Obituary: Eva Reichmann
Wednesday 23 September 1998
As one of the leaders of the German-Jewish community before and during the Hitler period, she found it hard to adjust to the life of a refugee in London. Slowly, with the help of her jurist husband Hans Reichmann, she came to develop and to serve many of the organisations of that German refugee community. Her thinking and organisational ability came to be recognised. Arnold Paucker, Director of the Leo Baeck Institute which she helped found, described her as "one of the greatest German Jewish women of this century".
When her death was announced, the German ambassador Gebhardt von Moltke issued a special statement in which he acknowledged the work of reconciliation in which Eva Reichmann had linked together the two areas of her long life. Germany had bestowed its highest honours upon her; but it was the London Jewish community which learned, all too slowly, how much they owed to her persistent challenge to pre-conceived notions in the field of history and refugee psychology. In that community, the anguish suffered in the Holocaust had created a pattern of total rejection of Germany, and few made a distinction between Germans and Nazis.
Reichmann was a voice of reconciliation and peace, which did not deter her from making sharp judgements. Her Hampstead home could barely contain those who arrived to honour her on her 100th birthday. It was a tiring event, and she retreated to bed to receive the visitors one by one. With firm voice and clear mind, she did not hesitate to carry on arguments with scholars who had disagreed with her, and some came out shaking their heads: "What fantastic insights, even now!"
Her life encompassed almost all of this century of conflict. She was born in Lublinitz in Upper Silesia. Her parents, Adolf and Agnes Jungmann, moved to Oppeln, where Eva experienced a relaxed liberal Jewish atmosphere in her home and through the influence of their rabbi, Leo Baeck.
In 1933 German Jewry elected Baeck to lead them in the fight against the Nazi government. He was respected for his spirituality, scholarship and moral courage, but it was a hopeless battle; at best, he could gain time for some to emigrate. Eva Reichmann worked in his office with him. Baeck returned from London in August 1939, after bringing a group of children to safety. In the end, he was sent to the Concentration Camp/Ghetto Theresienstadt, where Eva's mother had been sent and where she died.
Some members of Eva's family had fled in time: a brother settled in Brazil, and her sister Elizabeth came to London where she married, as his second wife, Sir Max Beerbohm (Eva eventually inherited the rights to his work). Baeck himself survived the war; the Leo Baeck Institute was founded in 1957, as a research institute of German-Jewish history, the year after his death.
Eva Reichmann had studied economics in Breslau, Berlin, Munich and in Heidelberg, where she took her DrPhil with a thesis (in 1921) on "Spontaneity and Ideology as Factors in Modern Social Movements". After some years working in industry, she became the "cultural- political" expert for the Central Verein of German Jews and edited the influential Der Morgen periodical. Robert Weltsch, later Director of the Leo Baeck Institute in London, edited the Judische Rundschau at that time. A friendly confrontation with him saw Reichmann still leading the fight for Jewish emancipation in the face of the emerging violence, still with hopes for Germany, while Weltsch had discounted the whole scene in order to achieve Zionism's dream for Palestine. When the persecution became intense, they joined forces, first in Germany, then in London.
In Berlin, Reichmann had also worked with the Jewish Agency. Yet the hardest task there was her work with Leo Baeck at the Reichsvertretung, which had to represent all of the Jewish community against those who planned to destroy it.
In 1939, Reichmann joined one of the last groups who managed to emigrate to England. A grant from the American Jewish Committee enabled her to study at the London School of Economics where she obtained her PhD, with a dissertation on "The Social Sources of National Socialist Anti-Semitism". Published as Hostages of Civilisation (1950), it became a classic text.
In 1942-43 she worked for the BBC's German listening service. From 1945 to 1959 she led the research section of the Wiener Library, was a member of the Institute of Jewish Affairs, and served on the Leo Baeck Institute executive, where she contributed to its yearbooks. She belonged to the Belsize Square Synagogue established by the Frankfurt rabbi George Salzberger. There, and in the larger community, she came to be recognised as a scholar and community leader in whom the best of German Jewish life endured.
Eva Reichmann's many German and English writings showed an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of European history and of social trends, with a profound openness to human frailty and personal suffering which enabled her to enter into dialogue with the German community. Apart from the often reprinted Hostages of Civilisation, her writings included the Festschrift for Leo Baeck (1953), Memorial Volume for Leo Baeck (1959) and On the Track of Tyranny (1960); many of her important essays from the Thirties to the Seventies were collected in the two-volume Grosse und Verhangnis deutsch-judischer Existenz: Zeugnisse einer tragischen Begegnung ("Greatness and Fate of German-Jewish Existence: testimony of a tragic encounter", 1974) .
The numerous honours she received in her later years included the Moses Mendelssohn Prize presented to her by Richard von Weizsacker, then Mayor of Berlin, who had earlier given her the Officers Cross of the German Legion of Merit in 1969. This was later followed by the major award given by Germany, the Commander's Cross of the German Legion of Merit. One of her most cherished honours was the "Buber-Rosenzweig Medal" presented to her by the German Council for Christian-Jewish Co-operation.
Eva Reichmann once wrote about Leo Baeck:
"Not every time finds its great man, and not every great talent finds its time." Leo Baeck found his time, and German Jewry in its life and in its death celebrates its great man in him . . . In his dignity and wisdom rested a radiance which could even illuminate this most unhappy episode in Jewish history.
Much of this applied to Eva Reichmann, a wise woman of her time.
Eva Gabriele Jungmann, writer, historian and community leader: born Lublinitz, Upper Silesia 16 January 1897; married 1932 Hans Reichmann (died 1964); died London 15 September 1998.
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