World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Leo Baeck

Leo Baeck
German stamp, 1957
for 1st anniversary of the death of Leo Baeck
Personal details
Born (1873-05-23)23 May 1873
Lissa, Grand Duchy of Posen (present-day Poland)
Died 2 November 1956(1956-11-02) (aged 83)
London, England
Denomination Reform
Spouse Natalie Hamburger

Leo Baeck (23 May 1873 – 2 November 1956) was a 20th-century German rabbi, scholar, and a leader of Progressive Judaism.


  • Early years 1
  • Nazi persecution and deportation 2
  • Post-war life and work 3
  • The International Leo Baeck Institute 4
  • See also 5
  • Bibliography 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8

Early years

Baeck was born in Lissa (Leszno) (then in the German Province of Posen, now in Poland), the son of Rabbi Samuel Baeck, and began his education at the Jewish Theological Seminary of Breslau in 1894. He also studied philosophy in Berlin with Wilhelm Dilthey, served as a rabbi in Oppeln, Düsseldorf, and Berlin, and taught at the Hochschule für die Wissenschaft des Judentums (Higher Institute for Jewish Studies). In 1905 Baeck published The Essence of Judaism, in response to Adolf von Harnack's What is Christianity?. This book, which interpreted and valorized Judaism through a prism of Neo-Kantianism tempered with religious existentialism, made him a famous proponent for the Jewish people and their faith. During World War I, Baeck was a chaplain in the German Imperial Army.

Nazi persecution and deportation

In 1933, after the Theresienstadt concentration camp.

Leo Baeck became the "honorary head" of the Council of Elders (Judenrat) in Theresienstadt. As such, he was protected from transports and with his protection list, could also save his relatives from transports,[1] among others his grand-niece Ruth (b. 1925). Moreover, Baeck became "prominent", which meant that he had better accommodation, better food and could receive mail more often.[2]

He was the subject of substantial criticism in Hannah Arendt's book Eichmann in Jerusalem, which examined Jewish cooperation with the Nazi authorities during the Holocaust. She suggested the scope of death was larger because of cooperation and leaders failed to tell the victims the stark truth of what was going to happen to them with deportation.

He gave lectures, was active in the interfaith dialogue between the Jews and Christians of Jewish origin, worked in the youth care sector, which he directed from November 1944 on, and was friendly with many of the functionaries. After liberation, he headed the Council of Elders; the last Elder of the Jews was the Czech communist Jiří Vogel.[3] Baeck's lectures were credited with helping prisoners survive their confinement. Heinrich F. Liebrecht said Baeck's lectures helped him to discover wellsprings of strength and the conviction that his life had a purpose. "From here came the impulse to really endure, and the belief that we were able to do so."[4]

Up until his deportation, numerous American institutions offered to help him escape the war and immigrate to the United States. Leo Baeck refused to abandon his community and declined the offers. Nevertheless, he managed to survive the Holocaust, though three of his sisters perished in the ghetto.[5]

Post-war life and work

After the war, Baeck relocated to London, where he accepted the Presidency of the North Western Reform Synagogue in Temple Fortune. He taught at Hebrew Union College in the United States,[6] and eventually became Chairman of the World Union for Progressive Judaism. It was during this time he published his second major work, This People Israel, which he partially penned during his imprisonment by the Nazis. His increased interfaith work also meant that he revised and, to an extent, reclaimed for Judaism, the founding figures of Christianity, Jesus and Paul.[7]

He died on 2 November 1956, in London, England.

The International Leo Baeck Institute

In 1955, the Leo Baeck Institute for the study of the history and culture of German-speaking Jewry was established, and Baeck was the first international president of this institute. The asteroid 100047 Leobaeck is named in his honour, as is Leo Baeck College, the Reform/Progressive rabbinical college in London. The Institute now includes branches around the world including the Leo Baeck Institute, New York, and the Leo Baeck Institute, London. There are institutions named after Leo Baeck, on every inhabited continent, including the Leo Beack Centre for Progressive Judaism, Melbourne, Australia.[8]

See also


  • Baker, Leonard (1982) Hirt der Verfolgten : Leo Baeck im Dritten Reich. Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta. ISBN 3-12-930760-5 (German);
  • Baker, Leonard (1978) Days of sorrow and pain : Leo Baeck and the Berlin Jews. New York: Macmillan. ISBN 0-02-506340-5 ;
  • Neimark, Anne E. (1986) One man's valor : Leo Baeck and the Holocaust E.P. Dutton, New York, ISBN 0-525-67175-7 (for juvenile audience);
  • Friedlander, Albert H.: Teacher of Theresienstadt, Overlook Press; Reprint (July 1991), ISBN 0-87951-393-4 (10), ISBN 978-0-87951-393-1 (13)
  • Heuberger, Georg and Backhaus, Fritz (2001): Leo Baeck 1873–1956: Aus dem Stamme von Rabbinern, Frankfurt: Jewish Museum. ISBN 3-633-54169-1
  • Homolka, Walter and Füllenbach, Elias H. (2008): Rabbiner Leo Baeck. Ein Lebensbild, Teetz / Berlin (= Jüdische Miniaturen, vol. 75). ISBN 978-3-938485-84-2.


  1. ^  , p. 287
  2. ^ "Theresienstadt Lexikon – Prominente" (in German). Retrieved 2011-09-13. 
  3. ^  
  4. ^ "Not To Hate..." The Times-Standard, Eureka, California (June 23, 2009). Retrieved October 19, 2011
  5. ^ Friederike Feldmann, Rosa Mandl and Elise Stern
  6. ^ "Dr. Leo Baeck Arrives in U.s.; Reform Rabbis Oppose Government Aid to Religious Bodies". JTA. 26 October 1949. Retrieved 16 April 2014. 
  7. ^ Langton, Daniel (2010). The Apostle Paul in the Jewish Imagination. Cambridge University Press. pp. 63–65,84–86. 
  8. ^

External links

  • Guide to the Papers of Leo Baeck
  • Leo Baeck at Find-A-Grave
  • Akiba Ernst Simon and Yehoyada Amir (1972, 2006), Leo Baeck, from Encyclopaedia Judaica; via Jewish Virtual Library
  • Leo Baeck, Jewish Philosopher and Bridge Between the Rationalists and the Existentialists at the Wayback Machine (archived March 19, 2006), JewishGates
  • Documents about Leo Baeck in the collection of the Jewish Museum Prague
Institutions named in honor of Leo Baeck
  • Leo Baeck College – rabbinical school in London
  • Leo Baeck Education Center – preschool, elementary, junior high and high school in Haifa, Israel
  • Leo Baeck Centre for Progressive Judaism, Melbourne – Synagogue and Community Centre
  • Leo Baeck Day School – Preschool to Grade 8 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada
  • Leo Baeck Old Age Home, Herbartstrasse, Berlin, Germany
  • Leo Baeck Institute Jerusalem
  • Leo Baeck Institute London
  • Leo Baeck Institute New York
  • Leo Baeck Foundation- foundation with the help of Leo Baeck's family to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Leo Baeck's yahrzeit: to foster rabbinic training and interreligious dialogue .
  • Leo Baeck Temple Reform congregation in West Los Angeles, California
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from World eBook Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.