Frankfurt am Main 1936 to 1946

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Golden Opportunity

The Nazi simply escalated to its ultimate horror a continuum. Anti-Semitism was deeply rooted in Germany's history, and certainly in the history of Frankfurt, "the city of Goethe, Rothschild, and Anne Frank." As Amos Elon wrote in his The Pity of It All, "In the eighteenth century, Frankfurt was perhaps the most oppressive place for Jews in Western Europe. Only Rome and the Papal States treated Jews as harshly." Community relations between Gentiles and Jews in Frankfurt were ambivalent. There were plenty of examples of hostility; yet between 1924 and 1933 Frankfurt's mayor, Ludwig Landmann, was Jewish. Yet, as Christopher Browning, points out for Jews in the East, Germany was "a golden opportunity":

In comparison with western Europe, one might conclude that Germany's right was more anti-Semitic, its center weaker, its left stronger, its liberalism more anemic, and its political culture more authoritarian. Its Jews were also more prominent. This prominent (to be sure, in those areas of life not dominated by the old elites, such as the professions and business, as opposed to the officer corps and civil service), the deep attachment of German Jews to German culture, and a relatively high rate of intermarriage indicate a German milieu in which Jews did not face universal hostility, but in fact thrived. Anti-Semitism may have been strong in influential pockets, especially in comparison to the west, but it was not so pervasive or strident as in territories to the east, from which beleaguered east European Jews looked to Germany as a land of golden opportunity. (p. 7)


That "golden opportunity" held true for the Jews of Frankfurt, according to Eugen Mayer:

No analogy can however be found for the almost "explosive" rise of the Jews of Frankfurt after the beginning of the 19th century. In all areas of the economic, social and cultural life of the city, as well in its development into a center of international trade and in the world of finances, they had in comparison to their share in the general population, a far exceeding proportion. Wherever one opens the annals of the city, from the founding of the Senckenberg Society for Nature Research in 1817 to the foundation of the Frankfurt University in 1914, if only to refer to these two, the public spirit of the Jews was evident everywhere. [But] History goes its own way. At the end of this glorious era of achievement we come to the terrible tragedy of the Holocaust.

But then of course all changed, the Nazis called Frankfurt "a deprived Jewish metropolis, dominated by the needs of world Jewry." 

Nazi action against the Jews began on April 1, 1933, with a boycott of Jewish businesses, followed on April 7 by the dismissal of Jewish white-collar workers, university teachers, actors, and musicians. The Jewish community [in Frankfurt and of course other cities] reacted by expanding existing services, establishing new agencies for economic aid, reemployment, occupational training, schooling, adult education, and emigration. All institutions were under strict surveillance by the Gestapo.

On November 10-11, 1938, the Big Synagogues of the two Jewish communities [i.e. East and West Ends of Frankfurt] were burned down. Community buildings, Jewish homes, and stores were stormed and looted by the S.A., the S.S., and mobs they had incited. Hundreds of Jewish men were arrested and sent to Buchenwald and Dachau concentration camps, Members of the Orthodox Religionsgesellschaft were compelled to combine with the general community to form a single community organization with the Nazis named Jüdische Gemeinde. 

In 1939 this autonomous community was forcibly merged into the State-supervised Reischvereinigung. Jewish leaders were compelled to enter into Juden-Vertrage, transferring communal property to Municipal ownership. The Frankfurt community decreased by emigration from 25,158 in 1933, to 10,803 in June 1941. Deportations to Lodz began on October 19, 1941, and were followed by deportations to Minsk, Riga, Theresienstadt, and other camps, In September 1943, after large-scale deportations stopped, the Jewish population in Frankfurt totaled 602, including half-Jews.

[This excerpt is from a fuller recounting of Jewish life in Frankfurt.]. Sometimes the detail is more graphic than the synoptic. For example the story of the Philanthropin, the most prominent and perhaps the largest schools of the Jewish community in Germany, that having existed for 138 years in 1942 was declared to no longer exist. 

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