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Leo Baeck Family Collection

 Collection
Identifier: AR 25449

Scope and Content Note

The Leo Baeck Family Collection documents the lives of the Rabbi Leo Baeck, his daughter Ruth and her husband Hermann Berlak, and his granddaughter Marianne and her husband Rabbi A. Stanley Dreyfus. Much of the collection centers on Leo Baeck's life, and shows how the younger generations of the family were associated with his legacy. The collection contains a large amount of correspondence, including personal family correspondence. Other materials include numerous articles and newspaper clippings which largely relate to Leo Baeck, unpublished manuscripts and drafts of published works, personal and official papers of family members, notes, and a few photographs.

Of primary interest in this collection is the large amount of correspondence of family members, which often displays the interconnectedness of the family. Series I holds Leo Baeck's papers; its first subseries contains his correspondence, including letters exchanged with family members such as his wife, daughter, and granddaughter. This correspondence consists of some earlier letters from World War I to his daughter and later letters documenting his life after World War II. Series II, which comprises papers of members of the Berlak family, includes a few letters to Ruth Berlak from her father as well as a number of postcards and other family correspondence in Subseries 3. Much of the family correspondence consists of general greetings, news or travel plans, although Leo Baeck's correspondence includes his reports home to family members of trips taken in the United States, including personal anecdotes and opinions on his travels. Series III and Series IV include photocopies of some of his correspondence from the late 1930s and 1940s prior to his departure to Theresienstadt. These photocopies were gathered together as part of an exhibition in Frankfurt on Leo Baeck's life and as part of the research used by the author Michael A. Meyer.

The correspondence of Hermann Berlak is another prominent portion of this collection, located in Series II with the other papers of Berlak family members. This series contains a copious amount of letters sent to and from him during his time in the German army in World War I. Most of these letters and postcards were exchanged with family members, including not only his parents and sisters, but also cousins, uncles and aunts as well as friends. Although many of these letters impart family news, some provide details on life during the war in Germany, specifically in Posen, where Hermann Berlak's parents and sister resided. Related to such correspondence are several folders on his war experience among his personal papers. Hermann and Ruth Berlak's educations are also evidenced in their personal papers along with Hermann Berlak's professional endeavors.

Material on the experience of family members during World War II and the Holocaust is additionally present in this collection. Although the collection does not include any letters from Leo Baeck to family members during his time in Theresienstadt or detailed descriptions of his experience, there are some materials documenting these years. Among the correspondence sent to Leo Baeck (Series I, Subseries 1) will be found Ruth and Hermann Berlak's response to the news of his survival and the death of other family members there as well as many requests by others searching for news of lost family members. Telegram messages by others deported to Theresienstadt and looking to emigrate will be found with Leo Baeck's personal papers (Series I, Subseries 2). In addition, among the numerous articles on Leo Baeck in Series IV are many that recount his time in Theresienstadt, including radio scripts, newspaper clippings and journal articles. Hermann Berlak's correspondence includes documentation of his time spent in the Onchan Internment Camp on the Isle of Man, with letters home that portray his experience and worries for his family during the bombardment of London. Other documentation of this time period includes Leo Berlak's financial papers indicating the enforced sale of his hat business (Series II, Subseries 3).

Leo Baeck's rabbinical teachings and musings on Jewish and philosophical themes are present in several areas of the collection. Although these themes are apparent in correspondence with individuals such as Hans Hasso von Veltheim, with whom Leo Baeck exchanged frequent discussions of such topics, brief evidence of his role as rabbi occasionally glints through in the pages of routine letters sent to family members or in anecdotes of Ruth Baeck about her father. But it is in Leo Baeck's own writings, articles and lectures that his teachings are most clearly delineated. Manuscripts of his works and his notes are located in Subseries 3 of Series I, and include drafts for some of later works. Series III includes A. Stanley Dreyfus's notes on Leo Baeck's lectures at Hebrew Union College. Copies of articles written by Leo Baeck are present among the publications and articles of Series IV, and analyses of his writings are among the articles about him in the same series. Some discussion of his works or life is present among the correspondence of Ruth Berlak and Marianne Dreyfus, in Series II and III respectively.

The adoration and respect of others for Leo Baeck is an undercurrent that pervades this collection. This is most blatantly demonstrated by the mountain of congratulatory letters sent to him for his eightieth birthday in Series I and the number of obituaries and memorials upon his death in Series IV. Other evidence includes the correspondence of Ruth Berlak and Marianne Dreyfus concerning the publications and museum exhibitions about him, the organizations, buildings and events named for him, and the numerous articles written about him in Series IV.

Dates

  • 1771-2011
  • Majority of material found in 1914-1956

Creator

Language of Materials

The collection is primarily in German and English, with smaller amounts of Hebrew, Czech, Russian and French.

Access Restrictions

Open to researchers.

Access Information

Collection is digitized. Follow the links in the Container List to access the digitized materials.

Use Restrictions

There may be some restrictions on the use of the collection. For more information, contact:

Leo Baeck Institute, Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, New York, NY 10011

email: lbaeck@lbi.cjh.org

Biographical Notes

Leo Baeck Leo Baeck was born in Lissa (now Leszno, Poland), in 1873, the son of the rabbi Samuel Baeck. He studied at the Jewish Theological Seminary and University in Breslau (now Wrocław, Poland) and later at the Hochschule für die Wissenschaft des Judentums in Berlin. In 1897 he had secured his first post as rabbi in Oppeln (now Opole, Poland). In Oppeln he married Natalie Hamburger; they had a daughter, Ruth. While in Oppeln he wrote his work Das Wesen des Judentums. In 1907 he became rabbi in Düsseldorf, in 1912 in Berlin, where he worked both as rabbi and as a lecturer at the Hochschule für die Wissenschaft des Judentums. During the First World War, Baeck served as a chaplain (Feldrabbiner) in the German Army, serving on both the east and west fronts. In 1922 Leo Baeck also became President of the Union of German Rabbis (Allgemeiner Deutscher Rabbinerverbands). He was elected President of the German B'nai B'rith Order in 1924. At this time Baeck also joined the Central-Verein deutscher Staatsbürger jüdischen Glaubens, and the Jewish Agency for Palestine. In 1933 Leo Baeck was elected president of the Reichsvertretung der deutschen Juden (later the Reichsvertretung der Juden in Deutschland). In 1937 Leo Baeck's wife Natalie passed away.

In 1943, Leo Baeck was sent to the concentration camp at Theresienstadt (Terezin). During his time in Theresienstadt, Leo Baeck continued to teach, holding lectures in the camp. There he also began a manuscript that would later become Dieses Volk – Jüdische Existenz. After the liberation of the camp in May 1945, Leo Baeck went to England where his daughter Ruth resided. He received many citations and honors as a result of his efforts under the Nazis, and spent much of his next years travelling and lecturing, as well as writing and helping to found several organizations with the goals of assisting the remnants of European Jewry. He lectured in the United States, including holding a series of seminars at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati. Leo Baeck became president of the Association of Synagogues and of the Council of Jews from Germany, and was involved with the work of other organizations, including the B'nai B'rith, the World Union for Progressive Judaism, the Council of Christians and Jews, and the Leo Baeck Foundation. In 1955 the Leo Baeck Institute was founded in Jerusalem for the study of the history and culture of German-speaking Jewry, with parallel institutes in London and New York. During the last week of his life, he completed the second part of his work Dieses Volk. Leo Baeck died in London on November 2, 1956.

(For a more detailed account of Leo Baeck's life, see the Papers of Leo Baeck [AR 66].)

Ruth Berlak née Baeck Leo Baeck's daughter Ruth Auguste was born on August 22, 1900. She attended the the Luisenschule in Düsseldorf and the Auguste Victoria-Schule in Charlottenburg before studying medicine at universities in Berlin and Freiburg. In 1923 she married the accountant Hermann Berlak; in 1925 they had their daughter Marianne. The Berlaks immigrated to England in 1939. Following his release from Theresienstadt, Leo Baeck went to live with them in June 1945, remaining there except for his travels abroad to lecture. When her father went abroad Ruth Berlak sometimes accompanied him. Following his death she became involved in social work, but also remained involved with the publications of works by or about her father. Ruth Berlak died in 1965.

Hermann Berlak Hermann Ludwig Berlak was born August 4, 1896 in Posen, the son of Leo Berlak and Sophie Berlak née Merzbach. He went to school at the Berger Oberrealschule there, graduating in 1914 when he served in the signal corps of the German army in World War I. In April 1918 he was wounded by grenade shrapnel. Following the war he studied economics in Berlin and Freiburg, receiving his doctorate in 1921. While at university he was also a member of the Freiburg-based Ghibellinia fraternity, part of the Kartell-Convent deutscher Studenten jüdischen Glaubens. He later became editor of the fraternity's Journal and in later years became Chairman of the Association until it was disbanded in 1939. From 1923 on Hermann Berlak worked as a public accountant, auditor and tax expert; he also joined various trade, credit and retail associations, including holding secretarial office in some of them. In 1938 Hermann Berlak's professional qualifications were revoked due to being Jewish; following the family's immigration to England in March 1939 he began to reestablish his career there. In July 1940 he was interned as an "enemy alien" in the Onchan Internment Camp on the Isle of Man. After his release from this camp he set about working towards professional certification as a chartered accountant in England. He also was a member of the Home Guard. Hermann Berlak was very active in many Jewish organizations both in Germany and later in Great Britain, including the B'nai B'rith, Association of Jewish Refugees, and ORT. Hermann Berlak died in 1953.

Marianne Dreyfus née Berlak and A. Stanley Dreyfus Marianne Cecilie Berlak was born in 1925 and spent her early years in Berlin. In 1938 she had to leave school due to being Jewish, and in January 1939 went to London on a Kindertransport. In England she attended boarding school until 1941. She then studied at the University of London, where she received a Master's of Science in Chemistry in 1948 and conducted research in organic chemistry. From 1948-1950 she accompanied her grandfather Rabbi Leo Baeck when he went to lecture at Hebrew Union College. In 1950 she married Alfred Stanley Dreyfus, a rabbi who had studied with Leo Baeck, and they immigrated to the United States. Her husband served congregations in Ohio, Indiana, Texas and New York, where the family settled in 1965. They had two sons. A. Stanley Dreyfus died in 2008.

Leo Baeck

Leo Baeck was born in Lissa (now Leszno, Poland), in 1873, the son of the rabbi Samuel Baeck. He studied at the Jewish Theological Seminary and University in Breslau (now Wrocław, Poland) and later at the Hochschule für die Wissenschaft des Judentums in Berlin. In 1897 he had secured his first post as rabbi in Oppeln (now Opole, Poland). In Oppeln he married Natalie Hamburger; they had a daughter, Ruth. While in Oppeln he wrote his work Das Wesen des Judentums. In 1907 he became rabbi in Düsseldorf, in 1912 in Berlin, where he worked both as rabbi and as a lecturer at the Hochschule für die Wissenschaft des Judentums. During the First World War, Baeck served as a chaplain (Feldrabbiner) in the German Army, serving on both the east and west fronts. In 1922 Leo Baeck also became President of the Union of German Rabbis (Allgemeiner Deutscher Rabbinerverbands). He was elected President of the German B'nai B'rith Order in 1924. At this time Baeck also joined the Central-Verein deutscher Staatsbürger jüdischen Glaubens, and the Jewish Agency for Palestine. In 1933 Leo Baeck was elected president of the Reichsvertretung der deutschen Juden (later the Reichsvertretung der Juden in Deutschland). In 1937 Leo Baeck's wife Natalie passed away.

In 1943, Leo Baeck was sent to the concentration camp at Theresienstadt (Terezin). During his time in Theresienstadt, Leo Baeck continued to teach, holding lectures in the camp. There he also began a manuscript that would later become Dieses Volk – Jüdische Existenz. After the liberation of the camp in May 1945, Leo Baeck went to England where his daughter Ruth resided. He received many citations and honors as a result of his efforts under the Nazis, and spent much of his next years travelling and lecturing, as well as writing and helping to found several organizations with the goals of assisting the remnants of European Jewry. He lectured in the United States, including holding a series of seminars at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati. Leo Baeck became president of the Association of Synagogues and of the Council of Jews from Germany, and was involved with the work of other organizations, including the B'nai B'rith, the World Union for Progressive Judaism, the Council of Christians and Jews, and the Leo Baeck Foundation. In 1955 the Leo Baeck Institute was founded in Jerusalem for the study of the history and culture of German-speaking Jewry, with parallel institutes in London and New York. During the last week of his life, he completed the second part of his work Dieses Volk. Leo Baeck died in London on November 2, 1956.

(For a more detailed account of Leo Baeck's life, see the Papers of Leo Baeck [AR 66].)

Ruth Berlak née Baeck

Leo Baeck's daughter Ruth Auguste was born on August 22, 1900. She attended the the Luisenschule in Düsseldorf and the Auguste Victoria-Schule in Charlottenburg before studying medicine at universities in Berlin and Freiburg. In 1923 she married the accountant Hermann Berlak; in 1925 they had their daughter Marianne. The Berlaks immigrated to England in 1939. Following his release from Theresienstadt, Leo Baeck went to live with them in June 1945, remaining there except for his travels abroad to lecture. When her father went abroad Ruth Berlak sometimes accompanied him. Following his death she became involved in social work, but also remained involved with the publications of works by or about her father. Ruth Berlak died in 1965.

Hermann Berlak

Hermann Ludwig Berlak was born August 4, 1896 in Posen, the son of Leo Berlak and Sophie Berlak née Merzbach. He went to school at the Berger Oberrealschule there, graduating in 1914 when he served in the signal corps of the German army in World War I. In April 1918 he was wounded by grenade shrapnel. Following the war he studied economics in Berlin and Freiburg, receiving his doctorate in 1921. While at university he was also a member of the Freiburg-based Ghibellinia fraternity, part of the Kartell-Convent deutscher Studenten jüdischen Glaubens. He later became editor of the fraternity's Journal and in later years became Chairman of the Association until it was disbanded in 1939. From 1923 on Hermann Berlak worked as a public accountant, auditor and tax expert; he also joined various trade, credit and retail associations, including holding secretarial office in some of them. In 1938 Hermann Berlak's professional qualifications were revoked due to being Jewish; following the family's immigration to England in March 1939 he began to reestablish his career there. In July 1940 he was interned as an "enemy alien" in the Onchan Internment Camp on the Isle of Man. After his release from this camp he set about working towards professional certification as a chartered accountant in England. He also was a member of the Home Guard. Hermann Berlak was very active in many Jewish organizations both in Germany and later in Great Britain, including the B'nai B'rith, Association of Jewish Refugees, and ORT. Hermann Berlak died in 1953.

Marianne Dreyfus née Berlak and A. Stanley Dreyfus

Marianne Cecilie Berlak was born in 1925 and spent her early years in Berlin. In 1938 she had to leave school due to being Jewish, and in January 1939 went to London on a Kindertransport. In England she attended boarding school until 1941. She then studied at the University of London, where she received a Master's of Science in Chemistry in 1948 and conducted research in organic chemistry. From 1948-1950 she accompanied her grandfather Rabbi Leo Baeck when he went to lecture at Hebrew Union College. In 1950 she married Alfred Stanley Dreyfus, a rabbi who had studied with Leo Baeck, and they immigrated to the United States. Her husband served congregations in Ohio, Indiana, Texas and New York, where the family settled in 1965. They had two sons. A. Stanley Dreyfus died in 2008.

Extent

7.5 Linear Feet

Abstract

The Leo Baeck Family Collection documents the lives and influential events of members of the Baeck and Berlak families, specifically Leo Baeck, Ruth and Hermann Berlak, and Marianne and A. Stanley Dreyfus. Most prominent is the documentation on Leo Baeck's life; other salient themes include the World War I experience of Hermann Berlak and the Dreyfuses' involvement in preserving the memory of Leo Baeck's life and teachings. The collection includes extensive correspondence; a large accumulation of articles, especially those focused on Leo Baeck; a smaller amount of personal papers, manuscripts, drafts and notes; and a few photographs and slides.

Related Material

The LBI Library includes many books and publications by and about Leo Baeck in its holdings.

The LBI Archives include the Leo Baeck Collection, AR 66.

The LBI Library includes several books by Hermann Berlak, as well as publications in which he authored articles. In addition, the LBI Archives contain the Hermann Berlak Collection, AR 3517.

The American Jewish Archives, where Leo Baeck taught, includes sound recordings and a filmstrip of him as well as a small amount of correspondence.

Separated Material

Several items were removed to the LBI Arts and Objects collection. These consisted of Leo Baeck's medals, consisting of his Bundesverdienstkreuz (German Federal Cross of Merit) and Iron Cross from World War I and the Leo Baeck medaillion. In addition, several items of Hermann Berlak's were also removed. These are a Berlak family sign, a ribbon, a medal and a paperweight from the Sprevia and Ghibellinia fraternities, a fabric box that contained Hermann Berlak's World War I Feldpost and unidentified religious textiles.

Some items were removed to the LBI Audiovisual Collection. These include a sound recording of a lecture or sermon given by Leo Baeck along with a CD onto which it was transferred for ease of accessibility. This lecture discusses the importance of love in Judaism. The lecture is in English, but the recording is quite faint and of poor quality, so only portions of the talk are audible. Other materials removed to the Audiovisual Collection include: a sound recording of a speech given at the Leo Baeck B'nai B'rith Lodge on November 20, 1966; an audiocassette tape about Kristallnacht in Berlin by C. Brook Peters; and an audiocassette tape about a Leo Baeck memorial in 1973. The abovementioned lec

Processing Information

The collection was found with little overarching original order; some portions were found together and these areas were taken into account when an arrangement was imposed upon the collection.
Title
Guide to the Papers of the Leo Baeck Family 1771-2011 (bulk 1914-1956) AR 25449
Status
In Progress
Author
Processed by Dianne Ritchey
Date
© 2012
Language of description
English
Script of description
Latin
Language of description note
Description is in English.
Edition statement
This version was derived from LeoBaeckFamily.xml

Revision Statements

  • December 19, 2013 : Links to digital objects added in Container List.
  • December 3, 2018 : Links to digital objects added in Container List.

Repository Details

Part of the Leo Baeck Institute Repository

Contact:
15 West 16th Street
New York NY 10011 United States