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Appearing in the Frankfurter Neue Presse/Frankfurt New Press, this translated article details the history of the Jewish B’nai B’rith Order in Frankfurt from 1888 to 1937 that has been published as a book (“…to become a blessing for mankind“) and presented in the German National Library together with a traveling exhibition about the work of the prominent members.

The book “…to become a blessing for mankind” is available to download here.

By Sabine Schramek

Frankfurt–It is not easy to surprise the director of the German Exile Archive 1933-1945 with something new. Sylvia Asmus, who holds a doctorate in German studies and library science, has headed the archive since 2011 and is holding the heavy gray-bound book “…to become a blessing for humanity…” in her hand. “This creates facts,” she says and is also amazed at what even she didn’t know before. “The importance of the B’nai B’rith order for Frankfurt society and the details are enormous,” says Asmus to Ralph Hofmann.

The president of today’s B’nai B’rith Frankfurt Schönstädt Loge association and the board have made it their task to reappraise what has largely disappeared, been destroyed, lost and scattered to the four winds since the Second World War. The result is a 510-page book that Asmus describes as a “milestone”. “The lodge has never been written about in such detail before,” she says, although there are already other books in the National Library’s collection about this oldest Jewish lodge in the world, which was founded in New York in 1843 by twelve German-Jewish emigrants. In its heyday, there were 103 B’nai B’rith lodges with 30,000 members in Germany alone. “Back then, books were self-published, now they are again,” says Hofmann.

Birgit Seemann, a social scientist and historian working on the research project “Jewish Care History” at the Frankfurt University of Applied Sciences, is an author who has spent three years compiling evidence about the members who dedicated themselves to charity, brotherly love and unity without making a fuss. A who’s who of all professions, without whom Frankfurt would be a completely different city. “Zedaka” – charity – was once the motto of the men and women of the three Frankfurt lodges, which were founded in 1888, 1919 and 1922. The Gumpertz’sche Siechenhaus (A hospice for the terminally ill) was founded in 1888 by Betty Gumpertz, Charles Hallgarten was on the board. Doctors, architects, bankers, merchants, philosophers, writers, rabbis. They were all members and, in addition to their professions, quietly helped, supported and made the city worth living in without talking about it. Whether the department store pioneer Hermann Wronker, the labor lawyer Hugo Sinzheimer or the flour manufacturers Ettinghausen in Höchst, who sold flour cheaply “against usury” during the great inflation.

What these people achieved and what was done to them during the Holocaust, who went into exile and survived. Everything is in the book. Also about the lodge home in Eschersheimer Landstraße for all citizens until its expropriation by the Nazis, about which Rabbi Leo Baeck, the last Grand President of B’nai B’rith in Germany, left a complete handwritten inventory. The Federal Ministry of the Interior and Homeland supported the project. While leafing through the book, Asmus shows a photo of a “certificate of departure” that was issued to members when they moved elsewhere to be accepted into another B’nai B’rith lodge. “The original of this document has been preserved in our archive,” she says.

The exile archive has existed for 75 years. She thinks it is “right and good that the book and an accompanying exhibition have now been made possible. Unfortunately, anti-Semitism has always existed. At the moment we are experiencing a frightening increase. Racism and right-wing extremism are currently frightening.” It is important to inform oneself and consult historical sources. Generalizing and making hasty judgments without sufficient knowledge is problematic.

Hofmann agrees. “The book and the three-day exhibition, which will be on display in the Römerhallen this summer, show what happened and who did what for the city’s society.

Making history clear and honoring those who have achieved so much and many of whom experienced terrible things during the Holocaust is important to us.” The lodge was only re-established in Frankfurt in 1961. By people who, despite the Shoah, found the strength to carry on and not give up, continuing to quietly do positive things for the city.

On February 28, the book will be presented in the National Library at 7 pm and the three-day exhibition will be opened in the foyer. The Director General of the German National Library, Frank Scholze, Mayor Nargess Eskandari-Grünberg, Sylvia Asmus, Ralph Hofmann and Birgit Seemann will speak. Admission only with prior registration by e-mail to exilarchivveranstaltungen@dnb.de.

The book “…to become a blessing for mankind” about the Jewish order B’nai B’rith in Frankfurt and its lodges (1888-1937) is available as an e-book download on the Internet at https://bnaibrith-ffm.de/de/ history.