The Heinrich Barth Straße Synagogue and the Transnational Links between Stockholm and Hamburg

Maja Hultman

Source Description

This article, written by an anonymous journalist for the Swedish daily newspaper Dagens Nyheter (Daily News), was published on the 20th commemoration of the November Pogroms on November 10, 1958. It is now located in the digital archive of Kungliga Biblioteket (The National Library of Sweden). Under the headline “Synagoga på Biblioteksgatan räddad från ‘Kristallnatten’” (“Synagogue on Library Street saved from ‘the Kristalnacht’”), the article explains the journey of the former Heinrich Barth Straße synagogue in Hamburg to Stockholm in 1939, and its consecutive transformation into the orthodox synagogue Adat Jeshurun.

The article describes not only the transnational movement of the furniture of a sacred place, but also explains the synagogue’s role in Stockholm as a space for surviving Shoah victims, forcefully removed from their homes and for shorter or longer periods living in the Swedish capital. Adat Jeshurun, still existent today, is therefore not only a story about the odyssey of a sacred place from Hamburg to Stockholm, but also portrays the relocation of Shoah survivors in the post-Second World War world, and the consequential reestablishment of the religious rituals they had learnt in their former hometowns.

  • Maja Hultman

A Worldwide Newspaper Story

While surviving the Pogrom attacks in Hamburg because of its location in an apartment building, the synagogue’s physical features – pews, Aron Hakodesh, lamps, Bimah and library – were organised by Hamburg’s chief rabbi Joseph Carlebach and Leipzig-born, German-Swedish businessman Hans Lehmann to be transported as wooden shipment to the Swedish capital. The cargo arrived in broken pieces, defiled by painted Nazi swastikas, but was repaired, and the synagogue Adat Jeshurun could, thereafter, be inaugurated and housed in various apartments in the city centre.

The transportation of the Heinrich Barth Straße synagogue became a story told and retold within the global post-Shoah Jewry. It appeared for the first time in the journal Aufbau, circulated for a German-speaking Jewish audience, in 1947, written by Hans Lehmann’s son Bert Lehmann. As further anniversary commemorations of the November Pogroms took place in Stockholm and Hamburg from the 1970s until the 1990s, the narrative was recycled in Jewish newspapers, such as Jerusalem Post and Nordstjernan. The publication in the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter seems, however, to be the only example of the story’s presentation to a non-Jewish audience, although the Swedish language limited the possibilities for worldwide readership.

A German-Jewish Sacred Place in Stockholm

Dagens Nyheter publishes two pictures next to the article. One portrays the wooden Aron Hakodesh from the 1780s, draped in a dark-coloured cloth and with carved tablets on the top, placed in an apartment with a white tile stove. The second photograph zooms in on a wooden timetable board, where the German Uhr declares both the synagogue’s German heritage and the starting time for each daily prayer. The prayer services themselves were similarly linked to the German-Jewish orthodox character.

Around 3,000 Jewish refugees from Germany and Austria arrived to Sweden between 1933 and 1939. From 1943 and onwards, Sweden welcomed and protected indigenous and exiled Jews from Norway and Denmark, such as Walter A. Berendsohn. Furthermore, towards the end of the Second World War, victims from Bergen-Belsen were transported via the Red Cross’ operation White Buses to Sweden. In total, 11,500 Jews arrived after 1945. Adat Jeshurun initially became a meeting place for survivors from Nazi concentration camps, and was later on also visited by international orthodox Jewish tourists. With the Norwegian-Jewish refugee A. I. Jacobson as its first rabbi, the new synagogue adopted the nusach (נוסח‬) – the liturgical style of prayer services – of the Western Yiddish tradition existent in Germany before the Shoah: the Minhag Ashkenaz. Referred to as a ‘yekishe shul,’ it added another sacred place to the religious landscape of Stockholm: a sacred place firmly linked to a new group of Jews making Sweden their home.

Jewish Religious Multiplicity in Stockholm

Although the Jewish population consisted of only some 7,000 Jews before 1939, it spatially expressed a religious multiplicity. Being allowed to live in Sweden from 1774, Jews from Denmark, Prussia and the Hansa cities migrated to Stockholm. As their new synagogue was constructed with an organ, the community became religiously divided with the creation of the orthodox synagogue Adat Jisrael in 1871. Some of the Eastern European Jews, who had moved to Stockholm between the 1860s and the 1910s, attended this synagogue, using the nusach (נוסח‬) of the Lithuanian, northeastern tradition: the Minhag Polin.

Four minyanim existed in Stockholm during the first five decades of the 20th century. They were divided according to religious, cultural and social identifications, and were physically scattered across the urban landscape. One minyan argued that its religious services were “Polish” and, therefore, different from Adat Jisrael. It can be argued that the leaders alluded to cultural distinctions and the group’s possible usage of a different linguistic dialect – Central Yiddish. This dialect was, however, not equal to the existent, ritually different prayer services. Another minyan described its members as poor artisans. Nonetheless, they together portray the existence of various religious groups in the Swedish capital, mirroring the different groups of Jewish migrants. Although Stockholm’s Jewish population was not as big as the equivalents in European metropolises, it nonetheless expressed a religious multiplicity. The religious pluralism that existed in Hamburg was to a certain degree imitated in Stockholm, but on a smaller scale. As Adat Jeshurun was inaugurated in 1940, it became a physical expression of the arrival of a new group of Jews: Shoah survivors, and subsequently the advent of German orthodox religious rituals.

Transnational, Religious Transfer between Germany and Sweden

The transference of religious characteristics from Germany to Sweden was a common feature in Swedish-Jewish life before the Shoah, clearly shaping its inner-communal structure and social hierarchy. For example, the two chief rabbis Gottlieb Klein and Marcus Ehrenpreis at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century both received secular education in Germany, fostering Reform Judaism in Stockholm. Ehrenpreis was a particularly pivotal individual in shaping the spatial expression of religious multiplicity in Stockholm. The minyanim mentioned above, for example, applied to the main, liberal community for financial support towards the continued survival of their religious groups. While the community’s lay leaders decided on the issue, Ehrenpreis was asked for expert opinions. After, for example, visiting the “Polish” minyan, the chief rabbi wrote that he could not “find any liturgical differences [...], although I do not want to contest that there might be psychological reasons that to some extent can explain the people’s interest in this minyan.” The lay leaders listened to him and did not provide any financial support. Ehrenpreis was also questioned regarding support for the mikveh associated with Adat Jisrael in the 1920s. By citing German rabbis, he argued that “the ritual women’s bath is an ancient Jewish institution of partly hygienic and partly symbolic nature, which is not directly ordered in the Torah.” The money was, once again, withheld.

The importance of individuals with communal status for the transference, continuation and possible strengthening of various sacred places and traditional rituals becomes clear through the above mentioned example of Marcus Ehrenpreis. Another example is Jacob Ettlinger, Adat Jisrael’s chairman from the 1920s to the 1940s. Despite the lack of bursaries for the mikveh, Ettlinger was the only orthodox leader successful at procuring financial support for a religious group different than the main Reform community. He was born in Mannheim in 1880 as the grandson of rabbi Jacob Ettlinger in Hamburg, one of the forefront leaders of Modern Orthodox Judaism. Moving to Sweden as a businessman transporting metal and ore, Ettlinger settled in the newly developed, modern quarters of the city and was involved in several organizations linked to the main, liberal congregation, such as the poor relief and the religious school. Regarding the latter, he managed to also gain support for more lessons in Hebrew. Compared to the other orthodox leaders in Stockholm, Ettlinger was the only one with a German background and close acquaintance with the liberal lay leaders, earning him a stronger congregational status, from which he could more easily argue in favour of Adat Jisrael. Furthermore, as shechita – the ritual slaughter of animals – was forbidden in Sweden in 1937, both Ettlinger and Ehrenpreis wrote to German rabbis, asking for advice. The latter, for example, corresponded with chief rabbi Joseph Carlebach in Hamburg.

In light of the actions of Marcus Ehrenpreis and Jacob Ettlinger, Hans Lehmann becomes yet another example of the transnational transference of religious features from Germany to Sweden. Lehmann’s sons describe in several articles that it was the “good” relationship between their father and chief rabbi Joseph Carlebach that made the synagogue’s voyage across the Baltic Sea possible; the former’s newly established traditional minyan in his home presumably being of interest for the latter. The article in Dagens Nyheter, for example, tells the readers that Joseph Carlebach told Lehmann that “you get the whole synagogue as long as you fix the transportation.” Hans Lehmann, in his turn, used his business to transport the synagogue as timber. He paid for the renovation of the defiled pews, and the Heinrich Barth Straße synagogue was set up as Adat Jeshurun, the name allegedly inspired by a shul in Halberstadt in the 18th century, the home of the Lehmann family’s ancestor, the court Jew Behrend Lehmann. Some articles also suggest that it was Hans Lehmann’s minyan that initially used the synagogal furniture from Hamburg, fostering a religious refugee community in the “spirit of Hamburg,” referring to the fusion of the Ashkenazi and Sephardic communities. Adat Jeshurun’s status as a meeting place for refugees might, therefore, have been the result of a conscious decision and deliberate strategy made by Hans Lehmann, himself having experienced the pre-Shoah Jewish community in Hamburg.

Transnationalism as a Jewish, Modern Experience

For the commemoration of the November Pogroms in Stockholm in 1988, rabbi Joseph Carlebach’s nephew Alexander Carlebach commented on the relative wealth of Swedish-Jewish life: the Jewish kindergarten and the primary / secondary school, the various synagogues and the kosher food. At this time, Adat Jeshurun had lost its ‘yekishe’ identity and functioned – as it still does today – as a synagogue with a mixture of nusachim (נוסחים). As a sacred place imported from Hamburg, Adat Jeshurun however played an important part in the continuation of Jewish traditional life in Sweden during the 1940-60s. The migration of religious space – physical furniture, liturgical traditions and practicing people – from Germany to Sweden was, as has been described above, a common characteristic in Swedish-Jewish history in the 20th century, shaping the structure of Stockholm’s Jewish, congregational life. Similarly, the development of Swedish Zionism and modern art institutions such as the coffee house, the feuilleton and photography were dependent on Jewish-German-Swedish contacts.

The Jewish migrants’ continued contacts across national borders, and the subsequent migration of religious and cultural influence and inspiration, was, indeed, a Jewish experience of modernity, of which the transportation of the Heinrich Barth Straße Synagogue is but one example. Although the contact with Hamburg was severed because of the Shoah, and Hamburg’s post-1945 Jewish population had to rebuild their religious and cultural world – their first post-Shoah synagogue was inaugurated in 1960 – the article in Dagens Nyheter portrays that a small part of the former Jewish life in Hamburg survived on the other side of the Baltic Sea. The article informs on an academically unexamined chapter in the history of Swedish-German-Jewish relations, revealing how the close contact between Hamburg and Stockholm before the Second World War aided both the survival of a German sacred place and the set up of a spatial refuge in Stockholm for traditionally practising Shoah-survivors using the German-associated nusach (נוסח‬) Minhag Ashkenaz. It, therefore, documents how the Jewish modern experience of transnational links was used to mobilise and maintain Jewish life in the face of, and despite, destruction.

Select Bibliography

Anders Hammarlund, En bönförmoderniteten: Kultur och politik i Abraham Baers värld, Stockholm 2013.
Clemens Maier-Wolthausen, Zuflucht im Norden. Die schwedischen Juden und die Flüchtlinge 1933-1941, Hamburger Beiträge zur Geschichte der deutschen Juden 50, Göttingen 2018.
Olaf Glöckner / Helmut Müssener (Hrsg.), Deutschsprachige jüdische Emigration nach Schweden. 1775 bis 1945, Berlin 2017.

Selected English Titles

Maja Hultman, A Trio of Case Studies Challenging the Assumption that the Jewish Community in Stockholm was Spatially Separated, 1933-1940s, in: Emergence 8 (2016), pp. 53-66.
Pontus Rudberg, The Swedish Jews and the Holocaust, London 2017.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution - Non commercial - No Derivatives 4.0 International License. As long as the material is unedited and you give appropriate credit according to the Recommended Citation, you may reuse and redistribute it in any medium or format for non-commercial purposes.

About the Author

Maja Hultman is a PhD candidate at University of Southampton, affiliated with Parkes Institute for Jewish/non-Jewish Relations, and a doctoral fellow at the Leibniz Institute of European History in Mainz. Her research interests are: 19th and 20th centuries’ Jewish spaces, urban history, migration and transnationalism, and digital humanities.

Recommended Citation and License Statement

Maja Hultman, The Heinrich Barth Straße Synagogue and the Transnational Links between Stockholm and Hamburg, in: Key Documents of German-Jewish History, July 09, 2019. <> [July 22, 2024].

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution - Non commercial - No Derivatives 4.0 International License. As long as the material is unedited and you give appropriate credit according to the Recommended Citation, you may reuse and redistribute it in any medium or format for non-commercial purposes.