This article uses an innovative digital humanities database and generational history in order to analyse the lives and careers of German refugee rabbis in the United States. It identifies the cohort among the refugee rabbis who were part of a communitisation process and defined themselves as ‘the last generation of the German rabbinate’, and illuminates how and why they could continue their careers in the United States better than elsewhere. It also examines their late returns to the country of their birth and analyses how they made sense of their own history by exchanges with the Germans. This was part of the transnational knowledge transfer that presented them as the last rabbis in the German-Jewish tradition, but also allowed them to successfully relaunch the establishment of modern Jewish seminaries for rabbinical training on the European continent and achieve symbolic continuity, eighty years after their destruction by Nazism.
Cornelia Wilhelm is professor of modern history at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München. From 2010 to 2016 she taught as DAAD Visiting Professor in History and Jewish Studies at Emory University and had previously held a visiting position at Rutgers University, New Brunswick. Her work focuses primarily on comparative and transnational aspects of Jewish history, and on race, ethnicity, migration and religion. She is author of the monographs Bewegung oder Verein? Nationalsozialistische Volkstumspolitik in den USA [Movement or Association? Nazi Ethnic Policies in the US] (1998); Pioneers of a New Jewish Identity: The Independent Orders of B'nai B'rith and True Sisters (2011) and is currently working on an in-depth study of German refugee rabbis in the United States after 1933. Recently she published two anthologies: American Jewry: Transcending the European Experience? (2016) with Christian Wiese, and Migration, Memory and Diversity in Germany: From 1945 to the Present (2017).