PRINZ was born in the tiny
May 10, 1902.His father
Joseph, a man of stern
demeanor was generally incapable of intimacy, owned the General Store.By contrast, his
mother, was an
exceptionally loving woman, especially
close to him, but also to his
two younger brothers.Both
parents came from well educated prosperous families who had lived in
for centuries.They were the
only Jews in their town of 900.Around
1910, the family moved to Oppeln, a city of 35,000, which was the region’s capital.
It had a more substantial and relatively affluent Jewish community.Eventually, his father bought a large dry goods store which
provided handsomely for the family.
years later, his beloved mother died after giving birth to his
sister. Her death left an indelible
mark.Thedistant relationship with his father, coupled with an inherently
rebellious spirit, resulted in breaking the emotional bond with his family
and, most particularly, with its way of life.Joseph Prinz, like many other German Jews,
born to a traditional Jewish family but had become highly assimilated.He was part of the Jewish community, but at the periphery.Motivated by a charismatic rabbi, Joachim Prinz’ rejection
of his father's world was expressed by an increasing interest
in Judaism, a bond that grew even stronger with his mother’s death.By 1917, he had also joined the Zionist Blau Weiss (Blue White)
youth movement, which put him at odds with the vast majority of German
Jews.To his father’s great
disappointment, he decided to become a rabbi.
By the age
of 21, Joachim Prinz had earned a Ph.D. in philosophy, with a minor in
Art History, at theUniversity of Giessen.Two years later he was ordained at the
Seminary in Breslau and married Lucie Horovitz,
the daughter of one of its most renowned professors.Already showing special gifts and a dynamism that contrasted
sharply with older, often pompous, colleagues, he was invited to become
the rabbi of the then independent Friedenstempel (Peace Synagogue) in Berlin.Only 24, he almost immediately became what the noted scholar Rabbi W Gunther Plaut,
who was a child inBerlin at the time, later
described as “the county’s most sought-after preacher.”With powerful oratorical gifts and a new style of straight talk
about Judaism and subjects of current interest, he was especially
attractive to the young, but people of all ages flocked to his Sabbath services.
"If you weren’t on line at 7:30 for the service," Rabbi Plaut
recalled, "you were
unlikely to be admitted to an always overflowing
his personal life was to be challenged.
The death of Lucie at
the birth of their daughter (named Lucie in her memory)
a tragic reminder of his mother’s death and a devastating personal blow.
May of 1932, he
Hilde Goldschmidt. His new wife who, while younger, had been Lucie's
friend in the last years of her life, became a mother to his infant
daughter. In April of 1933 she safely gave
birth to the a child of her own, Prinz' first son, Michael.
urbane sophisticated and unconventional man, he broke down barriers of formality
between pulpit and congregation by ice skating with his students and being
personally accessible to their parents in what, increasingly, were
becoming troubled times.To the great consternation of community’s conservative rabbinical
leadership, the young, and what they considered brash, Dr. Prinz
spoke out about the dangers of National Socialism long before Adolf Hitler
took power in 1933.For the
Jewish community that that dated back to the 4th
Century, Hitler was seen as a temporary episode, as an outsider who
couldn’t possibly last in their homeland.To Joachim Prinz, who despite his natural affinity for urban life,
had grown up in rural Germany where it was prevalent, anti-Semitism was not
something new. To him, it was an ingrained fact of life across much of the country.He understood that Hitler was lethal and began early on to urge
that Jews leave the country.Thousands
took his advice, many thousands stayed and perished in the gas
under Hitler was a nightmare.
But throughout the next four years, Prinz
continued to preach his message and was the subject of numerous arrests
and harassment by the Gestapo.
During his eleven year rabbinate in Berlin, eventually
serving the entire community and preaching in it’s largest synagogue, he
founded numerous educational and cultural institutions, officiated at
thousands of Bar Mitzvahs, weddings and funerals and wrote seven books
including a two volume Children’s Bible and Wir Juden, a warning
to the Jews about the danger they faced in the early 1930s.In his final year in Germany he served as editor-in-chief of a Jewish periodical.For reasons that he would never know (perhaps because he was such a popular figure)
he was expelled from the country in 1937 and
together with his pregnant wife and two children sailed for New York.
Son Jonathan was born one
month after their arrival in the United States.A few years after the end of World War II they adopted Jo Seelmann, Hilde’s cousin who had lost her parents and was herself imprisoned in
Nazi concentration camps.Daughter
Deborah was born in 1952.
In the fall of 1937, with the sponsorship of Stephen S. Wise, the noted American rabbi and
confidant of President Franklin Roosevelt, Joachim Prinz began his life in the
lecturing across the country for the United Palestine
Appeal about what was happening in Germany.His audiences were
impressed with his oratory, but many, in a still
isolationist land, rejected his message.Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver of
Cleveland, a political conservative and leader of the American Zionist
Organization, was outraged by his “pessimism” which he considered
Un-American, and complained bitterly to Wise questioning whether the
refugee rabbi shouldn’t find another country in which to live.Wise reminded his colleague that free speech was a touch stone of
Prinz' warnings proved correct. In fact, they were an understatement of what
was to come.
two years of financial struggle and with a wife and three children to
support, Joachim Prinz returned to the rabbinate accepting an invitation
to become the spiritual leader of Temple B’nai Abraham in
New Jersey, one of the country’s oldest synagogues.He assumed its pulpit in July of 1939.B’nai Abraham was housed in an enormous building complete with
school, social center, gymnasium, swimming pool and a majestic 2,000
seat oval shaped sanctuary with a soaring hung ceiling with unobstructed views throughout.
It was an
ideal setting for a gifted preacher. His friend and mentor, Rabbi Wise
spoke at the installation.
Temple B’nai Abraham had a magnificent
home, but it was
nearly bankrupt.Built only
a few years before the Depression, many of its donors had defaulted on
their pledges and only 300
families remained. The debts
were staggering and
Prinz’ predecessor, forced into
retirement, had long since failed to
provide his congregation with any reason
to be active or to
attend services on a regular basis.
the year before he arrived, the Temple
had engaged Abraham
of the great cantors of the
whose voice was often compared with that of Enrico Caruso.Composer Max Helfman was brought on as music director.Shapiro's powerful tenor giving voice to Helfman’s original music
coupled with Prinz' memorable sermons,
dramatically altered the tone of the Sabbath services.It
wasn’t unusual for 1000 people to attend on an ordinary Friday night.
Prinz invigorated the educational program for both children and adults
and forged strong personal relationships with congregants. All of
this transformed the synagogue's dynamic and, in a relatively short
time, membership soared along with a restoration of financial health.The
outstanding current debt was erased followed some years later by the burning of the
again Dr. Prinz was a force in a Jewish community.In 1945, as the war was coming to an end, he was asked to become
chairman of the
Countyannual United Jewish Appeal Drive.Until
then, they had raised no more that $200,000 in any year.With a clear need to help displaced Jews in
Europe, the goal was for $1 Million.Prinz
was the first and only rabbi ever to take on this task.He devoted enormous energy to the task and, to the astonishment of
community leaders, came within a few dollars of the campaign goal.
During the campaign, he become intimately engaged with
the larger Jewish community and from then on was never again seen as
simply the rabbi of an individual congregation.
In the years that followed, Joachim Prinz
continued and expanded his involvement with
the greater Jewish community, nationally
and internationally.He held
top leadership positions in the World
first as its Vice President and ultimately
Chairman of its
Governing Council.Having reached maturity in
Europe, he had a unique understanding of post-War problems
there and devoted all
his summers from 1946 until his retirement years, traveling abroad.
His first post-War trip included a moving visit to his destroyed
synagogue. He was a
the Conference of Jewish Material Claims Against Germany. His early
involvement in the Zionist movement had brought him into contact with
the future founding leaders of the State of Israel, most of whom he
counted among his good friends.
He also served as Chairman of the World Conference of Jewish
Perhaps closest to his heart,
because he had been a victim of discrimination, was the
struggle for Civil Rights in the
United States.The American Jewish
Congress, was at the forefront of that effort. He served as its
President from 1958-1966.He participated in countless demonstrations and other
actions developing close relationships with his counterparts in the
African American community.In
1963, he was among leaders of the March on
speech, alerting Americans to the disgrace of silence in the face of
injustice, preceded that of his friend Martin Luther King, Jr.It was, he always felt, a highlight of his life, the culmination
of all the things he had stood for throughout his career both in
and earlier in Germany.
Prinz helped his long time friend and
world Jewish leader Nahum Goldmann create
the Conference of Presidents of American Jewish Organizations and served as one of its
early Chairmen (1965-7).He wrote
three more books and edited several Prayer Books.In
his last years as its senior rabbi, he helped his synagogue
build and move to a new home in Livingston New
center was a sanctuary without stained glass windows,
another of his lifelong radical
departures from convention.Worshipers
look out into the natural surroundings becoming
one with, rather than
separated from, the outside.This
expressed, he felt, a more open approach to religion consistent with a
new time and the needs of the next generation.
Abraham for 38 years, he retired from
an active role in 1977, but continued to preach on the
High Holidays for
several more years. Together
with Hilde, he spent the final years of life in their
little cottage in Brookside, New
Jersey -- in a sense returning to where he began, a small country
village. Joachim Prinz
September 30, 1988.