This blog, written by the Library’s Photo Archivist, Torsten Jugl, marks the completion of a unique project to make a piece of Jewish refugee history in London accessible. You can find out more about the processes involved in cataloguing this historically important collection by reading Torsten’s 2018 blog.
We all have on our shelves or in our desk drawers innumerable lodge papers, programmes, photographs, agendas, minutes, news letters (sic!), invitations to lodge functions, and much else beside (sic!), for which we really have no further use, but which we are reluctant to discard. It is with the aid of such material, humdrum and trivial though it may seem now, that it may one day be possible to reconstruct and trace a picture of the life and history of our Lodge and its members.W. R. Powell
The foresight of this appeal by its former president W. R. Powell became apparent when the B’nai B’rith Leo Baeck (London) Lodge was ultimately dissolved in 2017- 2018, thus ending a decades-long, but widely unknown, success story of Jewish refugees in London. Following Powell’s call, numerous papers have been gathered by Lodge members and donated to the Library subsequently. To preserve and share the unique history of the Leo Baeck (London) Lodge(s) this material has now been made available online in the Library’s Reading Room.
B’nai B’rith is the world’s oldest Jewish service organisation. Upon emigrating or fleeing Nazi persecution, German-speaking Jews from Central Europe had gathered in London in 1943 to form their own branches within the existing B’nai B’rith structures in the UK. Named after eminent German rabbi and leader of Liberal Judaism, a Leo Baeck Men’s Lodge as well as a Women’s Lodge were then established at the end of the Second World War. Committed to the values of B’nai B’rith, the Lodges dedicated themselves to helping the disadvantaged and to supporting the Jewish community in the following decades. In 2006, both Lodges merged into a mixed body named Leo Baeck (London) Lodge.
Among the early members of the Men’s Lodge was Alfred Wiener, founder of the Library. Therefore, it 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 has contributed to the Library’s work generously over the decades since. Thanks to a final grant, we have been able to process the unique archives of the Lodges.
Over the course of one year, the various Lodge papers have been sifted, freed from metal or other potentially damaging attachments, re-packed in archival boxes, arranged and catalogued. Comprising documents from over seven decades, the material covers the complete period of existence of the Leo Baeck Lodges. It provides a general overview of their organisational structures as well as some of their affiliated bodies and allows detailed insights into their membership and wide range of activities.
Preserved papers from the early years throw light on the efforts of German-speaking Jewish refugees to establish Lodge structures and to support Holocaust survivors through relief and welfare work. Material from later stages documents the Lodges’ growth and blending into British society, reflecting the impressive expansion of their charitable work for the Jewish community in the UK, Israel and Eastern Europe as well as aspects of internal Lodge life.
Representing a fascinating piece of Jewish refugee history in London, the archives of the Leo Baeck Lodge(s) are now available in The Wolfson Reading Room. For reasons of preservation and enhanced access, the entire collection has been fully digitised. Please note that due to its partially recent content and related data protection aspects some parts of the collection will not be publicly accessible.