Frankfurt am Main 1936 to 1946

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Jewish Divide


Frankfurt has historically been, and still is, the financial capital of Europe. [Indeed, natives today often call it "Mainhattan."] And in a prosperous town, my family lived in one of its best areas: The West End of Frankfurt, with wide boulevards, narrow winding streets, two to three story apartment houses each floor an apartment, and hard by the glorious Palmengarten. The poorer Jews of Frankfurt lived largely in its East End, by the Main River where the Judengasse, the Jewish section was (and now marked by the presence of the Jewish Museum). The geographical divide among Frankfurt's Jews was not only economic but religious, for the orthodox Jews dominantly lived in the East End and the reform Jews (and I'd guess) the non-observing Jews lived in the West End. My father may have been reform but likely, especially since he married a Christian woman, non-observing. 

Defenses Crumble

My father was a textile broker and likely had his own business. Indeed, almost 60 percent of Frankfurt's Jews worked as "independents" and most of them in the textile business, including my father. Obviously, by where we lived and the style of our furnishing (fine oriental rugs and the like) my father did very well. Yet, such bliss was illusory, but like many Jews my parents fell back on seemingly reasonable rationalizations on why they would be protected: My father had fought for the Kaiser in World War I and been wounded, limping the rest of his life; he was prosperous, popular, and active in the local business community, Hitler would not last. And, most importantly, he was married to a Christian woman. I don't know when these defenses crumbled, and my father resolved to leave; but in 1940 my father and my sister, then almost nine, left Germany for Genoa where they sailed for the United States.  

Terrible Pressures

Surely, my father despite the seeming protection of a Christian wife was facing terrible pressures in his business and in his professional life. The Nazis issued some 400 anti-Jewish decrees between 1933 and 1939. In 1937, the Nazi intensified their pressure to "Aryanize" businesses, forcing the sale at steeply discounted cost of "Jewish" businesses. After the programs of Kristallnacht in November 1938, all Jewish activities in the German economy were banned; licenses were taken away from salesmen and agents. "It was the declared goal of the Nazi government to force Jews to leave Germany, albeit at heavy cost." 

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