February 9, 2015

The continuing decline of Europe’s Jewish population

Jewish Population in EuropeIt’s been seven decades since the end of the Holocaust, an event that decimated the Jewish population in Europe. In the years since then, the number of European Jews has continued to decline for a variety of reasons. And now, concerns over renewed anti-Semitism on the continent have prompted Jewish leaders to talk of a new “exodus” from the region.

There are still more than a million Jews living in Europe, according to 2010 Pew Research Center estimates. But that number has dropped significantly over the last several decades – most dramatically in Eastern Europe and the countries that make up the former Soviet Union, according to historical research by Sergio DellaPergola of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

In 1939, there were 16.6 million Jews worldwide, and a majority of them – 9.5 million, or 57% – lived in Europe, according to DellaPergola’s estimates. By the end of World War II, in 1945, the Jewish population of Europe had shrunk to 3.8 million, or 35% of the world’s 11 million Jews. About 6 million European Jews were killed during the Holocaust, according to common estimates.

Since then, the global Jewish population – estimated by Pew Research at 14 million as of 2010 – has risen, but it is still smaller than it was before the Holocaust. And in the decades since 1945, the Jewish population in Europe has continued to decline. In 1960, it was about 3.2 million; by 1991, it fell to 2 million, according to DellaPergola’s estimates. Now, there are about 1.4 million Jews in Europe – just 10% of the world’s Jewish population, and 0.2% of Europe’s total population.

Measuring Jewish populations, especially in places like Europe and the United States where Jews are a small minority, is fraught with difficulty. This is due to the complexity both of measuring small populations and of Jewish identity, which can be defined by ethnicity or religion. As a result, estimates vary, but Pew Research’s recent figures are similar to those reported by DellaPergola, one of the world’s leading experts on Jewish demography.

Jewish Population in EuropeIn Eastern Europe, a once large and vibrant Jewish population has nearly disappeared. DellaPergola estimates that there were 3.4 million Jews in the European portions of the Soviet Union as of 1939. Many were killed in the Holocaust, and others moved to Israel or elsewhere. Today, a tiny fraction of the former Soviet republics’ population – an estimated 310,000 people – are Jews.

Similar trends have occurred in Eastern European countries that were outside the USSR, including Poland, Hungary, Romania and several other nations. Collectively, they were home to about 4.7 million Jews in 1939, but now there are probably fewer than 100,000 Jews in all these countries combined.

Much of the postwar decline has been a result of emigration to Israel, which declared its independence as a Jewish state in 1948. The Jewish population of Israel has grown from about half a million in 1945 to 5.6 million in 2010. But there are other possible factors in the decline of European Jewry, including intermarriage and cultural assimilation.

In addition, Jewish populations have not decreased uniformly in every European country. For example, we estimate that there were about as many Jews in France as of 2010 (310,000) as DellaPergola estimates there were in 1939 (320,000), although recent reports have indicated a surge in Jewish emigration from France.

The United Kingdom also continues to have a significant Jewish population (about 280,000 in 2010, down from DellaPergola’s estimate of 345,000 in 1939). But a new report released this week found a record level of anti-Semitism in the U.K., with more than 1,000 anti-Semitic incidents recorded in 2014.

Topics: Eastern Europe, Europe, Religious Affiliation, Jews and Judaism

  1. Photo of Michael Lipka

    is a senior editor focusing on religion at Pew Research Center.


  1. Markus Räsänen1 year ago

    I this video I have estimated the number of Jews murdered in the Holocaust based on historical population figures of the world Jewry only. The estimated number is 6,300,000. I am very sorry for the victims. I honor their remembrance.


    You can download the document shown in the video here:

  2. Carny2 years ago

    The discussion about the exact number is less important to me than an undertone seemingly implying the discrepancy of the numbers questions the horror of Hitler targeting/blaming/murdering Jews for Germany’s and later European economic collapse, all while too many others throughout the world were either agreeing with him, dismissing him or not concerned about him (or the people he was killing in the most horrific ways.)

    The extermination of 2 million people or of 6 million people to accomodate a political goal are equally horrendous, unconscionable and undefendable acts. The exact number of Jews in Europe before and after WWII is not unimportant to scholars and important for historical records but the evaluation of the numbers by those who know little about the research is unnecessary. And please be aware that many Jews who fled occupied countries did not publicly declare their religious affiliation in their new country because they feared the outcome of doing so.

  3. Alain2 years ago

    French jewish population in 2015 is between 500.000 to 550.000.

  4. Je’ Czaja2 years ago

    I would like bias-free figures and Tel Aviv University as a source does not seem bias-free.

    And what is the source of “anti-Semitic incidents?”A private Jewish charity that has “3,000 volunteers from all parts of the Jewish community, who are trained by the CST and the Police.” Eighty-one of these incidents, according to the link, were physical assaults, like egg-throwing-the rest were insults? About Gaza? That is a “record level of anti-Semitism?
    Once again, consider the source.

    I despise racism in all forms, but would like more accurate information.

    1. barrel tapper1 year ago

      I have copies of the Jew Argus for the number of Jews in Europe before the war at 7 million. So should six million have died who exactly travelled to Israel in 1947? There are contested figures in the same argus suggesting that in 1948 after the census there was an increase in the number of Jews in the world. These sort of figures from the Jews do nothing to bolster their case of six million death during the war. Why don’t they sort themselves out?

  5. Josephine2 years ago

    This comes across as if it is comparing the Jewish population worldwide with the Jewish population that was killed in the holocaust. That doesn’t make any sense. If the amount of Jews that were killed in Germany was about 6 million, why do Jstor’s total population of Jews in 1939 equal 2,350,000 and the Florida Center for Instructional Technology’s population estimate is 210,000? 6 million Jews couldn’t have been killed if the population of Jews in Germany is less than 6 million. Even the bar graph presented in this article shows the population of Jews in Germany to be 195,000.

    1. Cuff Camlin2 years ago

      Josephine while the Germans did indeed kill 6 million Jews during the Holocaust most of them were not German Jews that were killed.Hitler had Jews killed in every land his forces occupied during the war.Some were killed in Concentration camps but many were killed in mass killing after being stripped and then forced to stand in massive pits which would become their own graves.Most actually died outside of the land occupied by Germany in 1933. I hope that helps you to understand a little more out what happened.I grew up in a heavily Jewish suburb and many of my friends parents were survivors of the concentration camps and most had relatives who did not survive the Holocaust.But I know that most public or private schools do a poor job of teaching these issues that I learned about from friends.

    2. Hayley2 years ago

      I believe the 6 million included Jews from other countries brought in by train (in case you missed that part).

  6. John2 years ago

    I’m curious about the 310,000 figure for France. Is that correct (or is it possibly re-paste of the former USSR figure)? Most other sources put the French Jewish community at between 500,000 and 600,000.

  7. Jim2 years ago

    Thank you for your trustworthy reports and facts. We cannot trust the general media to
    give anything but distorted information.

  8. Jean Purvis3 years ago

    I find the statistics on anti-Semitism disturbing. Have we not learned anything? In every country the Jews have contributed to art, to science, to learning in general. I cannot understand this ill feeling.

  9. Paul Adair3 years ago

    There is once again an economic crisis causing growing segments of Europeans to search for a scapegoat. Jews are somehow still being blamed despite their numbers, but also Roma, Africans, and of course muslims.

    Though only 50, I am weary of hearing the empty slogan “never again.” It is better to say, “oh no, not again.” There is already war in Europe, millions of youths are unemployed and disillusioned, and dressed-up fascism is attracting the struggling middle class.

  10. Andrew P3 years ago

    This is a badly written article. It makes me wonder how many Jews are in Israel and in the USA, and that information is nowhere to be found here. At least give a complete picture of things you are reporting on. Please.

  11. David S. Levine3 years ago

    Isn’t it interesting that the only nation shown on that graph where the Jewish population did increase was GERMANY! Doesn’t that say it all about Europe!

  12. Ken Puck3 years ago

    France must choose between its Jews and its Muslims. That nation cannot be home to both.

  13. Inkwell3 years ago

    Thank you for an excellent analysis, Mr.Lipka. It is a most timely and an important study, which will serve as a “baseline” for reference and comparison in the future, as European Jewry continues its inexorable decline. A significant point, however, relative to the declining Jewish population of the United Kingdom: by 1945, the Jewish population of the U.K. had risen from 345,000 to 440,000, increased by Jewish refugees from continental Europe. Thus, the more significant point of reference is the decline from the all-time high at the end of World War II to today’s number. Dr. Sergio DellaPergola’s estimate of 280,000 in 2010 no doubt was very close to the mark. What is essential to note is the official UK estimates released last year showing a continued decline to 267,000 in just 4 years, marking the decline in toto since 1945 at 37%. As has been observed, every day more Muslims come to Europe (see the Pew Study of 2011) than leave and each day more Jews depart than arrive.

  14. Joe3 years ago

    The Europeans are essentially trading Jews for Muslims. We’ll see how that works out for them.

    1. the ingathering?2 years ago

      Joe, whatever is going on, it’s not just in Europe. Globally it seems like Jews are returning to Israel like autopilot. Pretty amazing migration, exactly as written thousands of years ago.

  15. Mister Tariff3 years ago

    The numbers in France are a distortion, since probably 90% of the French Jews who were in France in 1939 were either killed or immigrated after the war. Today almost the entire French Jewish population are Sephardic Jews who immigrated from Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco which were all French colonies.

    The German number is also a distortion, since more than 90% percent were killed, immigrated during the war or after the war (the 1945 figure ignores the fact that many were in holding camps in Germany after the war. More than 90% of German Jews immigrated from the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, either because of communism or because German was a relatively normal country by the 1990s

    1. David S. Levine3 years ago

      You write, “More than 90% of German Jews immigrated from the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, either because of communism or because German was a relatively normal country by the 1990s.” That’s absolutely correct and as Germany became a “normal” nation all the nations to its west became abnormal!

    2. David Levine3 years ago

      The French Jewish MAJORITY is of North African origin, but it is NOT “almost the entire French Jewish population” at all. There are many who survived the War and their descendants as well as many who emigrated to France from Eastern Europe and their descendants.

    3. jonathan3 years ago

      Only 25% of Jews in France were killed and the survivors stayed in France after the war. Then some 280,000 Jews from North Africa arrived in the 50s and 60s. In 2000, there were an estimated 500,000 Jews in France, some thinks the number was closer to 600,000. Today there is no doubt that mostly due to emigration the number is around 50,000 lower. Anyway the figures given here are not serious.

  16. john3 years ago

    This data suggests that the rate of decline in the number of Jews, is probably much lower than the rate of decline in the number of Christians. Whereas the increase in Muslims in the same period is significant. As always, it is important to recognise Jews are not a race, but people who have particular religious beliefs; something the Nazis failed to accept. And western Europe, is generally becoming more secular.

  17. Jonathan3 years ago

    Your figures about France are weird and wrong. There were 350,000 Jews in France in 1939, 280,000 left in 1945, 550,000 in the 80s and 500,000 in the 2000s and today most estimations are around 450-480,000.

  18. Laszlo3 years ago

    It is sad to see the people at a so called “Research Center” don’t know basic geography .
    The countries you list as “Eastern Europe” are actually in Central Europe and the Balkans.
    I’d also argue with the numbers you present. In Hungary alone there are over 100000 Jews and they are living a second renaissance. Anyway if I were you I’d review my high school books if you made it that far that is.

  19. Dory LeeChuk3 years ago

    But seriously, at this point at world history, with demographics evolving as they are, why would any Jew see a long term future in Europe. There is none. Time to leave – Israel obviously is a good place, but always under threat of catastrophy. Canada and the US are probably the best places to go, Australia? not so much it seems.

    1. David Levine3 years ago

      As the Parsha about Abraham in the Bible begins, Lech Lecha!

  20. Henry R Mandel3 years ago

    History Repeats itself. When I was in High School 1958 to 1962 I said: “It could happen again” And it is. Separately, I was so grateful that the Muslim forced conversions that historically spread Islam around the world were over…Hmm. Happening again. Also, I learned that “appeasement” was a causative factor in WWII; we are doing that again too! History Repeats itself. Those who do not learn from their mistakes repeat them.

  21. Ariel3 years ago

    Germany had still in 1945 after the World War II ended 45K Jewish population. Just boggle the mind. Who and why would any Jew still stay there? Was 1946 the year those Jews were promised that all Germans would turn into angels, and ruined Germany into heaven? I can understand that there was no Israel yet till 1948 to emigrate to. But, how would they know that in advance? During those 3 years 45K Jews stay to live there and don’t leave ? I know someone like that, who lost his whole family in the Holocaust and despite that stayed, – ‘My Father’. Till his death he couldn’t or Wouldn’t explain that. In 1948 he finally decided to emigrate to Israel. A year later, he was back in Germany. Who says all Jews “the chosen people” must be also sane people? Can anyone explain this? And today the Jewish population is X 5 higher than at the end of the war, not including the 30 K new Israelis who moved there in the last several years.

    1. Mark Mulligan3 years ago

      In 1973 I visited a German boy I had met in the US the year earlier at a beach in the US. I spent a month at his parents house in Berlin, Germany. My friend’s father was a prominent Social Democrat. In our country, the US, we would call him a Socialist. One day my friend and I visited a much older married couple who were his friends. They were German Jews who had returned to Germany to live. As a 13 year old I did not understand the extent of what this meant. I had Jewish friends in the US and didn’t consider being Jewish at all unusual. But later I realized how these people had taken a political stance as well as a personal one. They were Germans. They wanted to be there. They were also refusing to leave their home land or cede the country to people who had tried to exterminate their race. Bottom line: Not all Germans are anti-Semites.

      1. David S. Levine3 years ago

        Note that the graph shows that the only nation where the Jewish population increased was GERMANY!

        1. John2 years ago

          Pretty sure the graph is wrong for France – it increased there also.

    2. Arnold3 years ago

      I lived in Germany on business for 12 years in the late 70s and 80s. There was an influx of Soviet Jews during that period, particularly to Berlin. In addition, a number of Israelis were living and working in the country. One told me that they liked working with the Germans and preferred doing business with them over some of the other nationalities. You may not believe me but it was my impression that the Germans had changed in their attitude toward Jews and those Israelis felt so too. I say this as a non-Jew. Most of the violence and bigotry being directed at Jews in Germany and elsewhere in western Europe is being carried out by Muslims rather than ethnic Germans. That is not to say that some Germans do not share those feelings but the violence is largely coming from the immigrant Muslim communities. Another related topic is the fascinating bond that so many Jews felt and feel toward German culture despite the crimes of the Third Reich. I remember standing in line at the Metropolitan Opera in NYC in the 1970s and listening to little old Jewish ladies from Vienna and Germany chatting away in German decades after the end of the War as they waited to buy tickets to a Wagner opera.

    3. Clark B.3 years ago

      I do not believe, Ariel, that I can “explain” why except to think that Germany was their HOME and damned if they were willing to let someone chase them away. Attachment to where one is born and raised can be very, very strong. Maybe? Like I said, I don’t know and am glad I never had to make that choice.

    4. Laura Garner3 years ago

      The Jews were not allowed to leave Germany during the war and if they were able to get out, many countries would not let them inside their borders.

      1. dr.jerry2 years ago

        jews could have left Germany in the 1930’s, but all of the “democratic”countries would not allow them into their countries. as agreed in the Bermuda conference.

    5. David Bernstein3 years ago

      Undoubtedly, most of the Jews in Germany in 1945 were in DP camps.

    6. Y.2 years ago

      Both the data from the CBS (Israel) and the FSO (Germany) show that the ’30K Israelis’ simply do not exist. For example, the FSO stated emigration from Israel to Germany increased by a mere 400/year rate[1].


    7. jsalus2 years ago

      1945 “Who and why would any Jew still stay there”

      There were even more Jews living in Germany by mid 1945.
      They hadn’t decided to be there and almost all of them didn’t want to stay there. They simply were there – as survivors of forced labour, as survivors from the death marches from the death camps in the east which had ended somewhere in Germany in spring 1945, and so on.
      And where should they have gone for, in that year 1945?
      No State of Israel was established yet, and they weren’ twelcome in mandatory Palestine. And Western countries, above all the U.S., continued there policy of restrictions towards Immigration.

  22. Zhu3 years ago

    The “record” anti-Semitism reports are laughable. They conflate Zionism with Judaism.

    Also, interesting to note that Germany has more Jews today than it had in 1939.

    1. tsts3 years ago

      Zhu, the reason Germany has more Jews now than 1939 is because by that time many had already fled. The point is that while 1939 may be the right year to measure Jewish population before the Nazis for other countries, for Germany 1933 would be a more appropriate date (when the population was at least 500,000).

      There is a very unconvincing attempt in this article to relate the “new exodus” with the numbers shown for the “continuing decline”. But of course, the declines from 1960 to today are dominated by Jews leaving the Soviet Union (and to a less extend other Eastern countries) for Israel and the United states until about 2000, and NOT by any current exodus from France or other Western European countries in recent years due to new anti-semitism. More fine grained data would make that much clearer.

      Ariel, as for the number of Jews in Germany and some other countries in 1945, I believe this could include a large number of people in refugee camps, many of them originally from Eastern Europe and just liberated from concentration camps, who were essentially just waiting to move to the US or (future) Israel, with no intention of staying in Europe. Same for many other countries. So that is also not a good year for stable numbers to compare to.

    2. Tom3 years ago

      That’s because most of Germany’s Jews had emigrated by 1939, due to Nazi policies. Emigration was still a real option till the late 1930s when Hitler closed the gates, having decided on an extermination strategy. In 1933 there were 560,000 Jews in Germany, approximately 300K migrated, 200K were slaughtered.

      Most of the current German Jewish population are not descendants of the prewar Jewish population, but people who ended up in Germany after WWII as displaced people, especially from the eastern European countries.

    3. Marcia3 years ago

      In 1939, there were approximately 520, 000 Jews living in Germany.
      In 2014, there are approximately 119,000 so you are way off in your

  23. Denis Vandervelde3 years ago

    Would that Europe’s Jews had only been ‘decimated’ (meaning reduced by 10%). I think the drop recorded by Pergola may be slightly exaggerated as I suspect it fails to take account of those Jews fortunate to get out of Continental Europe to the UK, Australia, Canada and elsewhere, some of whom returned or stayed in Europe, (including the UK) after the war.

    The author seems unaware that Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Finland were all Outside the Soviet Union by 1939. The first three had substantial Jewish minorities, of course – Finland only a few hundred, former Russian military conscripts who chose to remain in their last posting in Finland and mostly married Christian wives.

    1. V Pruszynski3 years ago

      It seems you really have no idea what decimated really means. The 10% thing is a myth. In reality, the Roman soldiers would have a 50/50 shot of being killed by their comrades.

      The problem you should have with this is that Israel is allowed to make a state comprised only of Jews. This is what liberals call racist.

    2. David2 years ago

      Your first line: “Would that Europe’s Jews had only been ‘decimated’ (meaning reduced by 10%). ”

      First of all – grammar.

      Secondly, your post has an oddly cynical tone. I don’t quite know the point of you trying to nitpick about how the amount of human destruction caused by the holocaust should be characterized. Does ‘decimated’ really feel like too strong a word? What if we said that Europe’s Jews were ‘judiciously culled’? Or perhaps ‘selectively winnowed’ sounds a bit more tasteful. Oh yeah, that really does help to soften the bite.

      Third, and most importantly, WHAT are you talking about? I mean factually. It is clearly stated in the article (and in every other reputable source) that the Jewish population in Europe was about 9.5 million before the war and that about 6 million of them were killed. I don’t know what calculator you used, but that comes out to 63.2% of European Jews that were, let’s say culled, not 10. That’s quite a lot to be off by.