History of the Jewish Community of Gothenburg
On August 10, 1775 the island of Marstrand, outside Gothenburg, was declared Porto Franco and the aliens invited to settle there were granted freedom of religion as well as freedom of trade. Almost exactly four years later, the first Jew, Moses Salomon, arrived on the island and some month later Elias Magnus, the ancestor of a still well-known family in Gothenburg.
About 10 years later, when it was at its peak, the Jewish community of Marstrand numbered 60 members, including women and children. By royal permission, the congregation was allowed to use a vault in the Karlsten fortress as their synagogue. Today, in the empty vault, the place if the Torah shrine can still be identified.
After less then two decades, in 1794, the Porto Franco privilege of the island was cancelled and the Jews of Marstrand began to move to Gothenburg. In 1807, the von Reis family was the only left on Marstrand. in 1780, the Royal Board of Trade tried to attract foreign merchants, and Jews could ask the Gothenburg Bench of Magistrates for permission to settle there as “Schutzjuden”-protected Jews. The first to arrive was David Abraham from Germany, together with his family and private tutor for the children, soon followed by other Jewish families.
Traditionally, the year 1780 is regarded as being the year when the Jewish Community of Gothenburg was born. The first generation of Jews, some of them coming from Marstrand, were Danish-in general originally Iberian-Netherlanders and German origin. Many of them became renowned citizens, such as the Delbanco, the Henriques, the Salomon, the Magnus, the Schlesinger and the von Reis families. The edict of 1782, finally allowed Jews to settle in three of the Swedish towns, and known as the “Jewish Ordinance”, was intended to apply to aliens. However, the next generation was in part born in Sweden and wanted to be accepted as loyal Swedish citizens. King Karl XIV Johan, a former Napoleonic field marshal, was imbued by the new French ideas accepting Jews as French citizens and issued, in 1838, a decree governing the rights and obligations of “Mosaic believers” as Swedish citizens, an important reform and a great step towards equality.
We don’t know when a Jewish congregation was officially formed in Gothenburg. In the beginning, Jews of Marstrand and Gothenburg buried their dead in Copenhagen, but as early as 1793 the first tombstone, over Mrs Bella Salomon from Marstrand was erected in Gothenburg in the still existing “old Cemetery”. The beautiful chapel of this cemetery was consecrated in 1864.
We also know that there was a synagogue in Gothenburg in 1797-we have still the text of a service in Swedish on the occasion of the wedding of the young king in that year. In 1802, the synagogue was moved to a building which had been bought, but the building burnt down before the end of the year. After five more years, another synagogue was built on the site of the present day Kyrkogatan 44 and this was consecrated a year later. The Great Synagogue, which is still the main synagogue of Gothenburg, was inaugurated in 1855.
The third generation of Gothenburg’s Jews was to experience the gradual victory of political emancipation but also a breakthrough for assimilation. While building the Great Synagogue, the congregation abandoned the religious rites and introduced a new form of liberal service, which in many aspects copied German “reform”.
The expectation to return to Jerusalem was omitted, though the longing to return to Zion was not totally suppressed in the prayer books which were printed in the 1850’s. Some few prayers were said in Swedish and there was a book of psalms entirely printed in Swedish. The ecumenical spirit found its most impressive expression, when the synagogue was consecrated-a Christian choir performed in Swedish and Hebrew, the melody for the inauguration cantata had been composed by a Lutheran priest, and the organist was the famous musician Joseph Chapec from Prague, a catholic. The synagogue however was constructed with balconies for the women and the men kept their head covered.
The choir, though singing all prayers in Hebrew and the organist were still Christians until 125 years later. In our time, the congregation has returned to a more traditional form of service and abandoned the Christian singers and the organ.
In the 18th century, Gothenburg lived mainly on trade, and at the turn of the century, this trade was dominated by Swedes and Scots. There was only very little and unimportant industrial activity. The new century brought Jewish enterprise to the town, merchant houses and factories-many of them still in existence-were founded. The Magnus family registered as early as 1790 as importers and bankers, the next generation, joined by the Jacobsson family, founded sugar refineries and a brewery; they were also involved in industrial enterprises outside Gothenburg.
The Delbanco family built an oil refinery in 1823. During the 1830’s the merchant house Hertz & Co was founded and the factory Oscardals Fabriker.
All these companies are still working in the Gothenburg area. In the same decade, Nathan J Gumperts ran the bookshop that is still biggest in town, although the owners have changed. The Bonnier family moved from Copenhagen to Gothenburg in 1827 and opened a bookshop in Stockholm and, as time went on, also printing and publishing houses. The first edition of prayer books in Hebrew and Swedish was printed in Gothenburg by the Bonniers. In 1858 they started publishing Göteborgs-Posten, which today, although the owners have changed, is the 2nd largest daily newspaper in Sweden. The largest daily, the Dagens Nyheter, is published by the Bonniers in Stockholm, now not Jewish any longer but still the most important printers and publishers in Sweden.
During the 1850’s and 1860’s restrictions were abolished step by steep. Thus, settlement rights were extended for Jews and foreign citizens and Swedish Jews were permitted to acquire real estate. It was the time when the Jewish Community of Gothenburg was the most prominent in Sweden and the unique good-will enjoyed by the city’s patrician Jewish families turned out to be a decisive argument in the struggle for complete Jewish emancipation in society.
Jewish citizens were involved in the founding and management of the Skandinaviska Kreditkassa and the Göteborgs Privata Bank. After changes in their names and organization, the first one is today regarded as number one among the great banks of the country.
As time went by, Jewish patricians became active also in government on both local and national levels
Edvard Magnus and some of his non-Jewish friends took the initiative of founding the first permanent orchestra in Gothenburg and later Herman Mannheimer and Peter Lamberg initiated the founding of the Philharmonic Orchestra and the concert hall are partly based on Jewish donations, as are the University, the Public Library, the Museum of Arts and the Botanical Garden.
In 1857, the congregation appointed Abraham Baer, a German born 22 years old cantor, from Amsterdam. He officiated until his death in 1894. Baer wrote one of the most famous works in Jewish chazanut, which has been printed and reprinted until our time: “Baal T’filla – Der Practische Vorbeter. Vollständige Sammlung der gottesdienstlichen Gesänge und Recitative des Israeliten nach polnischen, deutschen (aschkenasischen) und portugiesuschen (sephardischen) weisen nebs taller den Gottesdienst betreffenden rituellen Vorschriften und Gebräuchen”
Almost 100 years after the first Jew had settled in Sweden, both chambers if Parliament voted, in 1873, to award Sweden’s Jews full civil right. By this time, the fourth generation was running the Jewish community and was active in all walks of Jewish life.
The 5th generation was in many ways totally assimilated, but at the end of the 19th century, the great influx of Jews from Eastern Europe came after new Russian pogroms. These new immigrants gathered around their little “shul”, commonly called “minjan” and as time went by and the old Jewish families left the fold, they formed the bulk of the Jewish Community. In our day, most of the descendants of this group join the service in the Great Synagogue, other prefer the “shul”. More then two decades ago it was transformed into a beautiful synagogue on of the premises of the Community.
In the 1st decades of this century, one of the big chains of department stores was founded by H G Turitz, of Gothenburg and at the same time Joseph Sachs of Stockholm, was instrumental in founding the famous NK department store. Both joined, not so long ago, a third chain, dominating the market, and is no longer under Jewish leadership. Other prominent persons of Jewish origin were, in our half of the 20th century, Malte Jacobson, Governor of Sweden and Sören Mannheimer, mayor of Gothenburg. The mother of Per Gyllenhammar, former president of Volvo, was a member of the Jewish Community of Gothenburg, until her death.
In the 1930’s, some few refugees from the Nazi realm were allowed to settle in Sweden and so new families came from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia to Gothenburg. In the 1940’s, the first Norwegian Jews escaped to neutral Sweden, then the Danish refugees came, but almost all of these Scandinavian Jews went back to their native countries at the end of the war.
In the spring and summer of 1945 the “white buses” with survivors from the concentration camps arrived, in 1956 refugees came from Hungary and in 1969/70 from Poland. All these caused the Jewish Community to flourish. The multi-cultural character of the Community is of great importance for the activities of the Community in an international, Jewish framework.
The generation that saw World War ll raging outside this neutral country and experienced the horrible Nazi time, feels a great responsibility for their brethren in the countries of oppression. And this same generation, that also saw the rebirth of the Jewish state, is fully aware that it has been a witness to an almost Messianic event. It has managed to transfer its own ethniticity to the children. And more of the Jewish youngsters of Gothenburg - in proportion to the total membership of 1800 souls, men, women and children included - have made Aliyah (immigrated to Israel) than from any other Western community.
Today the community Center is still located in the same place at Östra Larmgatan 12.