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Heinrich Loewe

Heinrich Loewe, born in 1867 in Wanzleben, Germany, was a key figure in the early Zionist movement, a scholar of Jewish folklore and a librarian.

He attended a Protestant secondary school in Magdeburg. He later studied history and “Oriental” languages at the University of Berlin and also attended lectures at the Higher Institute for Jewish Studies. As a Jewish student in Berlin – a centre of Jewish life – he sought ways to counter the rise of modern antisemitism and confront the crises surrounding assimilation and acculturation.

Loewe founded Jung Israel, the first Zionist group in Germany, in 1892. He also co-founded the Association of Jewish Students, which in 1914 became the Cartel of Jewish Connections, an umbrella organisation of Zionist students in Germany. He edited the Jüdische Volkszeitung (Jewish People’s News) in Berlin from 1893 to 1894 and the monthly magazine Zion from 1895 to 1896. In 1895, he visited the Holy Land for the first time, where he met Theodor Herzl before the publication of The Jewish State. Loewe returned to Europe as a delegate from Palestine to the First Zionist Congress in 1897. After the Congress, he stayed in Germany and founded the Zionist Association. From 1902 to 1908, he was the first editor of the Jüdische Rundschau, the main newspaper of German Zionists.

Loewe the Librarian

Alongside his journalistic work and commitment to Zionism, Loewe made his way in the world of libraries. In 1899, Loewe started as an assistant at the University of Berlin, and in 1909, he was promoted to librarian. During this time, Loewe met Jenny Wilde. It was Loewe who assisted the future head librarian of the Higher Institute for Jewish Studies with her first position at Salomon Neumann’s private library. Loewe continued to serve a mentor to Wilde, according to his account, and the two became friends.

Throughout his career, Loewe advocated for the establishment of a Jewish National Library in Jerusalem. Loewe was the driving force behind the Association of Friends of the Jerusalem Library. His proposal to establish a Jewish National Library in Jerusalem was unanimously adopted by the Seventh Zionist Congress in 1905.

In 1933, after the Nazis issued the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service, Loewe was forcibly retired as a librarian at the Berlin University Library. In July of the same year, he accepted an invitation to become the director of the Sha’ar Zion City Library in Tel Aviv and emigrated to Palestine with his family. In his new role in Palestine, Loewe continued his work, published further works in the field of Jewish history, and was instrumental in the development of the library system in Palestine and later the State of Israel. Loewe died in 1951 in Haifa.

“We may not be able to gather all the dispersed of Israel in the land of our forefathers, but to assemble the scattered books of Israel, the thoughts of the Hebrew spirit carried around everywhere – that lies within our capabilities.”

— Heinrich Loewe on the necessity of founding a Jewish national library (1913)

Heinrich Loewe married Johanna Auerbach in 1901. To mark the occasion, the family created a “wedding newspaper”, a handmade collection of poems and songs written especially for the occasion. A digitised copy of this unique historical document can be viewed in the collection of the Jewish Museum Berlin: