My Parent's Wedding
and
Rabbi Joachim Prinz
Meeting again forty years later

 

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By

Ralph Harpuder

 

   Shortly before the Weimer Republic ended with the ascension of Adolph Hitler as chancellor in 1933, my parents were wed at the Fasanenstrasse Synagogue in Berlin, which was located in the former affluent district of Charlottenburg (Charity seal #1). Charity seals were issued in 1949 for the Jewish Community in Berlin to help restore the nine synagogues of Berlin that were burned in 1938 by the Nazis on Kristallnacht. The Fasanenstrasse synagogue served the liberal Jewish community of the western districts of Berlin with Rabbi Leo Baeck, leader of the progressive Judaism, officiating at the synagogue. His portrait is shown on a stamp (Germany, Scott 777).  As my parents were standing in 1931 under the chuppa (canopy) with Rabbi Joachim Prinz, exchanging the wedding vows: “Ich nehme dich um mein zu sein, von diesem Tag, für besseres oder für schlechteres….” (“I take you to be mine, on this day, for better or for worse…..”), little did they imagine, except for Rabbi Prinz, shown in Figure one, who had the foresight,  that two years later in 1933, the ascent to power of the Nazis evolved (see postcard in Figure two) may change drastically the status of the Jews in Germany. The postcard with the swastika reads: “Unite the People, strengthen the Third Reich.”

   Beginning his eleven year rabbinate in Berlin, Rabbi Prinz, at 24 years of age became Berlin’s most sought-after preacher at the Friedenstempel (Charity seal #2), eventually serving the entire Jewish Community and later preaching in its largest synagogue, “The New Synagogue” on Oranienburgerstrasse (Charity seal #3). Recently renovated, its main sanctuary now houses a museum of Jewish history illustrated on a stamp (East Germany, Scott 2846).

   Rabbi Prinz officiated at a multitude of weddings including my parent’s wedding as already mentioned at the Fasanenstrasse Ceremonial Marriage Hall; the hall which was officially presented by Kaiser Wilhelm in 1912.

 A photograph of the bride and groom (my parents) is shown in Figure three; the front cover of the wedding announcement which included the menu of the wedding feast inside a folder is illustrated in Figure four and Figure five respectively. Rabbi Prinz, then 29 year old and a gifted orator whose signature appears on my parent’s wedding certificate in Figure six, spoke out long before Hitler took power about the dangers and threats of National Socialism. He may have referred back to the time after the Great Depression when Jews began to be seen as economic parasites. Since they occupied a highly visible social position within German society, it was assumed by the national socialists that Jews were making money from the sufferings and prosperities of the German peoples. A good example is an anti-Semitic paper currency shown in Figure seven illustrating both sides of the bill. The back side of the One-Hundred Million Mark reads in German rhyme: “The Jew took our Gold, the Silver, and the Bacon, and left us with this Garbage.”

   It was only five years later, in 1936, that the intensified Nazi persecutions led to the closure of the Fasanenstrasse Synagogue. Two years later the building was burned in the state sponsored anti-Semitic attacks of November 9th, 1938, also known as Kristallnacht. The interior of the Fasanenstrasse Synagogue after Kristallnacht is illustrated in Figure eight.

The grounds of the former synagogue were chosen in the 50’s for the building of a new Jewish Community Center of Berlin. With a few surviving artifacts kept for the decoration of the new building, we see on the stamp from Germany (Scott 9N22)  the community center the way it looks today featuring the entrance to the former building of the Fasanenstrasse Synagogue.

Early, when Rabbi Prinz understood the Nazi threat and the menace of Adolph Hitler, he urged that Jews leave Germany. Thousands of Jews took his advice and left while they could. Others saw Hitler’s gradual rise as a momentary chapter in an otherwise normal assimilated life.  In the fall of 1937, Joachim Prinz began his life in the United States. For the remainder of Jews who wanted to wait, it was too late. As a last resort, my parents left for Shanghai, a distant land that did not require a visa, and which had become a refuge for approximately 18,000 Jews from Europe. Although my father was still able to experience in the Shanghai Ghetto the joy of Victory Day, he passed away only a couple of weeks later when the city was liberated by the forces of liberation.

   With the help and sponsorship of the famed American rabbi, Stephen S. Wise, shown with other famous personalities on a souvenir sheet (Grenada, Scott 1351), Rabbi Prinz arrived in America and soon began lecturing across the country for the United Palestine Appeal about what was happening to the Jews in Germany. Two years later, in 1939, he returned to the rabbinate accepting an invitation to become the spiritual leader of a then almost defunct Temple, B’nai Abraham in New Jersey which he soon transformed into an invigorating congregation with membership soaring to a new height.
  
Rabbi Prinz also devoted much of his time in the United States to the Civil Rights movement because he saw the plight of black Americans in the context of his own experience under the Nazis. In 1963, he was among one of the leaders of the March on Washington (US, Scott #3937-h). In his speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Rabbi Prinz made the following profound comments just before Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his historic speech (US, Scott 1771), “I Have a Dream.”


“A great people (
in Germany
) which had created a great civilization had become a nation of silent onlookers. They remained silent in the face of hate, in the face of brutality and in the face of mass murder. America must not become a nation of onlookers. America must not remain silent.”

 

In Figure nine we see Rabbi Prinz after the March on Washington, standing in the center conferring with President John F. Kennedy, Reverent Martin Luther King Jr., and other Civil Rights activists on how to enact new policies for Civil Rights.

 

      On September 10, 1971 Rabbi Prinz returned to Berlin to attend at the restored Pestalozzistrasse Synagogue (Charity seal #4) “The 300 Year Establishment of the Jewish Community in Berlin,” sponsored by the Ecclesiastical Council, Churches and Communities, in Berlin-West. The Pestalozzisrrasse Synagogue was among all the other synagogues already mentioned above that burned in 1938 on Kristallnacht.  The Rabbi was one of several distinguished guests with his name mentioned on the official bulletin and invitation shown in Figure ten. It was at this festive occasion where my beloved mother, who happened to be in Berlin at the time with my step-father, by invitation from the German Government, met Rabbi Prinz again after 40 long years; recalling the day when she stood in front of him under the chuppa with my late beloved father.. Nobody at that time would have ever believed what has followed a decade later; the Holocaust and the mass murder of six million Jews and many non-Jews.

Today, the Jewish Community of Berlin is with more than 12,000 members the largest Jewish community in Germany providing a diversified infrastructure, which offers everything necessary for a complete Jewish life in the city.

 

References:

Dr. Joachim Prinz Home Page

  www.joachimprinz.com

 

Joachim Prinz Rebellious Rabbi, “The German and Early American Years”

 By Michael Meyer

 

Center of the American Jewish Archives

 

Wedding Memorabilia of my Parent’s wedding   

 

Ralph Harpuder’s Collection of Judaic Stamps and Documents

 

 

  •  The Charity seals were issued in 1949 for the Jewish Community in Berlin to help restore the nine synagogues burned by the Nazis in 1938 in Berlin on Kristallnacht.