The Hospital (1904 – 1941)

When one walks down Torstrasse in Berlin heading east from Friedrichstrasse, one sees after the Ackerstrasse crossing on the right side a four-storey building with a brick façade and the number 146. If one looks a little closer at the front of the building, one notices another, slightly faded house number – the number 85 – which is not made of enamel but of brick-stone. This number is embedded in the surface and suggests that there was at some point a renumbering of the street. If one also knows that today’s Torstrasse was called Wilhelm-Pieck-Strasse in 1950 and was actually formed through the renaming of two other streets – namely Elsässer Strasse, which since 1872 marked the section between Friedrichstrasse and Rosenthaler Platz, and Lothringerstrasse, which was the continuation of Elsässer Strasse until the erstwhile Prenzlauer Gate – then the answer is clear: one is standing before the house at ’85 Elsässer Strasse’, the long-time location of the Community Hospital of Adass Yisroel, the »Jewish Hospital«.

Front view of the community hospital

In Search of Traces

From the beginning of the 1950s, this building was used as the Berlin office of the German State Railway. The gate is wide enough to allow an ambulance to enter the front court, and the way there leads one through an arched room with colourful tiling in the Moorish style and ornamental plastering on the ceiling. After climbing a few steps, one is already in the ground floor of the hospital. Past the first two doors, behind which nurses and then later office workers used to be busy, firmly attached to the wall on the right side there is a plaque made of stone with the following inscription: »To the founder and selfless director of the Jewish Hospital, Adolf Goldschmidt, in grateful recognition to your ongoing memory«. Who was this Adolf Goldschmidt? As the telephone book informs us, the man in question was »Ad. Goldschmidt, Berlin C., 44 Neue Friedrichstrasse«, a member of Adass Yisroel since the turn of the century, who sold kosher »Steam-creamed butter« to the orthodox Jews of Berlin »under the supervision of The Honourable Rabbi Dr. Hildesheimer«. On December 15, 1901, the by-law of Chewra Kadischa of the Jewish Congregation Adass Yisroel, Berlin (Public Corporation) was passed in the Berlin district court. The first recorded board of directors consisted of:

  • 1. Aron Adolf Goldschmidt, Merchant
  • 2. Dr. Hirsch Hildesheimer, Lecturer at the Rabbinical Seminary
  • 3. Saaling Lewin, Retiree
  • 4. Gabriel Rosenberg, Merchant
  • 5. Jacob Archenhold, Merchant

Since its founding, the congregation of Adass Yisroel had its dead buried in »the old Jewish way«, that is, by a group of members, who saw this ceremony as one of the most sacred acts in Jewish society.

Labours of Charity and Hevra Kadisha

In 1890, the Hevra Kadisha of the Congregation was founded, even if it still was not officially recognised. Adolf Goldschmidt, the first Chairman, who held this position for the next 17 years, led the »Holy Community«, which arranged visits and care of the sick as well as spa and wellness holidays for patients. Thanks to a large donation from the co-founder of the Congregation, Abraham Zamory (»Chachenez and cloth manufacturer, 9-10 Grüner Weg«), the Congregation was able to build its own hospital in 1900, a sanatorium, »in which all demands of the Jewish religious laws as well as of modern standards of hygiene will be painstakingly accommodated«. By 1909, the hospital had already had two addresses: at first 36 Prenzlauer Allee, and then due to a lack of space it was moved to 46 Königgrätzer Strasse (today Stresemannstrasse). A board of directors formed the executive committee of the hospital. It had to submit an annual report to the committee of benefactors and also give a copy to the Congregation’s management board. The Rabbinate had the last word on all questions relating to religious law, especially regarding meals. On the other hand, the charter of the association ensured that the Rabbinate had no authority in medical issues. On December 10, 1907, the patron Adolf Goldschmidt left the management board of the Hevra Kadisha, thereby also terminating his role as director of the hospital. His successor was the legendary Moritz (Mosche) Knoller. He directed the Hevra Kadisha with an iron fist until August 1930, when he was replaced as Chairman by Isidor Geis. He retained his Chair of Honour at the hospital until April 1936, when he died in Berlin.

Forerunners of the Hospital

In the directory of private hospitals and care facilities in Berlin and Charlottenburg from 5.11.1894, the General Hospital of Dr. Levy (supervisor) and Dr. Feilchenfeld (assistant) is listed as number 31 at the address of 36b Prenzlauer Allee, rear building, ground floor and first floor. This institute had 31 beds and their fee for treatment for patients from the casualty ward was four Marks daily. Patients from Dr. Levy’s private practice paid »according to their means«, but never less than four Marks. A different directory from the same year gives additional information about the character of Dr. Levy’s clinic: it was for patients from his private practice (at 22 Hirtenstrasse) and was intended for those who »were brought there by various commercial health insurance companies«.
Not until the »official statistics« of the private clinics and hospitals that were opened in 1909 is the hospital at 85 Elsässer Strasse (with 36 beds, opened on 27.1.1909) listed for the first time under »Owner: Board of Trustees of the Jewish Hospital«. The »Directory of Hospitals and Medical Institutes in Berlin Authorised to Take on Medical Student Apprentices« entitled the Jewish Hospital to admit a student apprentice in 1921. By the turn of the year in 1921/1922, the »Jewish Hospital« of Adass Yisroel was already well-established in Berlin: by 1919 it had 50 beds and four wards. The hospital was intended for Jewish men and women who paid 50-75 Marks (in first class), 36 Marks (in second class), and 24 Marks (in third class) for daily board with kosher meals. The »directory« from 1923 shows that the Jewish Hospital had an assistant, 11 care personnel, and 56 beds. Prof. Dr. Paul Friedrich Richter (a leading doctor at the Municipal Hospital in Friedrichshain) was added to the inpatients ward, and Dr. Alfred Peiser was added to the outpatients ward.

Through this »completed data«, which came out separately for the area of Berlin-Mitte in 1924, one can find out the average figures for the year 1923: 569 patients, the clinic trained one medical apprentice, the finances were taken care of by the Head Nurse, the head of the clinic did not receive a salary. For the year 1925, specific figures are available pertaining to the work of the obstetrical and gynaecological wards of Dr. Peiser: his wards had access to 15 hospital beds; in the previous year around 150 children were delivered (calculated according to the average of the last two years); there were around 30 miscarriages and 50 other »gynaecological cases«. The hospital trained one medical apprentice, who as a perk of the job got to enjoy »Linen, free board«.

A High Medical Standard

On June 22, 1926, the head of the first division in the executive committee of the police (Berlin Sch?neberg, 19 Gothaer Strasse) asked all of the district medical officers (with the exception of the areas of Prenzlauer Berg, Neukölln, Treptow and Pankow) for reports on the adequacy of the private clinics in each area for the training of new doctors in obstetrics and gynaecology. A comparison of the reports, which was made by Dr. Lustig as head of the first division of the executive committee of the police regularly and/or at the request of his superiors (the Minister for Social Welfare, Berlin W 8, 3 Leipziger Strasse), shows the testing function of his department not as an unproblematic formality, but rather as a rigorous and unpredictable obstacle, which not only private clinics but also public hospitals often failed. On 15.1.1930, medical councillor Dr. Merrem, from the first division of the executive committee of the police, informed the district medical office of Berlin-Mitte that the Chairman of the board of trustees of the »Jewish Hospital« was no longer Moritz Knoller, and would henceforward be (Gottlieb) Bier, of 32 Fasanenstrasse. In his memoirs from 1963, Dr. Jacob Levy, the last school doctor of Adass Yisroel, remarks of the »Jewish Hospital« that:

»Above all, it was thanks to the initiative of Dr. Biberfeld, the spiritual leader of the Hevra and one of its most active members, that Adass Yisroel established its own hospital. He was also supported by Dr. Julius Preuss, the well-known historical scholar of »biblical-Talmudic medicine.«

Dr. Eduard Biberfeld, who was himself a doctor and a rabbi, concerned himself with the task of attracting leading doctors to the hospital. He succeeded in enlisting Prof. Dr. Ferdinand Blumenthal as head doctor of the inpatients ward, who had an excellent reputation in Berlin medical circles, also as a cancer researcher. Dr. Adler (later Dr. Peyser) was appointed as a surgeon, and the younger Dr. Joseph Hirsch, a member of the Hirsch-(Halberstadt) family, became the gynaecologist. The Hirsch family are meant to have given a considerable sum towards the founding of the hospital. Dr. Levy writes:

«One can see the scientific level of medical work in the following observation, which I made in 1909 in my position as a medical clerk. At this time the assistants were already making their own nitrogen experiments in blood, and the method of colouring blood smears in order to count and assess white blood cells, which was brand new at the time, was carried out in the small laboratory in the cellar of the hospital.»

The Jewish Spirit

Dr. Levy recounts further:

»But that was not the most important impact of the hospital. Characteristically, as well as excellent medical treatment of the ill, a Jewish spirit pervaded the hospital. This was the result of three factors working together: first of all there was the personality of Mosche Knoller, the Chairman of the Hevra, who personally saw to all the small details, for instance he regularly paid visits to the sick. In his sometimes slightly salt-of-the-earth way, (he said: »in my own decent way«), but always with a heartfelt tone, he spoke with patients, listened to their complaints, and reassured them. I once heard him say to a patient, »I, Professor Mosche Knoller, say to you that you will be healthy in a week!« Although I didn’t quite agree with his prognosis, I nevertheless saw how the patient’s face brightened up upon hearing it. In later years, after the death of Mosche Knoller, Gottlieb Bier saw to the wellbeing of the sick and the hospital.

The second factor was the Jewish attitude of the assistant doctors, who Knoller had hired. I will only mention a few names: Max Meyer (later moved to the USA), Salomon Lieben, Willi Hofmann, Raphael Gluskinos, Ivan Haarburger, Isaac Bamberger (later moved to Tel Aviv), and Simon Schereschewsky, who later got the position of Dr. Tugendreich as the hospital’s radiologist (he moved later to Jerusalem). These young doctors were mosser nefesh (they put their hearts and souls in it), not only for the sick, but also in the name of Judaism.

And finally, the last factor was the influence of the nurses. Here I would like to mention just two names: Sister Selma (later Sally Guggenheim, Basel) and Sister Recha Feuchtwanger. One gets an idea of the deep piety that Sister Recha radiated when one hears that she would often get up an hour before her shift, in order to say Shacharith (the morning prayer) in peace. That was the nature of the people who worked at the hospital of Adass Yisroel. They offered healing for the body as well as for the Jewish soul. Today one would call this approach »psychosomatic«.«

The Hospital During National Socialism

Plaque at the entrance to the Adass Yisroel Hospital 1931

From 1934 up to when it was shut down by the Nazis, the board of directors of Adass Yisroel’s Hevra Kadisha put the management of the »Jewish Hospital« in the hands of Jacob Kempe. Various documents from the »Sanitary Police« from this time give an idea of the new conditions under the Nazis, which the hospital as well as all other Jewish medical facilities now had to deal with. First of all, there was a report by the local health authority in Weissensee about a »Jewish rest home« with around 80-90 patients and a centre for the deaf-mute with approximately 50 pupils. They were tended to »by a Jewish health worker, who lives in the Horst Wessel area«. The State Medical Association in Berlin was supposed to decide whether a Jewish doctor from Weissensee could be called in to help out at the aforementioned clinic, or whether a Jewish doctor from the West should be forced to relocate to there. The Berlin District Office of Wilmersdorf reported a serious problem: on June 28 1938, Mayor Dr. Petzke briefed the councillors and advisors on the issue that despite numerous impediments, »170 Jewish readers« were still using the loan service of the main library. How to put an end to this grievance would need to be looked into.

At any rate, the exclusion of Jews from the infant- and childcare facilities seemed to be »necessary«: »It cannot be expected of German mothers, with their babies, to have to use state or municipal facilities in which members of the Jewish race and their children also seek treatment or where the treatment or care of Jewish children is practiced. Incidentally, care of Jewish infants does not fall under the interest of the National-Socialist state (…) The exclusion of the 39 Jewish mothers who still use the municipal infant- and childcare unit from the said facilities should be put into effect immediately«.

On July 8, 1939, Müller, the well-known member of the Gestapo, wrote to the Mayor of the Reich-Capital Berlin and unburdened his worried heart: as he had been informed, there were »a number of Aryan patients« in the Jewish hospital of Adass Yisroel. He went on further:

»Seeing as the admission of Aryans to Jewish hospitals seems to be undesirable, because as a result of lack of Jewish hospital beds, Jews would possibly have to be brought to Aryan hospitals, I therefore request notification whether there would be a possibility in the framework of the hospitals’ authority to remedy this problem. Otherwise I would be prepared to prohibit the Jewish hospitals from admitting Aryans who do not belong to the Jewish religious community – with the exception of emergency cases.« The Mayor happily accepted the Gestapo’s proposal, and jotted an unrestrained »good!« in the margin of Müller’s letter. He replied to the Gestapo that special measures against the hospital of Adass Yisroel would not be necessary, because according to the 4th decree of the Reich-Citizen Law, which would come into effect in just under six weeks on October 1, 1938, it would become impossible for German patients to be treated in Jewish hospitals. He also sent a letter to the local health authority of Berlin-Mitte and passed on the Gestapo’s helpful tip-off that in the »Jewish Hospital« there would be »a number of Aryan patients«, and asked them «to check up on this problem every now and then upon visiting this hospital«.

Deprivation of Rights and Pauperisation

The licences of Jewish doctors were nullified on September 30, 1938. From then on, Jewish doctors could only treat Jewish patients; 175 Jewish doctors were meant to care for the medical care of all Berlin Jews – including hospitals, retirement homes etc. For the hospital of the Berlin Jewish Congregation there was a special contingent of doctors. On August 11, 1938, the board of directors of the Congregation wrote to the Central Health Board, which was under the Mayor’s jurisdiction. Seeing as the hospital doctors were all (with a few exceptions) working voluntarily, the Jewish Congregation asked the Central Health Board not to take away the entitlement to be a private doctor, as otherwise they would no longer have a source of income and would be forced to emigrate or change professions, which would in turn cause the medical care of Jews in Berlin to fall apart. In the request of the Jewish Congregation, information was given about the hospital of Adass Yisroel. This hospital, it was noted, had 45 beds, and was affiliated to a state recognised nursing school. All of its doctors, with the exception of the general practitioner Dr. Gerhard Glaser, worked on a voluntary basis. The Jewish Congregation wrote once again to the Central Health Board on August 12, 1938 to reassert that the retention of the private practices would be beneficial for the medical care of Jews in Berlin and would indirectly benefit the whole population; it was also asserted that this request was in no way about the financial interests of the Jewish doctors:

»The financial circumstances of Berlin’s Jews are getting worse from month to month, so that the number of those who are in a position to work as a doctor voluntarily grows smaller and smaller«

In order to guarantee a minimum standard of medical care, the Jewish Congregation submitted a revised and shortened list of names of doctors who were thought of as indispensable. It was no longer requested that Dr. Otto Albert Schwarz of the »Jewish Hospital« retains his licence, and the licences of Dr. Glaser and Dr. Roos were requested just to be limited to activities in the hospital. The request was maintained for the hospital’s other seven leading doctors. However, the cutbacks went further – the former »Jewish Health Care Centre« at Bülowplatz, which treated 40,000 patients annually, the majority of whom were financially disadvantaged, was going to be closed. The Jewish Congregation still hoped that with its offer of a 50% reduction in staff in the letter from August 15, 1938 to the Medical Association, the Health Care Centre would be able to stay open.

Night of the Pogrom and the End

Dr. Arno Hermann, a faithful Nazi from the old days and a newly appointed »Advisor for Jewish Practitioners« of the Medical Association of Berlin, instructed Jewish doctors on October 12 1938 how they should conduct themselves: »You are obliged to make sure that the patient you are treating is a Jew«. A 30 by 25cm sign in sky-blue with black writing was to be fixed to the door with the sentence: »Only medical treatment of Jews is authorised«; furthermore, »mounted in the link left-hand corner (…) has to be a lemon-yellow circular surface with a diameter of 5 cm, in which appears a blue Star of David with a triangle height of 3 cm«. Now everything was practically perfect, especially seeing as Dr. Hermann obviously cared so much about the financial concerns of the Jewish doctors who were under his control. »It is recommended« it says according to paragraph two of the decree of the implementation of the law enforcing the changing of surnames and first names (Jewish men were meant to have the stereotypical Jewish name »Israel« added to their first name; for women the name was »Sara«) »to have the required extra first names Israel or Sara on the sign, to avoid being fined later«. A thoughtful anti-semite.

The 9th of November 1938 once again made clear which fate was in store for the Jews of Germany: The Health Care Centre of the Jewish Congregation, housed in the large building at Alexanderplatz, 1 Alexanderstrasse, was totally lain to waste in the Night of the Progrom. The equipment was destroyed, and the patients’ files were burnt. Only the neighbouring non-Jewish workshops were to thank that the building itself was not burnt down. With the legal annulment of Adass Yisroel’s Hevra Kadisha and its »incorporation« in the »Association of Jews in the German Reich« on October 25 1939, the end of the Jewish Hospital was inevitable. The hospital was presumably closed at the end of September 1941 – the last grave records from the files of the Adass Yisroel cemetery, which list this hospital as the place of death, carry this date. The form which the closure took – what became of the patients, staff, and equipment – is unknown. By September 1941, the rounding-up of Berlin Jews was long since completed; their deportation to the extermination camps was already underway.

Four of the five members of the last board of directors of the Chewra Kadischa, who were in charge of the management of the hospital, were murdered by non-Jewish fellow countrymen: Jacob Kempe, Lehmann Weichselbaum and Ludwig Knoller died in concentration camps, while Dr. Marcus Birnbaum died in Amsterdam under »unexplained circumstances«, as it was put. Until 1945, the building at 85 Elsässer Strasse housed a Hitler Youth base and an office of the nazified »Association of Jews in the German Reich«’, which did the preliminary work of the liquidation of Jewish assets for the Chief of Finance of Berlin-Brandenburg (the »Asset Reclamation Office«).

May 8, 1945

After May 8, 1945, the Berlin Police Department had its offices there (at 85 Elsässer Strasse). At the beginning of the 1950s, the offices of the German State Railway moved to this building. With only one exception, all of the doctors of the Jewish Hospital were killed or forced into exile. Only one had escaped being murdered and was still in Berlin in 1945. According to the December 1945 edition of the governmental telephone directory, the eye specialist Dr. Fritz Hirschfeld had a practice at 10 Möllendorffstrasse, Berlin-Lichtenberg. A year later, in October 1946, he lived in Pankow at 32 Breitestrasse. These days, few people know that for 30 years, the »second largest Jewish hospital in Berlin« (as the report of the Jewish Congregation from August 1938 notes) was housed in this building, 85 Elsässer Strasse (today 146 Torstrasse). Above the entrance in the back courtyard, a Magen David was set in relief – a Star of David, with the Hebrew letters Beth and He, an abbreviation of »B’esrát Haschém« (»with the help of G’d«). The architects of the »New German Order« obviously could not bear such a thing on an outer wall, so they got to work and removed all traces of the Magen David and the letters. They went about it so thoroughly that they even dug out beneath the wall’s surface, thereby actually re-engraving the original symbols. They remain impossible to overlook.
In the ground floor of the building, at the end of a windy corridor in front of an office door, there hung a bright sign with black letters, which read »Moritz Knoller Room«. This was the office of Mosche Moritz Knoller, who used to come to the hospital every morning from his apartment around the corner (2 Gartenstrasse). This was the man who, as described by the Rabbi Esra Munk in his eulogy in April 1936, was the embodiment of a rare combination of earnestness and cheerfulness. Service to the Congregation, to the school, to the Hevra Kadisha, and to the hospital was Knoller’s whole life, and this service brought him great joy. When Moritz Knoller died on April 10, 1936 at the age of 82, he was collected by his grieving congregation from his last home at 12 Levetzowstrasse and brought to 11 Siegmundshof. Rabbi Munk recounts:

»As we carried the stretcher with the body of Mosche Knoller out of his house and down the street past Beth Knesset, the passers-by stared with astonishment at this parade of mourners. Around a thousand people were walking behind the stretcher. The people must have thought, »That must be a heavy loss for the Jews!««

Six years later, once more under the amazed stares of Berlin pedestrians and Tiergarten residents, was a massive re-enactment, but this time under quite different circumstances: Jews from every part of Berlin, young and old, children as well as the sick, moved like a rehearsal of its own parade of mourning to a place of learning and prayer which had been transformed into a place of horror and death: it was – as put by Esra Munk – a heavy loss for the Jews; it was dying whilst still being alive. That which Moritz Knoller was spared through his natural death in 1936 was suffered by his sons Ludwig and Simon. The work which was begun in the second half of the 19th century by Moritz’ father Simon, as well as by Carl and Julius Knoller, could no longer be continued by the grandsons of Moritz Knoller. The work of their ancestors was destroyed, incinerated; all traces of it were gone with the wind. The obituary, with which Moritz Knoller was honoured by all the sections of the Congregation in the newspaper »The Israelite« on April 23, 1936, ended with the line: »The creator will live on in his works!«