May 7, 2019

In Memoriam Rabbi Dr. Ernst Max Stein

In Memoriam

Rabbi Dr. Ernst Max Stein

(10/5/1929 – 21/3/2019).

Member of the Executive Board of the IRWF

Former Community Rabbi of Berlin

By Danny Rainer – Head of the Israeli Representation of the IRWF

Celebrating his 90th birthday

A few months ago, just before his 90th birthday, our beloved Rabbi Dr. Ernst Max Stein, passed away.

I had the immense privilege of knowing him in person.

He was a close friend of our NGO and as Member of the Executive Board, he gave us his precious advice and was a source of continuous inspiration in our quest to keep alive the legacy of the rescuers.

Personally, I was mesmerized by him. He was a man who knew how to combine the lofty values of Judaism and those of the Western civilization.  A singular autodidact.

He was as well versed in the Bible and Talmud as in the great philosophers.  Conversation with him was a real joy.

His love for his wife and long-time companion, Ruth, who passed away a few months earlier, was unparalleled. In the end of their lives, both of them were very ill and fragile and nonetheless, they took care of each other in a marvelous way.

Rabbi Stein’s personal biography could well populate volumes of book.

He was born on May 10, 1929, in Elbeferd, Germany, from an intellectual upper-middle class Jewish family.

In November 1938, while his father was away on a business trip in the USA, he witnessed the destruction of his home by a Nazi mob. His older brother fled to Palestine while Rabbi Stein and his mother managed to escape to Shanghai.

Berlin 2014 – Israeli Embassy – Ceremony of bestowal of the Raoul Wallenberg Medal upon Pastor Annemarie Werner. Left to right: Rabbi Stein, Danny Rainer and Ambassador Ya’akov Hadas.

Berlin 2014. Left to right: Danny Rainer, Ambassador Ya’akov Hadas, Rabbi Ernst Stein, Pastor Annemarie Werner

Rabbi Stein

Rabbi Stein with Pope John Paul II

Life there was harsh and starvation was avoided thanks to a daily ration of food from the Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.

Due to lack of money, he gave-up school and learned to become a blacksmith. The prevailing precarious conditions in which he lived made him ill. Eventually, he contracted meningitis, and the sequels lived on with him till his last days.

When WWII ended, the whole family reunited in Jerusalem where he worked as a blacksmith, but he felt he was missing his true vocation and returned to Manheim to embrace the Jewish tradition.

Life in Germany proved extremely difficult and he and his wife moved to the US, where he worked in a metal factory while studying Jewish philosophy and tradition.

He maintained his close connections with his German-Jewish roots and travelled often to his native Germany, where he witnessed the precarious state of the Jewish communities there. On one occasion, back in 1972, he met the legendary Rabbi Nathan Peter Levinson, who encouraged him to attend the Leo Baeck College in London, where he eventually got his Rabbinical Confirmation (“Smicha”).

Back in Berlin, from 1980 till 1997, Rabbi Stein served as Community Rabbi of the city.

After his retirement till his death, he continued being involved with Jewish congregations around Berlin, Mannheim and Brighton and he played a significant role in the interfaith dialog.

His personal friendship with Pastor Annemarie Werner (Head of the Vaterunse Church in Berlin and representative of the IRWF in the German capital) enabled him to offer his teaching to Christian audiences. In fact, Pastor Werner, took good care of both Ruth and Rabbi Stein in their last years, creating a fraternal bond between the three of them.

This singular friendship was highlighted back in December 2014, on occasion of the bestowal of the Raoul Wallenberg Medal to Pastor Anne Marie Werner, when Rabbi Stein made a moving speech which was praised by all the attendants.

Back in 2009, Rabbi Stein received an Honoris Causa Doctor Degree from Humboldt University, as recognition to his lifetime achievements. 

To me, Rabbi Stein epitomized the story of Germany in the last 8 decades, including the Holocaust and the revival of the Jewish culture.

He was a singular intellectual and a remarkable human being.

In the 90th anniversary of his birthday, my friends and colleagues at the IRWF join me in remembering Rabbi Stein and celebrating his remarkable life..

We shall do our utmost to keep alive Rabbi Stein’s legacy.

Eulogy by Mr. Robert Stein, Rabbi Stein’s son

Rabbi Dr (HC) Ernst Max Stein
10/05/1929 – 21/03/2019
Spoken by Robert Stein at his father’s funeral 05/04/2019 at Hove Cemetery, Rabbi Dr Andrea Zanardo officiating













Commemorative stamp commissioned by the IRWF and issued by the Israeli Postal Authority.





Speech by Rabbi Stein – Humboldt University (2009) – On occasion of bestowal of the Honorary Doctor Degree

In Memoriam Rabbi Dr. Ernst Max Stein