Jun 15 2024

Baltimore: German and German-Jewish Populations Expand the City (Pt. 1)

Published by at 8:00 am under From Time to Time

by Anna Rosmus

Anna Rosmus uses archival material and interviews to tell the story of German and German-Jewish heritage in the greater Baltimore area. Quotes without citations are from her conversations and correspondence.

From its founding in 1631, the Maryland colony was intended to serve as a safe haven for persecuted English Catholics, and its Toleration Act of 1649 did grant freedom of conscience to all Christians,[1] but it made denying the divinity of Jesus a crime punishable by death. Based on that, in 1658, merely one year after the colony recorded its first known Jews, a merchant and a physician; the latter of whom was prosecuted.[2] Also, in order to hold a public office or military commission, to practice law and to vote, colonial and state governments required citizens to swear a test oath, which declared faith in Christianity.

German history in Greater Baltimore began with immigrants settling along the Chesapeake Bay. When Baltimore was established in 1729, “four of the seven members of the town council were Germans.”[3] To assist immigrants, the German Society of Maryland was established in 1783.[4]

Merchant Jacob Hart from Bavaria is the first Jew known to live in Baltimore. After Elijah Etting, a Jewish pioneer from Germany, died in 1778, his widow Shinah (1744-1822) and her children moved to Baltimore,[5] where she established an inn “for gentlemen.” Among her boarders was Judith Solomon Cohen (1766-1837), widow of Israel I. Cohen from Markt Oberdorf. When he died, his house and belongings were auctioned off because women could not yet own property.[6] Although documents about this early phase are very scarce, one from 1801 lists Solomon Etting and his uncle, Levy Solomon, acquired the “Jew’s burying ground”, indicating a larger population existed.[7]

By 1820, Baltimore had approximately 120 Jewish residents.[8] In 1826, nearly three decades after Solomon Etting petitioned the Maryland General Assembly to modify its Christian oath requirement for public office, Maryland ratified its “Jew Bill”, extending to those “professing the Jewish religion, the same rights and privileges that are enjoyed by Christians.” A few months later, Solomon Etting and Jacob I. Cohen, Jr., became members of the city council.[9] At that time, the port of Baltimore became a gateway for immigrants.[10] Among them was a substantial number of Jews from Bavaria and other German areas.[11]

In 1830, the Orthodox Baltimore Hebrew Congregation was Maryland’s first incorporated Jewish organization.[12] Ten years later, Aaron Weglein, president of the Congregation, invited Abraham Joseph Rice (ca. 1800-1862) to become its spiritual leader – and thus America’s first ordained rabbi. “Reiss” was born in Gochsheim near Schweinfurt and married to Rosalie Leucht from nearby Zell. Many of their congregants came from Bavaria as well,[13] and Rice usually delivered his sermons in German. At that time, Baltimore had about 1,000 Jewish residents.[14] In 1845, the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation built Lloyd Street Synagogue in East Baltimore, Maryland’s first.[15] Assimilation, however, overwhelmed its rabbi. Four years later, “Lamenting that desecration of the Sabbath, violation of dietary laws, and intermarriage have become rampant among Jews in America,” Rice noted, “My mind is perplexed and I wonder whether it is even permissible for a Jew to live in this land.”[16]

Moses Hutzler (1800–1889), a fellow immigrant from Hagenbach, Bavaria,[17] felt differently. In 1842, he and other less observant members had formed Har Sinai Verein, the first lasting Reform congregation in the United States.[18] Seven years later, on North High Street in East Baltimore, they built the country’s first Reform temple,[19] and in 1855, fiercely controversial David Einhorn (1809-1879) from Diespeck in Bavaria, became their rabbi. He was married to Julia Ochs of Kreuznach.[20] Preaching and writing in German, Einhorn began to publish Sinai, a monthly magazine. When the Civil war broke out in 1861, he deemed slavery a moral evil.[21] “Einhorn, an anti-slavery crusader who had served at Baltimore’s Har Sinai Congregation for six years, was forced to flee his pulpit and head to Philadelphia when a pro-slavery mob destroyed his newspaper, Sinai, and threatened to tar and feather him.”[22]

By 1860, Germans constituted Baltimore’s largest group.[23] More than 8,000 residents were Jewish.[24] Germans created a brewery, banks, insurance companies, and newspapers.[25] The Ohio Railroad and steamers from Norddeutscher Lloyd of Bremen transported tobacco to Europe and brought more immigrants to Baltimore. Sewing machines helped revolutionize the clothing industry, and German Jews set up numerous shops that became the basis of Baltimore’s garment industry.[26] Hospitals, however, neither served kosher meals nor observed Shabbat restrictions, and Jewish physicians were often discriminated against. In 1863, local businessmen Samuel Ellinger (1812-1891)[27] and Jacob Hecht (1828-1891)[28] joined the brothers Henry L. (1811-1881) and Levi (1811-1881)[29] Straus to purchase land for a Jewish hospital.[30]

In 1868, when it opened, one-fourth of Baltimore’s 160,000 Caucasian residents were from Germany, and half of the others of German descent.[31] Three years later, Jonas Friedenwald, an immigrant from Altenbuseck near Giessen, who spent much of his life with philanthropic work, founded the Orthodox congregation Chizuk Emunah, and served many years as its president.[32] In 1880, with 58% of all foreign born residents, Germans made up the majority of immigrants.[33] Most of the city’s 10,000 Jews were of Bavarian and Hessian descent,[34] and in the meantime often financially well off.[35] In 1886, Joel Gutman[n] (1829-1892) from Merchingen near Ravensburg, today in Baden-Württemberg, opened Baltimore’s first great department store. It had 30,000 square feet and attracted “thousands of people […] waiting in line for three blocks to enter the impressive building. […which he closed] on September 30th for Rosh Hashana, in the middle of his grand opening celebration.”[36]  Two years later, when Hutzler opened the “Palace”, the Baltimore Sun called it “one of the largest and best arranged buildings of its kind in the United States […] a credit to Baltimore and her workmen and a monument to the enterprise and industry of its proprietors.”[37]

In 1890, 41,930 out of 365,863 Baltimoreans were German-born.[38] According to the 1900 United States Census, the German population briefly decreased to 34,000, but social climbing increased. Isidor Rayner, son of German Jews, for example, became Attorney General of Maryland, and in 1904 U.S. Senator. Rabbi Abraham Nachman Schwartz of Shomrei Mishmeres became the “chief rabbi” of the East European Orthodox community.[39] Henry Sonneborn (1826-1917) from Breidenbach[40] built the world’s “largest men’s clothing factory,”[41] manufacturing 3,000 men’s suits a day,[42] and “for a time”, Levi Greif and Brother became “the country’s second-largest men’s clothing company.”[43] In 1897, Max Hochschild (1855-1945)[44] joined Louis and Benno Kohn (??-1929), the sons of Bavarian immigrants,[45] to create the Hochschild Kohn department store.[46] Moses S. Hecht, a son of Samuel Hecht, Jr., opened his Hub, where he specialized in fine men’s and boys’ clothing.[47] In 1907, Baltimore had some 40,000 Jewish residents.[48] Three years later, Louis Blaustein (1869-1937) and his son Jacob began to sell kerosene.[49] Although local mercantile success stories seemed prevalent, Jews pursued a multitude of interests. To improve health services for Palestine’s Jewish and Arab residents, for example, Henrietta Szold founded Hadassah.[50]

By 1914, the German population jumped to 94,000, which amounted to 20% of all residents. Until then, even the Baltimore City Council notes were published in German and English. The beginning of World War I, however, stopped immigration, and a conflict between local East European Jewish garment workers and their German Jewish employers escalated. When orthodox workers refusing to work on Shabbat were about to be fired, Rabbi Abraham N. Schwartz[51] and William Rosenau (1865-1943),[52] an immigrant from Wollstein, Prussia, intervened. Whereas the Amalgamated Clothing Workers strike against Sonneborn resulted in better work conditions, J. Schoeneman and Greif left the city to avoid the unionization of its workers.

At that time, Harford County seemed far away. Formed in 1774, with a population of 13,000 people, Bel Air became the county seat.[53] In 1917, six months after the U.S. entered World War I, the army established today’s Aberdeen Proving Ground (APG), a 113 square mile military installation.[54] Whereas its Aberdeen section focused on munitions testing and evaluation, the adjacent Edgewood site (20 square miles) pursued chemical weapons research.[55] By the November 1918 armistice, Edgewood Arsenal had not only produced 9,813 tons of toxic gas,[56] but it was also used to develop and test chemical agents. Accidentally released agents included mustard gas and perchlorate. Intentionally disposed of were significant quantities of napalm and white phosphorus.[57] As a result, much of Harford County is not only burdened with soil and groundwater contamination, but some of it is also riddled with possibly buried ordnance.[58]

Baltimorean Dr. Harry Friedenwald (1864-1950), who had studied ophthalmology in Berlin, Germany,[59] and married Bertha “Birdie” Stein (1866-1941), was instrumental in founding the American Jewish Congress in 1918. One year later, he served as chairman of the Zionist Commission to Palestine.[60] In 1920, 19,813 foreign-born Baltimoreans were still speaking German,[61] and “27,000 people were employed manufacturing men’s clothing […] Many of them were Jewish immigrants from Russia, Poland and Germany who found work in the garment district because they had expert tailoring skills.”[62] Between 1921 and 1924, when new federal laws cut off immigration from Eastern Europe, approximately 65,000 Jews resided in Baltimore.

From 1933, when Adolph Hitler seized power in Germany, until 1941, Baltimore accommodated another 3,000 German Jewish refugees. Among them was the Bavarian spice maker Gustave Charles Brunn (1893-1985) from Bastheim.[63] “Kristallnacht” (Night of Broken Glass) on November 9-10, 1938, a pogrom against Jews in Germany, in annexed Austria, and in occupied Czechoslovakia, left 267 synagogues destroyed. An estimated 7,500 properties were looted, and multiple cemeteries desecrated.[64] In the aftermath, Brunn was arrested, like 30,000 other innocent people, and taken to a concentration camp. He was luckier than most, however. After his uncle Gustav[65] sent $10,000, Brunn and his family were permitted to leave Germany. In 1939, he arrived in Baltimore. Among his very few possessions was a manual spice grinder.[66] His 97 year-old son, Ralph, recalled “that after McCormick learned Brunn was Jewish, he was promptly fired.”[67] With the loan from another spice company, Brunn set up shop across from the Wholesale Fish Market at the Inner Harbor, and created “Old Bay” for crabs.[68] At that time (1940), 23,889 people of German descent lived in Baltimore.[69]

Mose I. Speert (1904-1989), a local liquor distributor,[70] led efforts to purchase and rebuild the S.S. President Warfield,[71] a worn-out, former Chesapeake Bay excursion ship. Haganah, a Jewish military underground organization, named it Exodus 1947. Ignoring immigration restrictions imposed by the British Mandate, the ship left Baltimore harbor for Marseilles, France, where 4,515 Holocaust survivors boarded, and headed for Palestine. British destroyers surrounded it, however, and the returning passengers were interned in British-occupied Germany.

The Baltimore Correspondent, formerly Der Deutsche Correspondent, was published until 1976.[72] In 2000, 478,646 people (18.7%) in the Baltimore metropolitan area were of German descent.[73] The website “German Marylanders” is dedicated to all of them.

This post is a part of a series on Baltimore, its German and German-Jewish heritage, and its hospitals. For more on Baltimore’s hospitals, see the following pieces also by Anna Rosmus: 

“Alpha, Delta, Omicron. Glimpses into the New World of Dr. Fermin Barrueto, Jr.”

Anchalee Dulayathitikul: “Proud of Being a Thai Nurse in the United States”


[1] “Two Acts of Toleration: 1649 and 1826.” https://msa.maryland.gov/msa/speccol/sc2200/sc2221/000025/html/intro.html. Retrieved on March 23, 2024.

[2]Timeline of Baltimore Jewry: 1657 – 1849.” Jewish Museum of Maryland. Retrieved on March 23, 2024.

[3] Rasmussen, Frederick N.: “Preserving a part of the city’s German past.” In: The Baltimore Sun, January 24, 2010.

[4]Significant dates in Baltimore’s immigration history.” Baltimore Immigration Memorial Foundation.

[5] Lloyd, June. “Shinah Etting, early York matriarch.” In: Universal York, March 9, 2013. Retrieved on March 23, 2024.

[6] “The Cohen Family.” The A-mazing Mendes Cohen. Maryland Historical Society. Retrieved on March 24, 2024.

[7] “Baltimore.” In: JewishEncyclopedia.com. Retrieved on March 23, 2024.

[8] “Virtual Jewish World: Baltimore, Maryland.” Retrieved on March 23, 2024.

[9]Timeline of Baltimore Jewry: 1657 – 1849.” Jewish Museum of Maryland. Retrieved on March 23, 2024.

[10] During the 1800s, the Port of Baltimore was the second-largest point of entry, after Ellis Island in New York.

[11]Timeline of Baltimore Jewry: 1657 – 1849.” Jewish Museum of Maryland. Retrieved on March 23, 2024.

[12]Timeline of Baltimore Jewry: 1657 – 1849.” Jewish Museum of Maryland. Retrieved on March 23, 2024.

[13] Levine, Dr. Yitzchok . “Abraham Rice/ First Rabbi In America (Part I).” In: The Jewish Press – JewishPress.com. November 4, 2009.

[14] “Virtual Jewish World: Baltimore, Maryland.” Retrieved on March 23, 2024.

[15]Timeline of Baltimore Jewry: 1657 – 1849.” Jewish Museum of Maryland. Retrieved on March 23, 2024.

[16]Timeline of Baltimore Jewry: 1657 – 1849.” Jewish Museum of Maryland. Retrieved on March 23, 2024.

[17] The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography. Vol. XI. James T. White & Company 1901. p. 398.

[18] Fein, Isaac M. The Making of an American Jewish Community: The history of Baltimore Jewry from 1773 to 1920. Jewish Publication Society of America 1971, p. 56.

[19]Timeline of Baltimore Jewry: 1657 – 1849.” Jewish Museum of Maryland. Retrieved on March 23, 2024.

[20] “Einhorn, David.” JewishEncyclopedia.com. Retrieved on March 24, 2024.

[21] “David Einhorn’s Response to ‘A Biblical View of Slavery.’” In: Sinai, vol. VI, Baltimore, 1861, pp. 2-22, translated from the German by Johanna Einhorn Kohler. Jewish-American History Foundation.

[22] Bush, Lawrence. “April 23: The Abolitionist Rabbi.” In: Jewish Currents April 22, 2010.

[23] Bergquist, James M. Daily Life in Immigrant America, 1820-1870. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2008, pp. 88f.

[24] “Virtual Jewish World: Baltimore, Maryland.” Retrieved on March 23, 2024.

[25]German-American History – German Immigration to Baltimore.” In: Delaware Saengerbund and Library Association.

[26]Timeline of Baltimore Jewry: 1657 – 1849.” Jewish Museum of Maryland. Retrieved on March 23, 2024.

[27] Ellinger was married to Emma Mores Wolf (1822-1888).

[28] On July 31, 1845, Jacob, a native of Langenschwarz (now part of Burghaun), and his siblings Moses, Raphael and Adelheid reached Baltimore on the ship Albert.

[29]  Born in Padberg, Nordrhein-Westfalen and married to Leonora Marcus (1826-1903) from Lamstedt, Lower Saxony since 1844, Levi had seven sons and two daughters. He died on January 15, 1902, in Baltimore.

[30] In 1868, the Baltimore Asylum for Israelites had ten rooms, treating 48 patients. Renamed Hebrew Hospital of Baltimore, and best known as Sinai Hospital, in 1993 the institution began a $125-million revitalization. “History.” https://www.historyofsinaihospitalbaltimore.org/exhibits/show/ourstory. Retrieved on March 25, 2024.

[31] Keith, Robert C. Baltimore Harbor: A Pictorial History. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore 2005, pp. 94f.

[32] “Friedenwald.” In: JewishEncyclopedia.com. Retrieved on March 25, 2024.

[33]Baltimore East/South Clifton Park Historic District (B-5077).” In: National Registry of Historic Places.

[34] “Baltimore.” In: Jewish Virtual Library. Retrieved on March 23, 2024.

[35] Gilbert, Sandler. Jewish Baltimore: A Family Album. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000, pp. 37–40.

[36] Gross, K. Meghan. “Baltimore’s Downtown Department Stores Part 1”, Jewish Museum of Maryland, April 29, 2019. Retrieved on March 25, 2024.

[37] Gross, K. Meghan. “Baltimore’s Downtown Department Stores Part 2”, Jewish Museum of Maryland, May 6, 2019. Retrieved on March 25, 2024.

[38]Maryland at a Glance – Historical Chronology.” In: Maryland State Archives.

[39] “Our history.” https://www.shomreimishmeres.org. Retrieved on March 24, 2024.

[40] “Henry (Heuman) Sonneborn, Sr.”, genealogy.com. Retrieved on March 24, 2024.

[41]Timeline of Baltimore Jewry: 1657 – 1849.” Jewish Museum of Maryland. Retrieved on March 23, 2024.

[42] “Sonneborn Factory interior”, Maryland Center for History and Culture. Retrieved on March 23, 2024.

[43] “L. Grief and Bros., Inc. Manufactory”, Maryland Historical Trust. Retrieved on March 24, 2024.

[44] Hochschild, a native of Darmstadt, Hessen, was married to Linda (Lena) Hamburger (1863-1949), the daughter of Bavarian immigrants.

[45] Bernhard Kohn (1831-1891) and his wife, Mathilde (Lauer) Kohn, operated the wholesale dry goods store B. Kohn and Brother, although David lived in Europe. “Kohn, Bernhard”, Jewish Museum of Maryland.

[46] Once incorporated in 1922, Hochschild-Kohn was the city’s largest department store.

[47] By 2005, Hecht’s operated 81 stores.

[48]Timeline of Baltimore Jewry: 1657 – 1849.” Jewish Museum of Maryland. Retrieved on March 23, 2024.

[49] Their American Oil Company (Amoco) become one of the nation’s largest gasoline sellers.

[50] In 1933, Szold assisted Youth Aliyah rescue 30,000 Jewish children from Europe. See: Brody, “Sy” Seymour: “Henrietta Szold: A Role Model Who Helped To Found Hadassah.” https://web.archive.org/web/20130514084839/http://www.fau.edu/library/bro48.htm. Retrieved on March 24, 2024.

[51] On February 7, 1937, three days after he died at the age of 65, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency recalled: “Rabbi Schwartz was among the founders and leading members of the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States and Canada and had served as vice president and chairman of its executive committee. He was also a member of the Agudath Israel. Since 1908, he had held the post of rabbi of Congregation Mishmereth Hakodesh. He was founder of the Hebrew Talmudical Seminary and Parochial School.”

[52] Rosenau was married to Mabel Hellman until she died in 1923, and then to Myra Krause. Best known as a somewhat radical reformer, Rosenau served 45 years at Congregation Oheb Shalom, where he abolished the mandatory wearing of hats during services and offered prayers and sermons in English instead of German. He taught at Johns Hopkins University (1902-1932), wrote books, and he was on the board of the Prisoners Aid Association as well as the Maryland Commission for the Higher Education of Negroes.

[53] Preston, Walter Wilkes, Hilda Snowberger Chance and Nancy Ersula: History of Harford County, Maryland, from 1608 (the Year of Smith’s Expedition) to the Close of the War of 1812. Press of Sun Book Office 1901, p. 360.

[54] In the north, APG almost borders the Susquehanna River, where it enters the Chesapeake Bay; in the south, it reaches the Gunpowder River. At its peak in World War II, APG could accommodate 2,348 officers and 24,189 enlisted men. In 1968, when its Army Pulse Radiation Facility Reactor reached 1150°C, it created one of the world’s most critical accidents. (McLaughlin, Thomas P., Monahan, Shean P., Pruvost, Norman L., Frolov, Vladimir V., Ryazanov, Boris G. and Sviridov, Victor I.: A Review of Criticality Accidents, Los Alamos National Laboratory, LA-13638 May 2000.)

[55] “History of APG.” Army Alliance | Aberdeen Proving Ground | History of APG | Army Alliance | Aberdeen Proving Ground. Retrieved on March 31, 2024.

[56] Ayres, Leonard Porter. The War with Germany. A Statistical Summary. United States Government Printing Office. Washington, D.C. 1919 (Second ed.), pp. 79f.

[57] Aberdeen Proving Ground (Edgewood Area Site) Current Site Information. EPA Mid-Atlantic Superfund sites. Environmental Protection Agency. Archived from the original on October 4, 2013. Retrieved on March 31, 2024.

[58] On April 10, 1985, the Edgewood site was proposed for the National Priorities List of most serious uncontrolled resp. abandoned hazardous waste sites requiring long term remedial actions. Five years later, it was listed there.

[59] “Friedenwald, Harry (Dr.).” Jewish Museum of Maryland. Retrieved on March 25, 2024.

[60] In 1944, Friedenwald’s writings about “The Jews and Medicine” were published in two volumes.

[61] Carpenter, Niles. Immigrants and their Children, 1920. A study based on census statistics relative to the foreign born and the native white of foreign or mixed parentage, United States Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 1927, p. 380.

[62] Pemberton, Mary: “Remnant of times gone by[.] Baltimore Fabric Store hangs on to tradition.” In: The Washington Post, January 6, 1994. Retrieved on March 23, 2024.

[63] Brunn was the son of Abraham Brunn and Olga Baumblatt. See: https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/139121251/gustave-charles-brunn.

[64] The Reich government confiscated not only all insurance payouts, holding Jewish owners personally responsible for repairs, but the Jewish community had to pay a one billion Reichsmark “fine” (approx. $ 400 million).

[65] Diamond, Jillian. “97-year-old Holocaust survivor tells family’s harrowing brush with Kristallnacht.” In: Baltimore Jewish Times, November 16, 2022.

[66] Today, the Baltimore Museum of Industry display that spice grinder, along with excerpts from Gustav Brunn’s life.

[67] Cohen, Francesca. “Gustav Brunn’s Baltimore Spice Company.” In: Explore Baltimore Heritage. Retrieved on March 27, 2024. In 1990, McCormick purchased “Old Bay.”

[68] On August 11, 1922, Major Garrett titled his commemorative CBS article “Well Seasoned: How Old Bay seasoning became a cult favorite.”

[69] Durr, Kenneth D.Why we are Troubled”: White Working-Class Politics in Baltimore, 1940-1980. American University: Washington, D.C. 1998, p. 142.

[70]  Rasmussen, Frederick N.: “The ship that launched a nation’: Iconic piece of nautical Baltimore history to be auctioned off in Missouri.” In: Baltimore Sun, December 13, 2019.

[71] The U.S. Naval Institute offers more than military details: “She bore the name of the line’s aristocratic president, S. Davies Warfield, who had died before her launching. His niece, Wallis Warfield, might have cracked the bottle of champagne over the bow had she not been elsewhere gathering up her second husband by the name of Simpson; her third almost brought down the British throne…. In late 1946, she was sold for the paltry sum of $8,000, ostensibly for scrap.” Holly, David C.: “The Ship That Launched a Nation.” In: Naval History Magazine, vol. 11, no. 3, June 1997.

[72] Rasmussen, Frederick N.: “German thread runs through fabric of city; Deutschland in Maryland: Germans sat on City Council, read newspapers in their own language and partied hard with oompah bands and beer.” In: The Baltimore Sun August 21, 1999.

[73] “Table DP-1. Profile of General Demographic Characteristics: 2000.” 2000 United States Census.

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