Learning and teaching was the essence of Judaism for the historian and religious scholar Ernst Ludwig Ehrlich (1921-2007). The history of the native Berliner includes the experience of the persecution, attempted annihilation and subsequent reconstruction of European Jewry in the 20th century.

Ehrlich was born on March 27, 1921 in Berlin. He was one of Leo Baeck’s last students, learning from him until 1942, at the College for the Science of Judaism. In 1943, he escaped to Switzerland, and in 1950 he was appointed, in Basil, to the rank of Dr. phil. PhD.

From 1955, he took various teaching assignments for Jewish Studies at the Universities of Frankfurt am Main, Basel and Zurich, as well as at the Freie University of Berlin of Berlin.

In 1956, Ehrlich’s ‘History of the Jews in Germany’ (‘Geschichte der Juden in Deutschland’) was published, and in 1958 so was his next book: ‘History of Israel. From the Beginning to the Destruction of the Temple’ (‘Geschichte Israels. Von den Anfängen bis zur Zerstörung des Tempels’). In 1958, the then 37-year-old Ehrlich was awarded the Leo Baeck Prize, in Berlin, from the Central Council of Jews in Germany. From 1961 to 1994, Ernst Ludwig Ehrlich was the European Director of the Jewish organization B’nai B’rith and subsequently became its Honorary President. In 1972, he became the Honorary Professor of Modern Jewish History at the Theological Faculty of the University of Bern. The Universities of Basel and Lucerne and the Freie University of Berlin all awarded Ehrlich an honorary doctorate.

Ernst Ludwig Ehrlich worked tirelessly for the Jewish community. As a public speaker, he presented to the Berlin Jewish community of the 1980s and 1990s an enlightened form of Judaism. In addition to this, he was able to reflect and build-upon the existing warm relationship between Judaism and Christianity and acted as an encouraging voice in the Jewish-Christian dialogue; he was an adviser to Cardinal Bea during the preparation of the  Declaration Nostra Aetate (1965) , and was himself the Secretary General of the ´Christian-Jewish Community of Switzerland´ and led the discussion group „Christians and Jews“ at the Central Committee of German Catholics.

After 1989, Ehrlich dedicated himself in particular to the revival of Jewish life in Central and Eastern Europe. One thing was particularly close to his heart: that „the thousands of Jews who have come to Germany in the last few decades can succeed in inhabiting a spiritual Jewish identity that was previously denied them.“

Ernst Ludwig Ehrlich died on 21 October 2007, in Riehen near Basel. His life’s work in the service of the Jewish community was honoured in July 2007 with the award of the Israel Jacobson Prize by the Neu Synagogue of Berlin.

The private library of Ehrlich, comprising over 8,400 items, was donated by his widow – Sylvia Ehrlich – to the Freie University of Berlin in April 2008. The bibliography of the collection can be found here.

The Freie University of Berlin also created the Ernst-Ludwig-Ehrlich Master’s Degree Program in History, Theory and Practice of Jewish-Christian Relations, under the direction of Prof. Dr. Rainer Kampling in 2008. The course, which is unique in Germany, enables students to study the history of Christian hostility towards the Jews as well as the common traditions and theological intersections of Jewish and Christianity.


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Others about Ernst Ludwig Ehrlich:

Ernst Ludwig Ehrlich had the gift of building bridges between religions and cultures.“
Former Federal Chancellor Dr. Angela Merkel (2006)

Bis zuletzt sah sich Ernst Ludwig Ehrlich in der Pflicht, von diesem Erbe eines vollen Judentums mit seiner langen Tradition Zeugnis abzulegen.
Bundesminister Dr. Wolfgang Schäuble (2007)

Zur Wirklichkeit des Judentums gehört seine Vielfalt, sein Pluralismus.

Ernst Ludwig Ehrlich sel. A., Namensgeber Ernst Ludwig Ehrlich Studienwerk