Gera is where my mother Toni Katz, her parents lived 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.

From literaturland-thueringen :

Around 1900 Gera was one of the richest cities in Germany. From the middle of the 19th century, the city on the White Elster river - until 1918 the state capital of the Principality of Reuss-Gera (Fürstentum Reuß jüngerer Linie), and until 1920 of the People's State of Reuss (Volkstaates Reuß)- recorded enormous economic growth, thanks in particular to the development of the local textile and mechanical engineering industry.

During that period, the city experienced an explosive population growth, and the increasing wealth of the city was reflected in the construction of around 100 Wilhelminian-style villas, especially in the city center, in the area of Berliner Straße, which still provide information about this glamorous period. Gera was the second city in Germany to build a tram in 1892.

Siegmund Spiegel:

Gera was a very, very nice town, beautifully located. It was an industrial town, with clothing industry, carpet-weaving factories and machine works.

The Jews were mostly in commerce - small businesses - except for the large stores like Bierman - those 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.

Jews in Geras made a major contribution to the city's economic, social and cultural development. Towards the end of the 19th century, Jewish entrepreneurs founded their businesses (e.g. the department stores of the Biermann and Jankelowitz families), including a carpet, leather and linen factory and a tailor's shop. One of the best-known companies in Gera was managed by Hermann and Oskar Tietz; Starting out as a small white goods business, they created a department store group that then opened branches in the major cities of Germany. The Tietz department store group was "Aryanized" in 1935/

In 1878 the Jewish merchant Max Biermann founded a small textile company which became the Biermann department store and developed into the largest store in Gera. At the end of the 1920s, the company employed around 200 clerks, 120 seamstresses and homeworkers.

The influx of Polish Jews towards the end of the First World War significantly increased the Jewish population in Gera, which grew to a total a peak size of 510 members in 1925, representing 0.6% of the city's total 80,000 inhabitants.

There was hardly any contact between the local and the immigrant “Eastern Jews”. (My mother recalled that German Jews went to one synagogue, while the Ostjuden attended their own and that the communities didn't mix.) The orthodox Jews had their own prayer room on Hospitalstrasse (Karl Liebknecht Straße). 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. The Orthodox Jewish community continued to maintain its own synagogue in Hospitalstraße.

Gera Kronprinz Hotel.

Gera Kronprinz Hotel

Gera Synagogue.

Gera Synagogue

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

There was a Jewish school/community center in the former Meistergässchen, next to Walkmühlenplatz. A teacher was employed to take care of the religious tasks of the congregation who also worked as a prayer leader ("preacher").

The city counted various Jewish associations and organizations, including the charitable and burial association Chevra Kadischa which also provided care for migrants, the Israelite Women's Association and the Israelite Youth Association. More recent additions included the youth association "Blau-Weiß", a local chapter of the Imperial Inion of Jewish Front Soldiers, and, starting in 1935, a local group of the sports club "Bar Kochba". At first, the Nazi authorities tolerated the group, as the regime was toning down its antisemitic policies in preparation for the 1936 Berlin Olympics. This policy later changed and the club would eventually be dissolved after the Gestapo's intervention.

With the Nazi rise to power in 1933, many Jews emigrated and the Jewish population dropped to 378 that year (0,5% of the city's population), down from its 1925 peak, when it counted 510 members. In the following years, more members of the community emigrated due to the economic boycott and increasing deprivation of rights.

By 1938, according to the list set up for their imminent deportation, there were 83 Polish Jews in Gera - 68 adults and 14 children. Other sources mention that 140 "Ostjuden" (Polish Jews) were deported during the October 28, 1938 so-called "Polenaktion". Among them were the three Katz brothers and their families.

A total of 217 Jews from the city were killed in the Holocaust.

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.

In total, about 216 Jews who were born in Gera and/or lived there perished during the Nazi period.


Since 2008, around 95 (as of 2021) "stumbling blocks" (Stolpersteine) have been installed in Gera to commemorate Jewish victims of the Nazis.

In June and July 2010, 6 "Stolpersteine" were stolen in Gera.

In October 2012, a memorial plaque was unveiled at the Gera main station to commemorate Jewish citizens who were deported during the Nazi era.

This family history project started September 2009.
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This is a work in progress. Please contact me if you have any more information to contribute.

Last Modified: Saturday, January 6, 2024