The first female rabbi and how she was almost forgotten.
She herself put a strong emphasis on her pastoral work, visiting the sick in the Jewish Hospital and caring for those elderly whose economic situation became desperate after the pogrom of November 9 and 10, 1938 ("Kristallnacht"). Among her papers, there are many letters from abroad in which refugees thank her for taking care of their parents who had remained in Germany.
In the winter of 1940-1941, the Reichsvereinigung der Juden in Deutschland (the compulsory umbrella organization of German Jewry established by the Nazis in 1939) sent her to several cities where the Jewish Gemeinde remained without rabbis. She gave sermons in Braunschweig, Göttingen, Frankfurt am Oder, Wolfenbüttel and Bremen.
In 1941, when most of those who had so far escaped deportation had to do forced labor and were therefore unable to attend regular services, the congregation instituted special services. Jonas, who was herself forced to work in a factory, led many of these. Survivors report that her sermons and her pastoral work were especially uplifting and encouraging.
On November 6, 1942, Regina Jonas and her mother were deported to Theresienstadt (pictured). Even there she worked as rabbi, preaching and counselling. She was officially part of the Referat für psychische Hygiene, which was led by the psychoanalyst Viktor Frankl.
On October 12, 1944, she and her mother were deported to Auschwitz and probably killed the same day.
In the archives of Terezín there remains a handwritten document that summarizes her religious worldview and her legacy. Under the title "Lectures by the only female rabbi Regina Jonas," it lists twenty-four topics for lectures, followed by notes on a sermon which she delivered in Terezin. Here she summarizes her religious outlook and testament:
"Our Jewish people was planted by God into history as a blessed nation. 'Blessed by God' means to offer blessings, lovingkindness and loyalty, regardless of place and situation. Humility before God, selfless love for His creatures, sustain the world. It is Israel's task to build these pillars of the world-- man and woman, woman and man alike have taken this upon themselves in Jewish loyalty. Our work in Theresienstadt, serious and full of trials as it is, also serves this end: to be God's servants and as such to move from earthly spheres to eternal ones. May all our work be a blessing for Israel's future (and the future of humanity) … Upright 'Jewish men' and 'brave, noble women' were always the sustainers of our people. May we be found worthy by God to be numbered in the circle of these women and men … The reward of a mitzvah is the recognition of the great deed by God. Rabbi Regina Jonas, formerly of Berlin."
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