History of the Jewish school in Burgsteinfurt and its last teacher

In the middle of the old town centre of Burgsteinfurt, stands on Kautenstege an inconspicuous block of rented flats, surrounded by parking spaces. There is nothing to suggest that this is a building with a special, yet barely known, history: it is the former Jewish school of Burgsteinfurt.


The school building


The school building on the property next to the synagogue was acquired in the late summer of 1888. It consisted of three floors. Downstairs was simply one large room, the schoolroom. Upstairs was the teacher’s flat with five rooms; and, above that, the attic. Laundry and toilet facilities (privy and urinal) were installed outside the house.


Hermann Emanuel took over as teacher and cantor in 1893, teaching 40-50 children to begin with. The turn of the century saw the community beginning to shrink due to emigration, with only six children attending the school around 1930.

Handwritten drawing with chairs, tables and cupboards from a bird’s eye view.
Sketch of the schoolroom from 1932, made by the municipal building authority, Steinfurt municipal archives
Aerial view: in the foreground, a gabled house and building with pointed roof; in the background, a one-storey building with several chimneys and large arches; to the right, a two-storey building, ringed.
Synagogue and Jewish school in Burgsteinfurt; detail of aerial photograph, 1936

Hermann Emanuel, presumably in front of the synagogue on Kautenstege; private possession of Ruth Mazaki

Paved street; on the left, a wall; on the right, wall and building; at the end of the street, a child; behind the child, a one-storey building with church tower above.
View of the Kautenstege, c. 1935. On the right is the entrance to the synagogue; in the background, the small Protestant church can be seen


Hermann Emanuel was forced into retirement in 1932. The government then dissolved the Jewish elementary school as a state school, but allowed it to continue as a private educational establishment. Soon the dwindling and increasingly poor community was forced to apply for regular financial support from the Nazi state.

“The parents of all school-age children are without exception unable to pay even small contributions in school fees due to their economic circumstances”.


Mayor Schumann spoke in favour of a grant:

“The possibility alone, however, that the Jews might dissolve their school and then the children of a different species and race would have to be together with German-blooded children … for years in one room, seems to me sufficient to justify a financial grant to avoid an … intolerable situation”.

The request was nevertheless rejected.

Cut-out of a yellow page, written on a typewriter.
Rejection of a grant request for the upkeep of the school, Steinfurt municipal archives

Denizens of Burgsteinfurt set fire to the synagogue in November 1938. It burned down, and the school building next to it was laid to waste. The school was repaired provisionally, because, in line with the decree of the Reich Minister for Science, Education and National Education of 15 November 1938, Jews were no longer allowed to attend German schools.

Three persons on rubble and burnt wooden beams, next to brick building with large windows.
Synagogenplatz after the fire;
in the background, the looted Jewish school


Teacher Emanuel taught pupils from Burgsteinfurt and the surrounding villages until mid-1941. When the ban was issued preventing the teaching of Jewish children, the school was closed. Synagogenplatz and the school building were then bought by the town of Burgsteinfurt.


The last citizens of Jewish faith living in Burgsteinfurt, including Hermann Emanuel, were deported to Theresienstadt in July 1942.

Hole-punched page, written on a typewriter.
Decree of the Reich Minister of 15 November 1938, Steinfurt municipal archives

While much of the old town centre was destroyed in the war, the school building, which had been converted into a block of rented flats, remained almost intact.

Burgsteinfurt was thus “free of Jews”.

In the centre, a two-storey building with pointed roof, the lower windows open, surrounded by other buildings.
View of the former Jewish school,
c. 1950/on the left is the Hohe Schule; photo, Kiepker-Balzer

The property at Synagogenplatz and at the Jewish school was initially transferred back to the legal successor of the Jewish community of Burgsteinfurt after the war as part of the reparations. The town acquired the entire property again in 1953.

Synagogenplatz was soon transformed into a memorial and has been a listed building since 1997. The school building is still used as a block of rented flats today. The former Jewish school was entered in the list of the town of Steinfurt’s memorials in February 2015.

Two-storey building, here now rendered, windows all in same position.
The former school building, 2020
On the left, a two-storey building with pointed roof; in front, some cars; next to it, smaller one-storey buildings, the one on the right with wooden roof.
The former school building, 1970
Black-and-white photograph of Hermann Manuel in robe with glasses, holding a book in his left hand. He is standing on a path with large stone slabs.
Hermann Emanuel on his way between school and synagogue in Burgsteinfurt; private possession, Ruth Mazaki

Hermann Emanuel

The last teacher and cantor of the Jewish community in Burgsteinfurt

Hermann Emanuel began as a teacher and cantor in the Jewish community of Burgsteinfurt in 1893. He had completed his education in a neo-orthodox seminary in Cologne, and now came to a community that was somewhat liberal. Quite a few members of the community opened their shops on the Sabbath and went about their professional duties. They spent a lot of time in Burgsteinfurt’s town community and largely conformed to their surroundings. This situation was certainly somewhat difficult for the conservative Hermann Emanuel initially, but he faced all the challenges with empathy and pragmatism, and won the respect of his community and the citizens of Burgsteinfurt. The town established a training school teaching commerce in 1909, where until 1931 Hermann Emanuel worked as director and teacher after receiving further professional training.  He retained his position as cantor and teacher at the Jewish school.

Identity card from the digitized population register of the town of Burgsteinfurt, 1939-1984, Steinfurt municipal archives

Identity card from the digitized population register of the town of Burgsteinfurt, 1939-1984, Steinfurt municipal archives

Narrow-set Gothic script on brown-yellow paper.
Steinfurter Kreisblatt of 2 April 1932, Steinfurt municipal archives
Four people in front of a window, two standing and two sitting.
Henny, Ruth, Hermann and Renata Emanuel; private possession of Ruth Mazaki

Brüning’s “emergency decrees” forced Hermann Emanuel to retire early on 1 April 1932. At the same time, the ministry dissolved the Jewish school as a state school, but allowed it to continue as a private educational establishment under Hermann Emanuel’s leadership. The Steinfurter Kreisblatt published an appreciation of his work the next day:

“A deserving Burgsteinfurt schoolman has retired”.

He had married Henny Heimann, the daughter of a Burgsteinfurt businessman, in 1906, and started a family with her. Their daughters Ruth and Renata were well educated and did their A-levels at a grammar school in Münster. Ruth began studying in Münster, and Renata trained as a horticulturalist in Potsdam. However, after the National Socialists came to power, they no longer saw any prospects for themselves in Germany and emigrated to Palestine. His wife Henny died of liver cancer in 1937. Hermann Emanuel rejected his daughter Renata’s proposal to join her in Palestine, saying that he wished to remain with his community.

He was therefore forced to witness the night of the pogrom, when houses belonging to members of his community, as well as the school building and the synagogue, were laid to waste. The following day also saw the synagogue being torched and burnt to the ground. Despite the humiliations and threats, Hermann Emanuel turned to the mayor and demanded recourse – without success.

Hole-punched salmon-coloured paper, handwritten with running hand.
Claim for recourse submitted by Hermann Emanuel, and the mayor’s answer, Steinfurt municipal archives
Form with typewritten entries and three signatures at the bottom on yellow paper.
Death notice of Hermann Emanuel, Institute Theresienstätter Initiative: database of digitized documents

The riots were followed by numerous measures that excluded the Jews from society and deprived them of any means of livelihood. They were

“disenfranchised and impoverished, decimated and aged, separated from family members and cut off from the outside world, obliged to perform forced labour and crowded into ‘Jew houses’, malnourished and exhausted, restricted in freedom of movement, and marked by a star the size of a palm”.

[Konrad Kwiet 1988]

From December 1941, the Jews remaining in Burgsteinfurt were gradually deported to the concentration camps. The third and last transport deported Hermann Emanuel to the “ghetto for the elderly”, Theresienstadt, on 27 July 1942, where he died on 26 November 1942.

Idea and text: Irmgard Walbaum
Coordination: Nina Nolte
Photos: Kiepker-Balzer, Günther Hilgemann, Nina Nolte, Andreas Wessendorf
Sources: Steinfurt municipal archives, Institute Theresienstätter Initiative
The texts draw on writings by Willi Feld:
Willi Feld: “… daß die hiesigen Juden für Steinfurt wichtig sind” – Die Juden in der Geschichte der ehemaligen Stadt Burgsteinfurt – 2nd revised edition, Berlin 2009.
Willi Feld: Lebensbilder – Die Juden in der ehemaligen Stadt Burgsteinfurt, Part II, Münster 2004.