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First Woman Rabbi Recalled at Terezin Camp

A memorial plaque to Regina Jonas, the first female rabbi, was unveiled at the former Nazi concentration camp Terezin in the Czech Republic.

Several female rabbis from Jonas’ native Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States — notably Sally Priesand, who in 1972 became the first American female rabbi — attended Thursday’s ceremony in the camp’s former columbarium.

Jonas, a Berlin native, was ordained in 1935 and served the Jewish community in the German capital until her deportation to Terezin in 1942. Two years later she was murdered in Auschwitz at 42.

“Rabbi Jonas’ unique genius and perseverance allowed her to overcome the prejudices of the past, an achievement that continues to serve as a model,” said Lesley Weiss, head of the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad, which organized the ceremony.

During her internment in Terezin, Jonas continued to lecture, preach and provide pastoral care to fellow inmates. She also worked for a crisis intervention service set up by the prisoners.

“Her particular job was to meet those who just arrived at the station and help them cope with shock and disorientation,” said Jan Munk, the director of the Terezin Memorial.

Jonas’ life and work was largely forgotten until the 1990s when her personal archive was rediscovered in Berlin.

“I did not know about Regina Jonas, and I only discovered her as everyone else has,” Priesand, 68, told JTA. “I feel like we are almost kindred spirits, and I’m glad we came to dedicate her plaque in order to restore her story.”

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