Learning and teaching, that was the essence of Judaism for the historian and religious scholar Ernst Ludwig Ehrlich (1921-2007). The life story of the Berlin-born historian encompasses the experience of the persecution, destruction, and reconstruction of European Jewry in the 20th century.
Ehrlich was born in Berlin on 27 March 1921. Until 1942, he was one of Leo Baeck’s last students at the Hochschule für die Wissenschaft des Judentums. In 1943, he managed to escape to Switzerland. He received his doctorate in Basel in 1953.
From 1955 he held various teaching posts in Jewish Studies at the universities of Frankfurt am Main, Basel, and Zurich and at the Free University of Berlin.
In 1956 Ehrlich’s “Geschichte der Juden in Deutschland” was published, followed in 1958 by “A Concise History of Israel from the Earliest Times to the Destruction of the Temple in A. D. 70”. In 1958, the 37-year-old Ehrlich was awarded the Leo Baeck Prize of the Central Council of Jews in Germany in Berlin. From 1961 to 1994, Ernst Ludwig Ehrlich was European director of the Jewish organisation B’nai B’rith and subsequently its honorary president. In 1972, he became honorary professor of Modern Jewish History at the Faculty of Theology of the University of Bern. The Universities of Basel and Lucerne and the Free University of Berlin awarded Ehrlich honorary doctorates.
Ernst Ludwig Ehrlich was tirelessly committed to the Jewish community. As a preacher, he represented an enlightened Judaism within the Jewish community of Berlin in the 1980s and 1990s. In addition, he was able to emphasise the positions of Judaism vis-à-vis Christianity and was a critical voice in Jewish-Christian dialogue: as an advisor to Cardinal Bea in the preparation of the Vatican II Declaration Nostra Aetate (1965), as General Secretary of the Christian-Jewish Working Group of Switzerland, and in the discussion group “Christians and Jews” at the Central Committee of German Catholics.
After 1989, Ehrlich devoted himself in particular to the renewal 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 recent decades succeed in acquiring a spiritual Jewish identity that has until now been 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 at the New Synagogue in Berlin.
Ehrlich’s private library containing around 8,400 items was donated to the Free University of Berlin by his widow Sylvia Ehrlich in April 2008. The bibliography of the collection, which provides an overview of the scope of Ernst Ludwig Ehrlich’s scholarly activity, can be found here.
Also at the Free University of Berlin, the Ernst Ludwig Ehrlich Master’s programme on the History, Theory, and Practice of Jewish-Christian Relations was established in 2008 under the direction of Prof. Dr. Rainer Kampling. The programme, which is unique in Germany, enables students to study the history of Christian hostility towards Jews as well as the shared traditions and theological intersections of Judaism and Christianity.
On 27 March 2021, Ernst Ludwig Ehrlich, would have turned 100: a welcome occasion for the Studienwerk to commemorate Ehrlich throughout the year and present its namesake to the public. As part of the social media campaign WIR FEIERN EHRLICH!, posts on “Learning & Teaching”, “Berlin”, “Leo Baeck”, “Judaism”, “Dialogue”, “Anti-Semitism”, “B’nai B’rith”, and “Research & Teaching” appeared on Facebook and Instagram from March to November 2021.
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)
Until the end, Ernst Ludwig Ehrlich saw it as his duty to bear witness to the inheritance of a full Judaism with its long tradition.
Former Federal Minister Dr. Wolfgang Schäuble (2007)
Zur Wirklichkeit des Judentums gehört seine Vielfalt, sein Pluralismus.
Ernst Ludwig Ehrlich sel. A., Namensgeber Ernst Ludwig Ehrlich Studienwerk