(Ger., Königsberg, Rus., Kenigsberg, Pol., Królewiec, Yid., Kenigsberg), former capital of the Prussian province of East Prussia, and today capital of the Russian-administered Kaliningrad District (Kaliningradskaia Oblast’). Its geographic proximity to Poland and Russia made Kaliningrad an important hub of trade between eastern and western parts of Europe and so it was home to a large number of East European Jewish merchants. It also served as an important conduit for connections between Central and East European Jewish society and culture.
Resistance from the Christian business community restricted Jewish residence to selected merchants and doctors who were granted royal privileges to settle in Königsberg before the seventeenth century. From 1654—in the interest of promoting trade between Prussia and Poland and at the instigation of the Polish crown (although against the will of the local magistrate)—Jewish merchants, primarily from Poland–Lithuania, were permitted to settle there. The city also was home to a Prussian court Jew. The first prayer house opened its doors in 1680, after encouragement by Jewish merchants from Poland–Lithuania, and the first synagogue opened in 1756 (it was rebuilt in 1815). Jews were permitted to establish a cemetery in 1703, and a burial society was founded in 1704, followed in 1722 by the first community ordinance. Shelomoh Fürst was Kaliningrad’s first rabbi (1707–1722). He was followed later by Aryeh Leib Epstein, who arrived from Grodno in 1744 and served until 1775.
Migrations of German Jews to Kaliningrad began to increase in the early eighteenth century. By the 1780s, the Haskalah movement drew followers from beyond the immediate region. Ḥevrat Dorshe Leshon ‘Ever (Society of Friends of the Hebrew Language), founded in 1782, published the first important journal of the German Jewish Haskalah, Ha-Me’asef (1784–1788). Many leading representatives of the movement studied and worked in the city, including the physician and philosopher Markus Herz (1747–1803) and the teacher Yitsḥak Euchel (1756–1804). In Sefat emet, published in 1782, Euchel urged the creation of a Jewish school dedicated to the ideals of the Enlightenment; he also prepared the first translation into German of the High Holiday prayer book.
As the city’s mercantile economy flourished in the nineteenth century, the population of Königsberg grew rapidly. With the Jewish community’s expansion, a Polish synagogue opened in 1855; the New Synagogue (which served a primarily Russian Jewish congregation) was consecrated in 1896; and congregation Adas Yisroel opened its doors in 1913. New cemeteries were created in 1875 and 1929. Influential rabbinical figures in the nineteenth century included Louis Saalschütz (1814–1823), Ya‘akov Tsevi Meklenburg (1830–1896), and Isaac Bamberger (1865–1896). An Orthodox secessionist congregation was founded in 1870. The community’s support for enlightened learning was continued in the nineteenth century by, among others, the teacher and rabbi Yitsḥak Asher Francolm, the physician Johann Jacobi, and the rabbi Yosef Levin Saalschütz (1801–1863), who qualified as a university lecturer at the University of Königsburg and later taught archaeology there.
Table: The Jewish Population of Kaliningrad
In 1885–1886, all Polish and Russian nationals who lacked authorization for residence, including many Jews, were expelled. The significance of both the city and its Jewish community steadily declined steadily after World War I and the October Revolution of 1917, due to sharp drops in trade between Western and Eastern Europe and Königsberg’s increasingly peripheral location (in the “Polish corridor”). About half of the Jewish population emigrated between the Nazi seizure of power (January 1933) and the outbreak of World War II on 1 September 1939. More than 1,000 Jews from Königsberg were deported, either directly or indirectly, to death camps in 1942–1943. After the introduction of Soviet administration according to the terms of the Potsdam Agreement (1945), the few remaining Jews who had survived the war in Kaliningrad left for points west.
Under Soviet administration, the city experienced a new wave of Jewish immigration, above all from Russia and Ukraine; some also came as members of the military. However, until the collapse of the USSR, permission to establish an official community was denied to the approximately 4,000-strong Jewish population, whose numbers and share of the population gradually declined. Even before 1990, emigration to Israel had begun to increase.
H. (Heimann) Jolowicz, Geschichte der Juden in Königsberg i. Pr.: Ein Beitrag zur Sittengeschichte des preussischen Staates (Posen, 1867); Ruth Leiserowitz, “Rekonstruktion von Identität und Imagination: Neue jüdische Gemeinden in Klaipeda und Kaliningrad,” in Der Ort des Judentums in der Gegenwart, 1989–2002, ed. Hiltrud Wallenborn, pp. 47–61 (Berlin and Brandenburg, 2004); Stefanie Schüler-Springorum, Die jüdische Minderheit in Königsberg/Preussen, 1871–1945 (Göttingen, 1996).
Translated from German by Deborah Cohen