The Gesellschaft der Freunde - Society of friends (1792-1935).
A centre of Jewish emancipation and acculturation in Berlin

The homepage about the Gesellschaft der Freunde actually is in German. It gives information about the history of the society, its members, neighbouring associations but also about the historical sources which I draw my information from. For those without German reading abilities, here comes a English abstract of medium length about the project. All others choose this way, please.

The Gesellschaft der Freunde shaped and reflected one and a half centuries of German-Jewish history. It was founded in 1792 by young enlightened Jews in Berlin, among them Joseph Mendelssohn, Moses Mendelssohn's eldest son, and became a prototype of modern Jewish associations. Aims of the organisation were on the one hand the achievement of the ideals of the Enlightenment and the emancipation of the Prussian Jews, on the other hand the mutual support of the members in cases of illness, poverty, unemployment and burial. In the first decades of its existence the Society advocated intensively within the Jewish community for enlightened reforms, and subsequently became active in the political arena.

In the years after the Prussian 1812 Edict of the emancipation of the Jews the Society shifted its emphasis to the social area. The house of the Gesellschaft der Freunde near Alexanderplatz became a centre of Jewish Berlin, with cultural, entertainment and educational meetings, a place, where other associations with similar aims of charity or cultural work also met. In this way a place was created for the profoundly changing Jewish identity - both organisationally and topographically.

In the years up to the formation of the German empire in 1871 a constant social ascent of the membership of the association took place. The Society had been founded by bachelors with enlightened ideals, who lived economically in unsecured or dependent conditions but soon the proportion of young bankers, traders and industrialists, who founded and successfully led their own enterprises, increased. This development continued over several generations and finally led to the third phase of the Society's work. During the time of the Empire and the Weimar Republic this association was the unofficial centre of the highest representatives of German-Jewish banking and economy, resident in Berlin, and included the executives of large-scale enterprises such as Ullstein, AEG, Deutsche Bank or Agfa, families like the Mendelssohns, the Rathenaus, the Liebermanns and the Mosses. At the same time the proportion of the members who did not have any Jewish background rose, although slowly: Hjalmar Schacht, Hans Luther, Friedrich Reinhart and Carl Friedrich von Siemens are the most prominent examples of this distinct step in the direction of a German-Jewish integration in the area of the economy.

The 1935 prohibition of the Society by the national socialists was emblematic for the destruction of the economic bourgeoisie of Jewish origin. It is an aim of the thesis to reconstruct the fate of the former members after 1933: Apart from emigration and a new start abroad members faced death in prisons and concentration camps as well as the - always threatened - survival in the German Reich.

The history of the Society ends with the unsuccessful attempt of former members of the board to regain the association's assets during the 1950s.

Like no other organisation the Gesellschaft der Freunde embodies the entire process of emancipation, acculturation and destruction of the German Jewry. The thesis will compile important new knowledge especially in the fields of the early history of Jewish associations and societies, of the topography of Berlin Jewry in 19th century and of the unofficial self organisation of the German-Jewish economic elite.