Rabbi Karl Richter
Rabbi Karl Richter was born and grew up in Stuttgart, Germany. He received his higher education at the University and Jewish Theological Seminary of Breslau. He was ordained in 1935 and served two major congregations in Germany until the destruction of his temple in Mannheim during the infamous “Kristallnacht” in November, 1938.
As the Nazis gained more power, many Jews tried to immigrate to the United States, including Rabbi Richter and his wife and daughter. The American government had quotas issued on Jewish immigrants, and one way around them was to have guaranteed employment upon arrival. This led to congregations all over the nation supporting rabbis in their plights to flee to America.
Temple Israel, the local synagogue (today located in Rogersville), wanted to do their part in helping a German rabbi find safety in the United States. In December of 1938, after the call to action from temple member Minnie Hirsch, attorney and temple member Irving Schwab wrote to young Missouri senator Harry S. Truman. Schwab told Truman that the temple members “respectfully request you to render whatever assistance you can give forward” to get a visa for Rabbi Richter, as they had “no religious leader in this city at all”. On January 4th of 1939, Senator Truman sent a letter in support of the rabbi’s visa to American Consul General Samuel W. Honaker. In May of 1939, Karl Richter arrived in the U.S. along with his wife Ruth and daughter Esther. Ruth had originally lied about her husband’s English-speaking abilities in order to secure him the job, but he was a fast learner.
Rabbi Karl Richter did amazing outreach work in the area. He was invited to lead services at Fort Leonard Wood, and gave tours of the synagogue to non-Jewish groups to teach them about Judaism. In 1941, he gave 51 addresses before non-Jewish organizations, 12 of which were outside of Springfield. In 1942, Richter took a job in Sioux Falls, South Dakota and eventually moved to Michigan City, Indiana where he led the Sinai Temple for 26 years. In 1960, he was awarded the degree of Doctor of Divinity by the Hebrew Union College, Jewish Institute of Religion. In 1998, he returned to Mannheim, Germany, and was honored in his former synagogue on the 60th anniversary of Kristallnacht. Rabbi Karl Richter passed away on September 25th, 2005 at his home, surrounded by his family.
Written by Meg Pearson, 2022.
Special thanks to Dr. Mara Cohen Ioannides for her expertise and insight and to the staff of Temple Israel for their help and the more recent photo of Rabbi Karl Richter.
Cohen, Ioannides Mara W. Creating Community: The Jews of Springfield, Missouri. Springfield, MO: Greene County Historical Society Press, 2021.
“Rabbi Karl Richter Obituary (2005) Tampa Bay Times.” Legacy.com. https://www.legacy.com/us/obituaries/tampabaytimes/name/karl-richter-obituary?pid=15227269.
Blumenfeld, / Esther Richter. “Havdalah Spice Box Reminder of Father’s Legacy of Hope.” Arizona Jewish Post. https://azjewishpost.com/2017/havdalah-spice-box-reminder-of-fathers-legacy-of-hope/.