Timeline of Baltimore Jewry: 1913-1949

1913-1916: A time of conflict between East European Jewish garment workers and their German Jewish employers. The Amalgamated Clothing Workers strike against Sonneborn results in an agreement for better working conditions and benefits. Rabbi Schwartz intercedes on behalf of Orthodox workers about to be fired for refusing to work on the Sabbath, enlisting the support of the Sonneborn family’s rabbi, William Rosenau of Oheb Shalom. Strikes against Schoeneman and Greif are not so successful; these two firms eventually move out of the city to avoid unionization.

1914: The onset of World War I brings migration from Europe to a standstill. During the war, Baltimore Jewry raises funds to help suffering Jews in the war-torn Pale of Settlement.

1918: The American Jewish Congress is founded with key leadership from Baltimorean Harry Friedenwald. Simon Sobeloff of Baltimore is its first president.

1919: Baltimore Hebrew College and the Baltimore Jewish Times are established.

1920: United Hebrew Charities and Federated Jewish Charities merge to form the Associated Jewish Charities. The Associated will remain the umbrella organization for Baltimore Jewry’s numerous charities and social services.

1920s: First and second generation East European Jews achieve increasing economic mobility in the post-World War I era. They start to leave the East Baltimore immigrant enclave and form new Jewish neighborhoods in northwest Baltimore, especially lower Park Heights, around Druid Hill Park, and Forest Park. Members of the American-born generation establish their own congregations in these locales, with suburban-style synagogue centers that reflect their new middle-class status and Americanized lifestyle.

1921-1924: New federal laws cut off immigration from Eastern and Southern Europe, ending the Great Migration of East European Jewry. Some 65,000 Jews live in Baltimore.

1933: Adolph Hitler comes to power in Germany and immediately initiates antisemitic actions. Jews begin to leave, though U.S. immigration restrictions hamper their efforts. Around 3,000 German Jewish refugees settle in Baltimore between 1933 and 1941, aided by individual Jewish Baltimoreans as well as the city’s organized Jewish community.

1933: Ner Israel Rabbinical College is founded by Rabbi Jacob Ruderman. It acquires a national reputation and becomes a pillar of Orthodox Judaism in Baltimore. Its prominence reflects the vitality of Baltimore’s Orthodox community, which will remain a hallmark of Baltimore Jewry.

1938: Jews intensify their attempts to flee Germany after the pogroms of Kristallnacht, the “Night of Broken Glass.” Spice maker Gustav Brunn and his family are among the post-Kristallnacht refugees to arrive in Baltimore. Brunn will start a new spice company and achieve great success with a seasoning he calls “Old Bay.”

1945: Upon his death, Jacob Epstein is eulogized as one of Baltimore’s exemplary philanthropists, having played a major role in local, national, and international Jewish charities as well as Baltimore institutions such as Johns Hopkins University and the Baltimore Museum of Art. His extensive personal art collection, bequeathed to the Museum, forms a core of the BMA’s holdings.

1947: The S.S. President Warfield, an old Chesapeake Bay excursion ship, departs Baltimore harbor after being secretly acquired, rebuilt, and outfitted by a group of Baltimore Zionists led by Mose Speert. It picks up a load of Holocaust survivors in France and sets out for Palestine, disregarding the immigration restrictions imposed by Palestine’s British Mandate. Attacked by the British before reaching its goal, it unfurls a new name: Exodus 1947. After a battle in which three shipmates are killed, the British force the passengers to return to Europe—and the Exodus becomes a cause celebre, one of the foundational stories in the establishment of the state of Israel.

1949: Etta Cone gives the Baltimore Museum of Art the magnificent collection of modern art that she and her sister, Dr. Claribel Cone, had gathered in Paris through the years. Among the first Americans to collect post-Impressionists, the Cone sisters had been introduced to young artists such as Matisse and Picasso by their close friend, Gertrude Stein.

Continue to A Timeline of Baltimore Jewry: 1950 – 2000.

For a more detailed history of Jewish Baltimore, particularly 1950 – present, please check out On Middle Ground by Dr. Eric L. Goldstein and Dr. Deborah R. Weiner. Copies available online at Esther’s Place, the JMM gift shop.

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