Data compiled by Peter W. Landé
Westphalian Jews and the Holocaust; An Amazing Find
While the name Bernard Brilling may not be known to many, it should be, since he is widely considered the greatest 20th century German-Jewish genealogist. Brilling was a rabbi, archivist and, most important, a genealogist. Before World War II he fled to Palestine and lost much of the material he had collected. However, he did not lose his interest in German-Jewish genealogy and he continued to collect material. After the war, he returned to Germany and lived in Münster/Westfalen until his death in 1987.
Brilling's collection of German-Jewish material grew to massive dimensions, 1,300 boxes totalling 140 meters of files, and is currently housed in the Jewish Museum in Frankfurt am Main. Not all of the material is genealogical, and some consists of newspaper clippings and material available elsewhere. However, the remainder is unique, though never fully catalogued and, therefore, difficult to utilize (see Edward Luft's and Peter Landé's article "Brilling Archives in Frankfurt Museum" in Avotaynu XI:1 (Spring 1995), page 34).
While Westphalia was not his native territory, after his return to Germany, Brilling devoted considerable efforts to collecting material on former Jewish communities in Westphalia. One part of his research was devoted to determining what happened to Westphalian Jews during the Holocaust. In 1962, he wrote to the administrations of dozens of small and large Westphalian towns/cities, asking for the names of all Jews resident in each town from 1933 to 1942 and what happened to them. Perhaps to his amazement, certainly to mine, he received detailed replies from over 60 communities (see list below).
While memorial books exist for some of these towns, they are local and most are simply lists of victims and do not give a picture of what took place. In contrast, Brilling's collection with its size and geographic scope permits one to "see" what occurred between 1933 and 1942, by which time all but a very few Jews had fled or were deported. You can visualize the efforts to escape. Some went to other localities, particularly larger cities or to the community where they had been born, in the vain hope that they would be less visible. Many went across the border to Holland. Yet, even this escape from Germany proved to be only a temporary refuge except for the few, who went on to get visas to safer places. The truly lucky ones were those who got visas to the United States, Argentina, Australia, Canada, England and other countries far away from Germany. In some cases an entire family emigrated. In others, some left, while others remained, perhaps due to visa problems or the unwillingness of older persons to leave.
There was no uniform format for the information supplied by individual localities. In most cases name, date of birth and place of residence and "outcome" e.g. departure to another place in Germany or abroad, death in the community, or deportation is chronicled. There are over 8,000 names. I have entered them in the following format: family name, maiden name, first name(s), date of birth, marital status, place of birth, place of residence (i.e. name of locality which submitted the information), date and destination for emigration, date and destination for deportation, date of death (usually only for persons who died before deportation), date and place to which a person moved within Germany, and notes. The notes field is limited to "suicide" or "survived". "Survived" is only noted when the individual apparently had not emigrated to a safe country e.g. the United States, since it is assumed that all persons who reached such countries survived. On the other hand, the fate of persons who emigrated to countries which were later occupied by Germany, and, even more, those who went to other cities within Germany, is less certain and, therefore, if their survival was documented, this is noted. (In most cases where a person had left Westphalia, the towns there had no further information on their fate).
A word of explanation as to what information was included and omitted. As noted above, each locality submitted its information as it saw fit. Wherever information as to date, place of birth, etc. was given, it was included. Where it does not appear, it is because the information was not provided, e.g. marital status was rarely provided. The only changes made to information relate to names of cities/countries. German city names were left as they appeared, but other city and country names such as Neu York or Indien were translated into English, i.e. New York and India. For the sake of historical accuracy and consistency, Israel and Palestine were both entered as Palestine. Major cities to which persons emigrated are given as they appear, e.g. Haifa, New York, Rio de Janeiro, while smaller localities are simply listed by the countries where they are located e.g. Afula simply appears as Palestine.
I omitted certain data, including profession and street address. Also omitted was the occasional notation that a person had been "declared dead" in May 1945. This date is a legal fiction utilized by German courts in postwar inheritance cases and is otherwise meaningless. I also omitted place of death, which appears infrequently, and occasional references to family members not resident in Westphalia, e.g. a brother in Paris. I realize that the latter can be of importance and I would recommend that anyone interested in an individual consult the actual town/city document itself to determine whether additional information was provided. As noted above, the original documents are held in the archives of the Jewish Museum in Frankfurt. However, this museum has a very small staff and cannot handle mail inquiries. Interested persons should, therefore, request any documents from the Survivors Registry at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington or from the archives of the Leo Baeck Institute in New York City. Persons may also write to me at 3002 Ordway Street N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008-3254, and I shall try to be of assistance. Additional information on persons born or resident in Lippe and western Westphalia may be available from the Nordrhein-Westfaelisches Personenstandsarchiv Westfalen-Lippe, Willi-Hofmann Strasse 2, 32756 Detmold, Germany.
February 1, 1999
Searching the Database
Last Update: 15 July 2013 WSB
Data compiled by Peter W. Landé.