Gesellschaft der Freunde

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GESELLSCHAFT DER FREUNDE (Ger. "Society of Friends"), German mutual aid society. The society was founded in 1792 by Berlin bachelors, among them Isaac *Euchel, Aaron Wolfssohn, and Joseph Mendelssohn. It officially aimed at mutual aid in cases of illness, poverty, business problems, and death. However, during the first decades of its existence the Gesellschaft also served as the main organization of the late Berlin *Haskalah and was successfully involved in the ongoing fight against the ritual of early burial.

During the first decades of the 19th century, the character of the Gesellschaft der Freunde changed. Instead of being an organization of just one social group, it became the cultural center of all of Berlin Jewry. The association bought a big house in the city center, near the synagogue in Heidereuterstrasse, where other organizations, schools, and private parties used the dining rooms, ballrooms, and large garden for their dinners, examinations, or wedding celebrations as well. The spectrum ranged from the Reform community to the neo-Orthodox Adass Jisroel, from the social Geselliger Verein der Handwerker to the religious Talmud-Verein. The personal connection with the leadership of the Berlin Jewish community was especially close during this period.

After 1880, the Gesellschaft der Freunde withdrew from public attention. It had to sell its house and became an organization where leading Jewish bankers, entrepreneurs, merchants, and managers met. The *Mendelssohns, *Liebermanns, *Ullsteins, *Mosses, *Rathenaus, and *Bleichroeders all were members. During the 1920s, dozens of non-Jewish economic leaders joined the association, most of whom resigned, however, after 1933. In 1935, the Gesellschaft der Freunde was closed down by National Socialist officials; most of its members succeeded in emigrating to the U.K., the U.S., Switzerland, and other countries.


H. Baschwitz, Rueckblick auf die hundertjaehrige Geschichte der Gesellschaft der Freunde zu Berlin und Nachtrag zur Chronik bis zum Schluss des Jahres 1891 (1892); L. Lesser, Chronik der Gesellschaft der Freunde in Berlin zur Feier ihres Fünfzigjaehrigen Jubilaeums. Nebst einem Nachtrag 1842–1872 von Martin Steinthal (1842/1872); S. Panwitz, Die Gesellschaft der Freunde (1792–1935) in Berlin.

[Sebastian Pannwitz (2nd ed.)]