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Ernst Ludwig Ehrlich

Ernst Ludwig Ehrlich, born in Berlin in 1921 to a civil servant father, began his studies in 1940 at the Higher Institute for Jewish Studies under the direction of Leo Baeck.

Ehrlich was among the Institute’s last students. When it was closed in 1942, Ehrlich was compelled to perform forced labour. In 1943, he escaped arrest and emigrated to Switzerland with a forged passport. There, he resumed his studies at the University of Basel and earned his doctorate in 1950.

Advocate for interreligious dialogue

After the war, Ehrlich took up teaching contracts at various universities, including Frankfurt, Zürich, Basel, Bern and Berlin. In 1961, he was appointed European Director of B’nai B’rith, a position he held until 1994. B’nai B’rith is an international Jewish organisation, founded in 1843 in New York City, committed to promoting the Jewish community, human rights, social justice and interreligious dialogue. From 1972 onwards, Ehrlich also served as an honorary professor for modern Jewish history at the Theological Faculty of the University of Bern.

Ehrlich was an early advocate for dialogue between Jews and Christians. In 1958, he became the Secretary General of the Christian-Jewish Working Group in Switzerland. He was awarded the Leo Baeck Prize by the Central Council of Jews in Germany the same year. Ehrlich remained active until his death in 2007. He published numerous essays and books about Christian-Jewish relations and received many awards for his life’s work.

“Ernst Ludwig Ehrlich had a gift for building bridges between religions and cultures.”

— Angela Merkel, then Chancellor of Germany, 2006.

If you would like to learn more about Ernst Ludwig Ehrlich, we recommend the short documentary Ernst Ludwig Ehrlich: A Life for European Jewry, Dialogue and Science. This film was produced by the scholarship fund named after Ehrlich (ELES) and is available in German with English subtitles: