Jüdischer Kulturbunde outside Berlin

Outside of Berlin, Jewish Culture Leagues formed in the Rhine-Ruhr area and the Rhine-Main area, with the formation of a second and third active league in Cologne and Frankfurt, respectively. While the original Berlin League maintained a theatre ensemble, opera, and philharmonic orchestra, the branch in Cologne operated only an independent theatre ensemble. The Frankfurt League, with no opera or theatre ensemble, focused on orchestral music and maintained its own philharmonic orchestra, under the direction of Hans Wilhelm Steinberg until 1936.

These additional League branches were based on independent Jewish cultural activity inspired by the example of Kurt Singer and the Berlin League. Steinberg had been the general music director at Frankfurt’s opera house, where he had made his name conducting modern works by composers such as Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg and Kurt Weill. With Hitler’s ascension, however, he was dismissed as a Jew. He had heard of Kurt Singer’s founding of the Berlin League and, with this model in mind, worked to organize concerts with Jewish musicians in conjunction with Frankfurt’s local synagogues and Jewish community leaders. This activity provided the basis for the official establishment of the Kulturbund Deutscher Juden, Bezirk Rhein-Main (Culture League of German Jews Rhine-Main), on April 17, 1934, a League offshoot that included the whole Rhine-Main district, but which was centred in Frankfurt.

The League branch encompassing the Rhine-Ruhr area, located in Cologne, began much like the League in Frankfurt. After the dismissal of Jewish musicians, an independent Jewish musical life began in Cologne with Berlin as the model. Originally called the Freunde des Theaters und der Musik, e.V. (Friends of Theatre and Music, inc.), the Jüdischer Kulturbund Rhein-Ruhr (Jewish Culture League Rhine-Ruhr) was founded in Autumn 1933. Paul Moses was the first chairman of this League in Cologne, which, along with its focus on theatre, organized chamber music concerts, such as piano and vocal recitals. Smaller offshoots of the Berlin League also formed in Hamburg, Munich, Breslau, Kassel, Dresden, Leipzig and other locations. The most active League branches were in Berlin, Frankfurt, Cologne and Hamburg, which maintained a third independent Jewish theatre ensemble. The Berlin association, supervised by Singer, was the largest with 20,000 members in early 1934. By 1935, the Jewish Culture League had 46 local associations in other towns and cities, which the Nazi regime put under the umbrella union Reichsverband der Jüdischen Kulturbünde (Reich Association of Jewish Culture Leagues), also in Berlin.

Singer had already envisioned such an organization by the end of 1933 to coordinate Jewish musical activity in all of Germany. From 1935 until the suspension of independent League performances outside Berlin in 1939, the central agency in Berlin bore the main responsibility for the repertoire and clearance of programs for all League branches. Much of this responsibility fell on Singer, who was in charge of setting musical programs after discussion with individual department directors and concert approval in committee. There was of course variance between these League branches, especially the organization in Munich, which, unlike other offshoots, supported its own marionette theatre from 1935-1937.  However, the centralized control of repertoire did give Jewish musical performances across the Reich a certain degree of consistency. This regularity was also the result of inevitable music exchange. Before and after 1935, many of the smaller League offshoots, as well as the Leagues in Hamburg and Cologne, relied on performances from the League orchestras in Berlin and Frankfurt to supplement their repertoire. In 1934, for example, the Hamburg League celebrated its opening with Beethoven’s Egmont Overture, Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor, and Schubert’s Seventh Symphony, performed by the Berlin League orchestra, under the direction of Joseph Rosenstock.

By Lily E. Hirsch


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