* Lew’s review of Days of Sorrow and Pain: Leo Baeck and the Berlin Jews by Leonard Baker
Posted by Lew Weinstein on March 27, 2016
Rabbi Leo Baeck was perhaps the most important leader of the Jews of Germany during the Hitler years. A scholar and spiritual leader before Hitler’s rise, Baeck turned down offers to leave Germany and took on the difficult and ultimately frustrating role of coordinating Jewish response to the closing Nazi net. Arrested several times, he survived Theresienstadt and lived his final years in England. Baker has written a marvelous account of Baeck’s long and remarkable life.
Baeck recognized that the scattered organizational structure of German Jewry was not adequate to stand against Nazi antisemitism. He helped create and was the chief spokesman for the Reichsverretung, an organization which supervised welfare problems of German Jews … education … emigration … raised funds … and sought help of Jews abroad. He was a major factor in the escape of many German Jews during the late 1930s when escape was still possible.
In 1935, on Yom Kippur shortly after the passage of the infamous Nuremberg Racial Laws, Baeck wrote a stirring sermon to be read in all synagogues in Germany. In this sermon, Baeck stated … that there was a moment of decision for each individual, the point beyond which he will not bend, the pressure to which he will not succumb, the sacrifice he will not make … that Judaism was the history of the grandeur of the human soul and the dignity of human life … that no matter how weak we are, how oppressed we might be, how abruptly our former friends turn away from us, we cannot be defeated.
Baeck was arrested by the Gestapo, but soon released after pressure from an article in the London Times and protest from a group of Christian ministers in the US. Baker points out that “no German Christian leaders protested the Baeck’s arrest.”
This event, and others in Baeck’s life, will likely play a role in Book Two of my novel A FLOOD OF EVIL.