The Schools of Adass Yisroel

“The Adass-school shall here on earth
Naturally obtain a noble worth
Three cheers for our school
It will be called Adass
It is not in Jerusalem,
But on the banks of the Spree.”

Fourth grade school class with headmaster Dr. Schlesinger | November 1924
Top row from left to right: Radyszkanski, Siebzehner, Schreiber, Weitmann, Weichselbaum, Direktor Schlesinger
Below: Böhm, J. Rabinowitsch, Glas, Tannenwald, Madyks, Rebhuhn, Zucker, Melber, Laub, Pollak, Bier
Below: Barkany, Levy, Rappaport, Schlank, A. Rabinowitsch, Schiff, Gewürz, Wilpert, Engel, Markus
Bottom row: Wiesenfeld, Ringel, Alter, Brafmann, Willichfort, Knopf, Schlüssel, Dörffler
Very front: Kaswan, Kober, Marx

The Way from Cheder to Secondary School

The moment for a cohesive account of the history of the schools of Adass Yisroel »seems to have not yet arrived«, as said in 1927 by Dr. Eduard Chaim Biberfeld, who was the chairman of the Adass Yisroel school council, a Rabbi at Beth Hamidrasch (the »Old Synagogue«) at 4 Heidereutergasse, and a Berlin doctor. He added that »as our elders teach, a creation which hasn’t yet developed to its full potential should not be allowed to claim a fair appraisal«. This unique model in Berlin’s school history, that is, of bringing together all pupils from the first class through to the final year under one roof, was to last for another 11 years. Once again, Hildesheim’s demand of an integration of Jewish tradition and worldly enlightenment was to be honoured. The appraisal mentioned by Rabbi Biberfeld was not meant to refer to the number of pupils who had completed secondary school, but mostly to the concord between the character and the work of the schools and the Congregation.

In order to fully understand the uniqueness of the schools of Adass Yisroel, it is necessary to take into account the social environment and era in which they existed. These schools were not offshoots of the 19th century Berlin phenomenon of »Talmud-Torah« – schools with overlapping secular lessons, such as the »Beth-Midrasch School« run by the school principal Rabbi Philipp Biberfeld at 76 Spandauer Strasse. According to the »lesson plan«, Rabbi Philipp Biberfeld gave 16 hours per week of Talmud lessons to the school children, Mr. Prasch gave history and geography lessons for two hours per week, and Dr. Oestereich gave eight hours weekly of German, French and Latin lessons. While the Talmud lessons evaded the evaluation of the Berlin supervisory authority (the city’s school deputation), in 1832 Phillip Biberfeld was given a negative appraisal because his »general training to teach this subject was not certified in the approved manner«. The school inspector Muhr found that »the teaching material for Talmud education is sufficient, however the materials for more general scholarly education are completely lacking; the history and geography lessons are very poor, and the location is inadequate.« The assessment of other Talmud academies in Berlin, such as that of Jakob Josef Oettinger, who had worked as a rabbinate administrator since 1825, or that of the rabbinate assessor Elchanan Rosenstein, did not fare any better with the Berlin school authorities. These so-called »Talmud schools«, which offered a mixture of religious and secular lessons, did not meet the requirements of a general education programme, that is, one which was both qualified and able to qualify. At the same time there were the modern schools of the Jewish community (»with religious lessons«). A distinct tradition is not to be found.

Beginnings of the Modern Orthodox School System

The rabbi Dr. Eduard Biberfeld traced the beginnings of the Adass Yisroel schools back to »close to the founding of our congregation«. Esriel Hildesheimer and Samson Raphael Hirsch devoted themselves to fostering»youths that are prepared equally well for everyday social life as for the eternal life of the Torah«. The latter took the following extract from the »Proverbs of the Father« by Rabban Gamliel, the son of Prince Rabbi Jehuda, and used it as the guideline of his ethical engagement in the community and in wider society: »The fulfilment of the Torah ideals combined with meeting the everyday demands of the time is beautiful«. This saying was passed down from one generation to the next and became the motto of orthodox enlightened Judaism. In the early stages of Adass Yisroel, the idea of the Congregation having its own school seemed impossible, and members were forced to »accept and learn to put up with the inadequate substitute of the religious school system, which was however perfected to a high extent«. Immediately after the founding of the Rabbi School in Berlin, Hildesheimer introduced the method of simultaneous Rabbi training and A-Level education, which he had already practiced in his Rabbi School in Eisenstadt. The annual report for the orthodox Rabbinical Seminary in Berlin from 1878/79 notes that Rector Hildesheimer gave mathematics and statistics classes, and taught binomial theorem (four hours per week in winter), as well as progressions, analytical and synthetic equations (three hours per week in summer). The teacher Rabbi Dr. David Hoffmann taught plane geometry and trigonometry, Dr. Jakob Barth taught German literature from its beginnings up to Lessing, the assistant teacher stud. Phil. L. David taught Latin and Greek, and the assistant teacher stud. Phil. Hirsch Hildesheimer taught history and geography. In 1913, to mark the Kaiser’s governmental jubilee, Adass Yisroel established a school fund of 50,000 Marks, which was meant to be the foundation capital for the development of a secular school system. With the end of the First World War and the general crisis that followed, this sum lost all meaning.

Participants in the school sports festival in the Grunewald Stadium | September 3, 1936

The Opening of the School in 1919

On March 13, 1919, Adass Yisroel made the decision to found a secondary school. Whether it would be a Realschule (a so called ‘middle school’ preparing pupils for administrative work) or a Gymnasium (school type preparing for further academic education) would be decided later. As the school year began on May 2, 1919, the first classes for the junior pupils were opened. Due to a lack of school rooms, some classes were held in the community center on 31 Artilleriestrasse. »In addition«, reported Rabbi Biberfeld, »the big-city circumstances enforced a concession to the understandable wishes of members of our congregation who live in the West, for whose children the further distance of the school was an obstacle, which prevented them from being able to attend lessons in the Old Town. Taking this need into account, parallel classes were set up in the Charlottenburg area (on Wielandstrasse) in addition to the classes of the main institute. This saved the children who lived there an hour-long ride in the tram or the metro, at least those in their first year of school«. This was closed down in April 1926 and was relocated to Wullenweberstrasse (in the Tiergarten district) the following year. The community council appointed the first school doctor. The school board of trustees was made up of: Rabbi Dr. Med. Eduard Chaim Biberfeld, Ludwig Bier, Martin Bondi, Rabbi Dr. Meier Hildesheimer, Rabbi Dr. Esra Munk, and Prof. H. Pick. The attainment of the appropriate regulatory authorisation to run the school and to grant certificates was a difficult process, which took not less than six years. On July 25, 1925, the Provincial Schools Council wrote to the Congregation saying that »the Minister for Commerce, Art and Education has granted the authority for the founding of a private high school for boys (Realgymnasium), as well as one for girls (Oberlyzeum) according to the community’s executive boards’ application from September 24, 1924.« Realgymnasium and Oberlyzeum became recognised by the authorities as »private institutions of higher teaching« in a constitutional sense. Since March 29, 1927, Abitur (A-Level) examinations are allowed to be sat at the Gymnasium. Up until 1926, classrooms were used in the building of the Trade Association, 18/19 Sophienstrasse, in the district of Berlin-Mitte. After this, other rooms at 13 Neue Sch?nhauser Strasse were ready to be moved into, which »apart from a few small imperfections, completely satisfy our humble wishes and offer the Realgymnasium classes ample shelter…«

Siegmundshof 11

School building of Adass Yisroel, 11 Siegmundshof

In 1924, the Congregation acquired a school building in the Hansa quarter of Berlin’s Tiergarten district at 11 Siegmundshof, which became the site of the entire school and a synagogue. First the Lyzeum for girls was established, »after they had met all school hygienic and technical criteria by rearrangements and building adequate classrooms.« The opening ceremony took place on October 10, 1926. A governmental representative brought official greetings, which »came from the heart and were meant for the heart« according to the chronicles. On May 2, 1919, the school had two classes and 100 pupils. By 1927 there were already 14 Grundschul-(primary school) and Volksschul-(manually oriented secondary school) classes, seven Realgymnasium classes and six Lyzeal classes. The roll had grown to 600 pupils, and the number of teachers (originally three – Sinasohn, Spieldoch and Miss Brüll) had expanded to 34. »Hisaharú biwnei ha’aniim schemihem titzé Thora« – »Support the children of the disadvantaged, they are the tomorrow’s bearers of the flag of the Torah!« In June 1925, in the spirit of this motto, the »Munk-Hildesheimer Tuition Fees Fund« was established. »The community and families knew no greater source of pride than to be allowed to exhibit intellectual greatness within their ranks. This high regard for a sound schooling of the mind, the inner urge to spread knowledge throughout the population to the highest degree, also had the effect that wherever Jews lived, schools were available where youths could be introduced to the fountain of knowledge«, as it was put by the appeal for donations. With a one-off payment of 3,000 Marks, the Tuition Fees Fund provided one place in the school for a pupil chosen by the donator or a chosen member of the donator’s family. The fund granted a student place for a fee of 180 Marks per year or 15 Marks per month. On December 9 1928, the Realgymnasium was moved from 13 Neue Schönhauser Strasse to the first floor of the building at Siegmundshof. The Volksschule subsequently moved from 10 Monbijouplatz to Neue Schönhauser Strasse, in order to also be at Siegmundshof in time for Pessach in 1930. Only the parallel classes and the Grundschule remained in Neue Schönhauser Strasse. The annual report from 1929/30, which was put out by the »State Enquiry Office for Schools« on August 30, 1929, gives us information about staff changes. It proudly announces that: »At the end of the year under review, the founding of the Realgymnasium has been accomplished«.

Abitur (A-Level)

Abitur-celebration with teacher Dr Halberstadt | March 1932

Upon request, the Minister of Education granted the right of holding the first school-leaving examination. On March 23, 1930, the first students of Adass Yisroel to complete their A-Level were seen off with a public graduation celebration in the large hall of the Tiergartenhof. The annual report from the school director Nachman Schlesinger closes with the sentence: »The Untersekunda (year 10 classes) of both high schools separately went on hikes in the Saxonian Mountains under the guidance of the class leaders«. In the annual report of the »State Enquiry Office for Schools«, a printed appendix was attached with the title »Educational Establishments of the Jewish Congregation, (Adass Yisroel) Berlin – A Review of their Development«. After a foreword by Dr. Eduard Chaim Biberfeld, Chairman of the School Council, Principal Schlesinger reports on the development of the instruction, as well as on the teachers, pupils, and day-to-day school life. Once again, the facilities and administration of the A-Level classes were especially praised. »Jewish and general secular culture« should not only allow access for boys and girls to academic courses of study, »but also to a large number of practical vocations«, which by this time required an A-Level certificate. Also mentioned was the »enormous strain on all material resources, which in these difficult times got used by the Congregation and its friends for the School Foundation, the incomparable dedication with which the teachers and the school administration are engaged.«

Torah, Talmud, Hebrew, English, Music, Swimming, and Hiking

On March 5 1930, the A-level students sat an examination on the Bible and Talmud before an Examination Commission, which was chaired by Rabbi Dr. Esra Hacochen Munk. This examination demonstrated that »with a small amount of preparation, examination candidates were capable of summing up a Bible text and interpreting a page of the Talmud on their own«. The Realgymnasium of Adass Yisroel, writes Director Schlesinger, »is for this reason the first and for the time being the only Jewish school within the German Reich, which has developed into a recognised establishment providing the comprehensive education required by a Gymnasium. According to the Ministerial Decree U II No. 956/II from July 3, 1930, the school-leaving certificates granted by our school have the same legal standing as those given by the public high schools. By Easter 1931, our Oberlyzeum had also achieved this status«. In the summer of 1929, the leadership of the Volksschule passed from Dr. Willi Halberstadt to Rector Max Sinasohn. The curriculum of the Volksschule corresponded to the »Normal Curriculum« used by Berlin’s public schools. As additional lessons, eight hours per week of »Hebrew discipline« were added to the timetable for pupils from the second school year upwards. For the senior classes, French and English language classes of three hours per week each were introduced, and both of the senior classes were taught shorthand. The tuition fees in the high schools were 25 Marks monthly per child, while the fees for the Volksschule were between 15 and 20 Marks monthly.

Professor Abraham

According to the Annual School Review from 1931/32, lessons in music, drawing, needlework and gymnastics were regularly held. For gymnastics competitions, the sports field at Bahnhof Zoo was available for the use of Adass Yisroel pupils. Swimming lessons were given in summer at the swimming pools of the Post Stadium, where tests for various swimming certificates and lifesaving took place. The Realgymnasium and Oberlyzeum took part in various relays at the Autumn Festival of the Berlin high schools on August 26, 1931 at the Grunewald stadium. At 11 Siegmundshof, a special music room was built, and a Bl?thner grand piano and 100 choir books were purchased. A school choir was established at each of the schools. The school inspector Mrs. Adrian took over from the departing music teacher Director Harms, and at the beginning of the winter term in 1931, the school inspector Ari Wohlgemuth (son of professor and rector at the Berlin Rabbinical Seminary, Dr. Joseph Wohlgemuth) left the school; in his place came Prof. Dr. A. Rosenberg, who until then had been the school inspector at the Köllnisches Gymnasium.

By February 1 1932, the Realgymnasium of Adass Yisroel had a roll of 187 pupils. The annual report remarks on a few particularities of school life: »The »Günter-Weichselbaum-Bibliothek« is under the control of the pupils’ self-administration, and keeps aside books which are needed for the senior pupils’ study groups. For the supervision of the younger pupils during the afternoon, an after-school pupil care centre was set up to help working parents, where the pupils were also fed. The tuition fees were 300 Marks; however, 30% of the pupils were exempted from paying fees, and there was a free library for children from disadvantaged families. Many of the classes went on hikes in the area surrounding Berlin, and also visited industrial plants and art galleries in Berlin. Hiking in places further away was not possible due to limited means«.

Jewish Schools during National Socialism

On March 20, 1932, Adass Yisroel had a celebration with the theme »Goethe – and the farewell party for school leavers« in the large hall of the Tiergartenhof. Privy councillor Dr. Israel was present as a representative of the Provincial Schools Council. From 1933/34, there is no more mention in the annual reports of joint sports festivals with other Berlin schools; it is merely stated that »for sports and games, the sports field of the Jewish Congregation (in Grunewald) is available for our senior classes«. Swimming lessons however still took place at the Post Stadium. On February 1, 1934, the Realgymnasium had 209 pupils and the Oberlyzeum had 139. The increasing nazification and persecution of Jews began to unmistakeably show itself in the school bulletin from 1934: »The school year of 1933/34 has brought a brisk change within the teaching staff«. While more and more pupils went into the Volks- and Grundschule, the Obersekunda (11th class) at the Realgymnasium had to be disbanded in October 1933 because of the diminishing number of pupils. For the same reason, the 11th and 12th classes at the Oberlyzeum also had to be terminated.
Study groups were not organised in the year of the bulletin. On March 7, 1934, the school inspector Kleine became Supervisor of the school-leaving exams of the Oberlyzeum; those of the Realgymnasium were supervised by school inspector Prof. Dr. Hübner from March 15, 1934. In total, ten pupils from the Oberlyzeum and three from the Realgymnasium obtained an A-Level certificate.
The mood which prevailed in the Adass Yisroel schools in 1934 was impossible to overlook: »At the wish of many pupils, free courses in New Hebrew started being held in the afternoons. Career counselling proved to be extremely difficult, as places for graduating pupils were very limited. School-leavers getting into manual jobs as well as the emigration preparation places, especially to Palestine, made up by far the largest proportion of pupils«. The financial hardship of many families necessitated the apportionment of 90 food packages. Only a very small number of parents were still able to pay the annual school fees of 300 Reichsmarks. The school administration and community council provided more »free places« and reductions of school fees. The so-called »parent aid scheme« of the Berlin Jewish Congregation also »took over payments for pupils of our educational institutions«.

This tendency became even stronger in the school year 1934/35. Many teachers left the school. At the Oberlyzeum, there was no longer a senior level, and the Obersekunda (11th class) of the Realgymnasium was disbanded at the end of the first term. On February 1 1935, the Realgymnasium had 177 pupils, and the Oberlyzeum had 123. The A-Level examination took place on March 12 1935 under the supervision of school inspector Kleine; all three candidates obtained their A-Level certificates. None of the examination candidates were girls this time. The annual report remarked laconically: »With the gradual pauperisation of the Jewish middle classes in Berlin, the social composition of the schools has had to be further extended: the school lunches have become increasingly made use of. The number of pupils in need of recreation who are sent away during the summer holidays has mounted up to 90. The pupils were sent to Holland, Denmark, Switzerland and to the Congregation’s own holiday house in Niederschönhausen«. The school fees had to be paid for the most part by Adass Yisroel and the »parent aid scheme« of the Berlin Jewish Congregation. It was becoming increasingly hard to secure apprenticeships for outgoing pupils, so the career counselling limited its focus to preparation for emigration. On April 7 1935, there was a farewell party at the club house of Jewish Brothers at 116 Kurfürstenstrasse (on the corner of Landgrafenstrasse) for the senior school classes of Adass Yisroel. The theme of the party was »The yearning of the Jewish people for Palestine in the course of their history«.

And now the whole lot is gone…

On October 22 1934, under the orders of the Schools Division of the Governor of the province of Brandenburg, the Sexten (year five classes) were disbanded and incorporated into the Volksschule. From April 1935 the Realgymnasium and Oberlyzeum were neither allowed to hold school-leaving examinations nor issue A-Level certificates. From this point on, the schools of Adass Yisroel were under the control of the State Commissar of Berlin, Schools Division. Up until the final closure of the School Foundation of Adass Yisroel, all lessons and examinations were supposed to be held under the supervision of the State Commissar of Berlin – an authority which was not directly beholden to the value of education and culture. At the graduation celebration of the now renamed »High School for Boys and Girls« of Adass Yisroel at the beginning of March 1938, 18 school-leavers (15 boys, three girls) were farewelled by Principal Schlesinger with the appeal that they would never forget the educational ideal of Adass Yisroel, that they would stay true to this ideal, and that they would »contemplate the sources of Jewish culture«. He then gave each of the high school graduates their state-authorised certificates. The pupils of the Obertertia (ninth class) began their »Farewell Journal« with this ironic, unintentionally foreboding line: »Our class was 32 strong, and now the whole lot is gone«. Despite the amusing and caricatured descriptions of classmates and teachers, the whole journal contains a certain tone of finality – not merely a school year was coming to an end, but the whole situation was changing: classmates were emigrating, apprenticeships and places at universities had long since become unattainable; uncertainty, hopelessness, and a defiant, tragic, implausible optimism prevailed. On the last page of the journal, that of the »Classifieds«, one can find the following announcement: »10 year nine pupils decided to bring a violent end to their studious existence by entering the brutal earnestness of life. The motive of the deed was apparently thoughts of the future. Signed: the bereaved«. Only a small amount of time separated this macabre joke from the deathly reality to come. The »rest of the class« said farewell to the leaving pupils on page three: »The times are grave, especially for us Jews in Germany. We all reach out our hands once more and promise that wherever fate sends us, we will maintain true camaraderie and always put all our effort into serving our people…Goodbye…reminisce about us from afar, with whom you spent your carefree childhood and school days«. At the end of March 1939, the schools of Adass Yisroel were closed. They never opened again. A few pupils and teachers were able to emigrate; others stayed and were taken away and murdered. The headmaster of the Grundschulen, Max Sinasohn, was able to flee Germany via Switzerland to Palestine with his wife in 1942. Dr. Nachman Schlesinger was at first transferred by the Berlin Jewish Congregation to be a teacher at their Oberschule, where he worked until its closure in July 1942. He fell ill and on December 5, 1942 he was taken on a stretcher from the Jewish Hospital at 2 Iranische Strasse to the collection point at 26 Hamburger Strasse. His wife Käthe (née Bauer) and their nine children (David, Hanna, Martin Meyer, Fanny, Rosa, Samuel, Rahel, Betty and Michael) followed on December 8 from their apartment in Berlin NW 87, 13 Lessingstrasse, V.II. On the next day they were all taken away (on the so-called »24th East Transport«, which on this day contained 1000 people) to Auschwitz, where they were murdered.