Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Jews of Luxembourg

When the small European nation of Luxembourg became independent in 1815, there were fewer than 100 Jews in the country. The earliest records of Jewish residence in Luxembourg, however, date back to 1276. The first Jewish settlement followed in the early 14th century. While Luxembourg appeared fairly tolerant of its Jewish settlers, the outbreak of the Black Death proved how precarious the Jews' situation was. They were blamed for the horrific plague and driven out of the country.

Uninterrupted Jewish settlement in Luxembourg began after Napoleon’s march across Europe. By 1823, there was a large enough community for a synagogue in Luxembourg City, and a Chief Rabbi (Samuel Hirsch) was appointed in 1843. The Jews played an important role in the country’s industrialization and development, resulting in a steady growth in the community. By the 1930s, with an influx of immigrants from Germany, there were approximately 4,000 Jews in Luxembourg.

On May 10, 1940, the Nazis arrived. Shortly thereafter, the Nuremberg Laws were proclaimed and enforced. While the majority of the country’s Jews managed to leave Luxembourg, many of those who escaped ended up in Vichy France and were sent to concentration camps from there. At least 100 Jews were saved by the country’s former Minister of Justice, Victor Bodson, who organized an underground escape route across the River Sauer.

The Chief Rabbi at the time, Rabbi Dr. Robert Serebrenik, and his wife, Julie, managed to escape to southern France. In March 1941, he met with Adolf Eichmann, who warned him that Luxembourg would be free of Jews in eleven days. Rabbi Serebrenik managed to get 250 more Jews out of the country. The Serebreniks went to New York City where they, along with 61 other refugees from Luxembourg, founded Congregation Ramath Orah in Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

After the war, Jews did return to Luxembourg. Uniquely, the government actively worked to help the Jewish community rebuild and provided support for the building of a new synagogue. The small Jewish community continues to grow.

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