When the B’nai B’rith Leo Baeck (London) Lodge ceased its activities in 2017, a chapter of 74 years of dedicated service for the Jewish community ultimately ended. Established by German speaking refugees from central Europe at the peak of World War II the association quickly blended into British society and became a valuable member of the Anglo-Jewry community. In order to preserve and share its unique history, the Lodge archive is now being catalogued by The Wiener Library.
The roots of the Leo Baeck (London) Lodge can be traced back to 1943. It was this year that some 200 refugees from Nazi persecution formed their own branch (‘Section 1943’) within the existing B’nai B’rith structures in London. B’nai B’rith is the world’s oldest Jewish service organization, committed to the Jewish community’s unity, security and the fight against antisemitism and intolerance around the world. It has been active in Britain since the early twentieth century.
Under the name of Leo Baeck Men’s Lodge the section was officially recognized as a new Lodge in its own rights in 1945. One year later an independent Leo Baeck Women’s Lodge was inaugurated, also comprising some 200 members. Formally two autonomous and self-governed societies, both Lodges have always been closely linked. In 2006 they merged and became a mixed body known as the Leo Baeck (London) Lodge.
Founded by German-speaking Jews from Austria, Czechoslovakia, Germany, Poland and Yugoslavia the Lodges were named after Leo Baeck, the eminent German Rabbi and international leader of Liberal Judaism. Although an early inclusion of members from other backgrounds changed the Lodges’ profile, the name endured as a reference to its origins and heritage.
Aside from being a cultural and social home for its own members, the Leo Baeck Lodges were committed to the values and mission of B’nai B’rith. Various committees were set up over the years to help the needy and to support the Jewish community. Starting with succour to survivors of Nazi persecution, their activities generally covered the fields of welfare, charity, education, and care for the elderly and children.
Among those involved in these activities was Alfred Wiener, the founder of The Wiener Library. A B’nai B’rith member long before his forced emigration from Germany, he had joined the Leo Baeck Men’s Lodge soon after its establishment. It therefore does not come as a surprise that a close and friendly relationship between the Library and the Leo Baeck Lodge(s) has existed ever since. The latter had contributed to the Library’s work generously over decades.
Thanks to a final grant, the archive of the Leo Baeck (London) Lodge and its predecessors is currently subject of intensive cataloguing efforts by The Wiener Library. The preserved material will be processed in compliance with international archival standards and is scheduled to be accessible for researchers in our online catalogue in June 2019.