Tzedakah, the law of righteousness and mercy, is a core value of Judaism. Caring for fellow humans in need, eventually enabling the recipient to become self-reliant, is an important mitzvah. There is a long and fruitful tradition of patronage in Jewish-German relations. And this very special furthering of arts, sciences and of social projects is very much alive today.
The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation’s Philip Schwartz Initiative provides German universities and research institutions with funding to enable foreign academics who are threatened in their home countries to study and conduct research in Germany. Philip Schwartz (1894-1977) was a distinguished physician and professor at Frankfurt university and was dismissed when Hitler seized power in 1933. Schwartz immediately grasped the threat the Nazis posed to free thought and research – as well as to the Jewish people and his colleagues. Soon after arriving in his Swiss exile, Schwartz set up an Advisory Office for German Scientists, eventually enabling numerous German colleagues to take up positions in Turkey.
Thanks to the initiative named after him, academics from Syria, Turkey, Libya, Pakistan and Uzbekistan are currently continuing or furthering their work in Germany for a period of up to 24 months. This will empower them to “later take on responsibility in their home countries again”, as German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier puts it. The Philip Schwartz Initiative is supported by the Foreign Office and a number of private foundations.
On the other hand, the Ernst Ludwig Ehrlich Studienwerk (ELES), named after the renowned historian, is one of thirteen scholarship programs supported by the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research. It provides scholarships for gifted Jewish students and doctoral candidates. Launched in 2009, ELES pursues the goals of strengthening Jewish identity, sense of responsibility and dialogue capabilities among its over 400 scholarship holders, who are thereby encouraged to actively shape the future of the Jewish community in Europe.
James Simon (1851-1932) is primarily known for one of the most generous donations ever made by a private person. Simon, a successful businessman, gave the famous bust of Queen Nefertiti to a public museum in Berlin. But Simon was not only an intellectual, art lover and collector. He supported more than 60 social institutions. He created opportunities for underprivileged children and initiated health institutions like the public swimming pool at Berlin’s Gartenstraße, by the way a landmark of Neue Sachlichkeit architecture.
Since 2006, the James Simon Stiftung honors personalities promoting public welfare. The James Simon Award furthers patronage, commitment to and responsibility for civil society – just like James Simon did, the Berlin philanthropist who believed in social responsibility.
“Supporting academic studies and professional training of especially gifted young Jewish people connected to the German language and culture” is the aim of the Gerhard C. Starck Stiftung. Whilst growing up, Starck (1929-2000) had experienced the humiliations and threats his Jewish mother had to suffer in Nazi Germany. Her family in Hungary perished in the Shoah whilst Starck sen., a powerful and wealthy German industrialist, managed to save his wife. After the war, Gerhard Starck became a lawyer and helped Jewish clients in the restitution of their assets which had been expropriated by the Nazis.
In many, long conversations with his friend Icek Ostrowicz, the idea of a foundation began to take shape. Its aim was to ensure that a new generation of Jews would have a dignified future in Germany. Ostrowicz, a Shoah-survivor from Kielce, had been barred from formal education during the Nazi occupation of Poland. His thirst for learning deeply impressed Starck who decided to use his considerable means to support young Jewish people in their quest for knowledge.
For the past ten years, the Starck Foundation has been working for a Jewish-German intellectual renaissance. It supports high school and university students, Ph.D. candidates and postdocs in the arts, sciences and humanities. Alumni and current scholarship holders of the Starck Foundation gather once a year. The “Starckies”, as they call themselves, are a lively and inquisitive bunch – as several Nobel prize winners from the U.S. and Israel who were invited to the meetings found out. At these gatherings, you can meet “the future of the German Jewry in person,” as Icek Ostrowicz, the heart and soul of the Starck Foundation, puts it.