Martin Riesenburger: Prison Chaplain during the Cold War

From Our Holdings

This document certified in February 1953 that Martin Riesenburger (1896–1965) was employed as a rabbi and responsible for pastoral care in prisons. It is labeled as a "service card" and written on Jewish Community of Berlin letterhead. The card appears makeshift: it was not preprinted, is not on reinforced paper or card, and the passport photo is only stapled to the page. And what does "pastoral care in prisons" mean?

Berlin During the East–West Conflict

The Jewish Community of Berlin was split over the intensification of the East–West conflict in early 1953. The Jews of East Germany suffered reprisals. They were accused of disloyalty to the GDR. Several hundred Jews escaped from East Berlin. The East Berlin community came under surveillance and individual community members were arrested. It is possible that Rabbi Riesenburger was responsible for these prisoners and was granted permission to visit them in prison.

Rabbi in East Berlin

Riesenburger had survived the period of the Nazi rule thanks to his wife. Lucie Klara Riesenburger had converted to Judaism in the 1920s and was therefore considered a non-Jew according the Nazi racial laws. Following liberation, he led the first Jewish prayer service in Berlin in May 1945. In 1961, the East German government appointed Martin Riesenburger as the chief rabbi of the Jewish communities in the GDR. Martin Riesenburger died four years later in Berlin.

(9) Selected Objects from the Archive Alle anzeigen

Selected Objects from the Archive

Adoption contract Gloeden and Loevy

Even a Jewish-sounding name could be cause for discrimination. So the siblings Erich and Ursula Loevy chose to be adopted by Bernhard Gloeden, a grammar school teacher and family friend.

A desperate letter to their son in Sweden

"As long as we are still here, we will write to you every third day," wrote Paul and Sophie Berliner to their son, Gert, who was living in Stockholm, on 6 November 1941.

Martin Riesenburger’s Service Card

A provisional document from February 1953 certified that Martin Riesenburger was a rabbi responsible for pastoral care in East Berlin prisons.

Index cards from the British Army

Thousands of German emigrants fought against Germany in the British Army during the Second World War. In case of capture, they had to change their names, as these index cards document.

Frieda Neuber's Leather Pouch

Shortly before being deported to Theresienstadt, Frieder Neuber gave this leather pouch to her niece. The letters inside it document her desperate attempts to leave the country.

Memmelsdorf Genizah

In February 2002, workers renovating a house discovered a burlap sack filled with papers and personal items when they opened up a section of the ceiling. The house had been owned by Jews from 1775 to 1939.

Red Cross Letter to Emmy Warschauer

After the outbreak of the Second World War, the aid organization’s message service gave emigrants a way to contact relatives in Germany. That’s how Emmy Warschauer received confirmation that her daughter was alive.

Letter of Protection for the Jews of Ichenhausen

Until the nineteenth century, the residence and trading rights of Jews in the German territories were defined in letters of protection (Schutzbriefe), which had to be purchased.

Journeyman’s Book Belonging to the Shoemaker Leopold Willstätter

Leopold Willstätter traveled around southwest Germany and France as a journeyman from 1836 to 1843. The journeyman's book with a precise description of him also served as a form of identification.

Rabbi

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After 1945

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Jewish Community

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East Germany

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