Did you know that the spiritual leader of German Jewry rejected opportunities to save himself?

Rabbi Leo Baeck (far left) is interviewed by a British soldier (September 28 or 30, 1940). Photo Credit: USHMM

Rabbi Leo Baeck, one of the foremost liberal Jewish theologians of the 20th century was the spiritual leader of a Berlin synagogue when the Nazis came to power. Refusing many opportunities to save himself, he refused to abandon German Jewry.

In 1933, he was elected founding president of the newly created Representative Council of Jews in Germany (Reichsvereinigung der Juden in Deutschland). For the next decade Baeck worked to provide social services to them whenever possible, even interceding with the [Gestapo} on their behalf.

In 1943, the then 70-year-old Rabbi was deported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp in Czechoslovakia, where he was assigned to work on a garbage cart. Rabbi Baeck continued to provide spiritual comfort to the camp’s inmates until Theresienstadt was liberated by the Red Army on May 8, 1945. He died in London in 1956.

[Gestapo: abbreviated from Geheime Staatspolizei (Secret State Police). The part of the German security apparatus responsible for monitoring the German people and their conformity to Nazi ideology, and later for identifying Jews in hiding. It acquired a fearsome reputation for keeping Germans under surveillance but recent research suggests that it was too small to have functioned without the active collaboration of broad sections of the German population itself.]

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