Rabbi Who Fled Germany in the 1930’s Will Be First U.S. Rabbi to Return to E. Germany in Clerical Ca
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Rabbi Who Fled Germany in the 1930’s Will Be First U.S. Rabbi to Return to E. Germany in Clerical Ca

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A rabbi who fled as a refugee from Germany in the 1930’s will become the first American rabbi ever to return to East Germany in a clerical capacity when he travels to East Berlin next month to officiate at High Holy Day services on Rosh Hashanah, September 27-28, and on Yom Kippur, October 6.

The return of Rabbi Ernst Lorge, retired spiritual leader of Temple Israel, Skokie, Illinois, has been arranged for by the American Jewish Committee, which last year provided books, religious articles and sacramental wine to the Jewish community of East Berlin. The books are now housed in the city’s Jewish Community Library.

An estimated 100 to 150 of the city’s 200 Jews are expected to attend the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services, where they will hear Rabbi Lorge deliver five sermons in his native German language. During his two-week stay in the city, he will also visit the Jewish old-age home.

Less than 600 Jews live today in the German Democratic Republic, concentrated in eight cities, with the largest community living in East Berlin. The East German government provides funds for these communities and for maintaining more than 100 Jewish cemeteries spread across the country.

Explaining his plans for his sermons, Lorge said he would emphasize “religious themes and the unity of the Jewish people throughout the world…. I would like to make them proud of their Jewish identity.”


Lorge, who was born in Mainz in 1916, left Germany for the United States in 1936. He was ordained in the rabbinate here in 1942. From 1944-1946, he served as a U.S. Army chaplain with the 69th Infantry Division in England, France, Belgium and Germany.

That division was the first to cross through to Russian lines from the East, and Lorge became the first Jewish chaplain to aid survivors at Auschwitz. His involvement in helping displaced persons included the establishment of schools and newspapers, the distribution of food and clothing, and the provision of legal aid to camp survivors detained by law enforcement authorities.

In 1967, he returned to West Germany at the invitation of the Education and Culture Ministry to lecture in several university towns to educators on the Holocaust. “My philosophy is that we should not award Hitler a posthumous victory by allowing Germany to be devoid of Jewish life and influence,” Lorge explained.

The rabbi’s scheduled visit to East Berlin came about as a result of a meeting last year between AJC leaders and Dr. Peter Kirchner, president of East Berlin’s Jewish community. The AJC delegation, the first American communal group to meet with Jewish officials in East Berlin, learned then that the community was without a rabbi.

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