max Biermann. The headlines in the "Geraer observer", the newspaper of the NSDAP, announces: "Do not buy from the Jew", "Out with Jews from all German courtrooms".
The party leadership issues the following guidelines: "Through SS and SA departments, the population will be warned against entering Jewish shops. Jewish businesses will be designated as such. The beginning of the boycott is scheduled for Saturday, April 1, 1933, at 10 o'clock in the morning.
04/01/1933: The boycott
At 10:00 am on April 1, SA guards stand in front of Jewish shops and inform inhabitants of Gera that shopping in Jewish stores is a betrayal of their fathers. The department stores of Hermann Tietz and Max Biermann are closed. Shops are marked with the Star of David and covered with anti-semitic slogans.
The boycott continues against Jewish physicians and lawyers. The population is asked to only visit German doctors and lawyers."
12.1933: Hitler Youth in Gera
Almost 98% of Gera's male adolescents now belong to the Hitler Youth.
15/07/1933: "Racial Science" in Thuringia
The state of Thuringia establishes a "State Office for Racial Science" in Weimar, the first such institution at the country level. There, a "genetic archive" is created in which 466,000 personal files are archived by 1935. Ultimately, every third inhabitant of the country is captured here.
The Deutsche Arbeitsfrong ("German Labor Front", national labor union) marches in Gera.
The Kampfbund fur Deutsche Kultur ("Fighting League for German Culture") holds an event in Gera. The cultural watchdog organization operated by the Nazi Party was opposed to the involvement of Jewish writers, composers, and artists in German culture, and to other figures who did not fit the organization's concept of German culture under Nazism. The organization held book-burnings and other events.
06/17/1934: Hitler visits Gera
Adolf Hitler visits Gera once again and delivers a speech.
The Max Biermann department store in Gera is "Aryanized", along with many other Jewish businesses.
07/10/1935: Further boycott
The mayor of Gera asks the Minister of the Interior, Fritz Sauckel, to include in his official journal a "list of all Jewish businesses in Gera". With this measure he wants to ensure that under no circumstances would any of the city officials, employees and workers buy from Jewish shops.
08/10/1935: Further anti-Jewish measures
Jewish stores in Gera are now closed or operated by "Aryans". Jews are no longer allowed to teach, to go to the movies or the theater, and cannot sit on park benches.
09/03/1936: A "forbidden relationship" in Gera
A man who violated the Nuremberg race laws is sentenced in the district court of Gera to six months in prison for maintaining a sexual relationship with a Jewish woman ("defiling the race").
05/13/1938: Aryanization in Gera
The carpet factory "Halpert & Co", one of the leading carpet manufacturers with 1,000 employees is "Aryanized".
28/10/1938: Deportation of Polish Jews from Gera
According to the head of the police of Gera, there are 83 deportable Jews in Gera and all but one of them, because he is away, have been informed they will be deported from Gera the next day. 68 adults and 14 children of Polish nationality are deported on that day, including the three Katz brothers and their families.
In the early morning hours of November 10, the SA, the SS and the Hitler Youth destroy the synagogue in the Hotel Kronprinz on Schülerstraße, but decide not to burn it as it's attached to a hotel. Instead, the contents of the synagogue is looted, and Torah scrolls are burned in the streets by the SA. The Orthodox synagogue is burned down. The Jewish school in the Meistergässchen is also destroyed.
The Gera police are instructed not to intervene during the pogrom, as fire brigades across Germany had been told not to fight the synagogue fires, but only to protect the neighborhing properties which belonged to "true Germans".
Members of the NSDAP (National Socialist German Workers' Party), SA and SS ransack Jewish apartments and arrest all men aged 16 and over. 38 of the men are taken to the Buchenwald concentration camp near Weimar.
The Press in Gera: "In order to prevent riots against the Jews, the Jewish men were placed in protective custody."
In his report on the pogrom night in Gera, the chief prosecutor Müller writes: "The whole action was without incident."
Two SA posted in front of a Jewish store during the April 1, 1933 boycott.
Photo: Herbert Gutte, collection Werner Simsohn, "Juden in Gera, I".
Biermann store on the day of the Nazi boycott, April 1, 1933.
(Photo from "Juden in Gera, I", Werner Simsohn)