Frankfurt am Main 1936 to 1946

Jewish Life in Frankfurt1             Close Window

Frankfurt on the Main, city in West Germany. During the-12th century Frankfurt had an organized and flourishing community, though numerically small. In 1241 the Jewish houses were demolished by the populace and over three-quarters of the approximately 200 Jews of Frankfurt were massacred, apparently originating in a dispute over the forced conversion of a Jew. The city was ultimately granted a royal pardon. The safety of the Frankfurt Jews was guaranteed and heavy penalties were ordered against Jew-baiters. By around 1270 Frankfurt had again become a busy center of Jewish life. The Medieval community had a central synagogue ("Altschul"), a cemetery, a bathhouse, hospitals for local Jews and migrants, a "dance house" for weddings and other social events, and educational and welfare institutions. However, the surge of bloodthirsty hatred aroused by the black death engulfed them along with almost all the other communities in Europe. In 1349, shortly after Emperor Charles IV had transferred his "Jewish Rights" to the city against a substantial consideration, the Community was completely wiped out, many of its members setting fire to their own homes rather than meet death by the mob. In 1360 Frankfurt reopened its gates to Jews.

In 1462 the Jews of Frankfurt were transferred to a specially constructed street (Judengasse), enclosed within walls and gates; this measure was put into effect only after repeated demands by the Emperor and the church authorities, including the Pope himself. The communal organization became stronger and more diversified. Religious and lay leaders were elected by the Jewish taxpayers, and a continual flow of Takkanot laid the basis for powerful and jealously guarded local traditions in all spheres of religious, social and economic life. Conditions were favorable to commercial enterprise, and by means of heavy financial contributions and skillful diplomacy the Frankfurt Jews managed to safeguard their privileges. It had become a center of Jewish learning, and students from far away flocked to the Yeshivot of Eliezer Treves and Akiva B. Jacob Frankfurter. The Frankfurt Rabbinate and Rabbinical Court had become one o-f the foremost religious authorities in Germany. However, economic and social antagonisms had long been simmering between the wealthy patrician families of the city and the guild craftsmen and petty traders, many of whom were in debt to Jews. The struggle flared into open rebellion when in 1614 the rabble, led by Vincent Fettmilch, stormed the ghetto and gave vent to their anger by plundering the Jewish houses. The Jews were all expelled from the city, but the Emperor outlawed the rebels, and their leaders were arrested and put to death (1616). Subsequently the Jews were ceremoniously returned to the Ghetto, an event annually commemorated on Adar 20th by the Frankfurt community as the "Purim Winz" ("Purim of Vincent").

The community did not grow numerically during the 17th century owing to the unhealthy conditions of their overpopulated quarter and the excessive taxes imposed upon them during the Thirty Years war. In addition, the terms of residence were designed to keep their number stationary, allowing a maximum of 500 families and 12 marriage licenses annually.

In 1711 almost the entire Jewish Quarter was destroyed by a fire which broke out in the house cf the chief Rabbi, Naphtali B. Isaac Katz. The inhabitants found refuge in gentile homes, but had to return to the Ghetto after it had been rebuilt. The impoverished majority challenged the traditional privileges of the wealthy oligarchy, and the City Council repeatedly acted as arbitrator between the rival parties. Controversies on religious and personal matters such as the Eybescheutz-Emden dispute further weakened unity in the community. The movement of the reformation of Jewish education fostered by the circle of Moses Mendelssohn in Berlin found many sympathizers in Frankfurt, especially among the well-to-do class who welcomed it as a step toward emancipation. When in 1797 a project was advocated for a school with an extensive program of secular studies, the chief Rabbi, Phineas Horowitz, pronounced a ban on it. He was supported by most of the communal leaders, though many had their children taught non-Jewish subjects privately. Meanwhile the French revolutionary wars had made their first liberating impact on Frankfurt Jewry. In 1796 a bombardment destroyed the greater part of the Ghetto, and in 1793 the prohibition on leaving the ghetto on Sundays and holidays was abolished.

In 1811 the Ghetto was finally abolished, and a declaration of equal rights for all citizens expressly included the Jews, a capital payment of 44,000 florins having been made by the community. Meanwhile the religious rift in the community had widened considerably. In the face of increasing pressure for social and educational reforms, a school was founded, the Philanthropin, with a markedly secular and assimilationist program. This institution became a major center for reform in Judaism. In 1819 the Orthodox Cheder institutions were closed by the police, and the Board prevented the establishment of a school for both religious and general studies. In 1843 the number of Orthodox families was estimated to account for less than 10% of the community. In 1844, a conference of Rabbis sympathizing with Reform was held in Frankfurt. A leading member of the group was Abraham Geiger, a native of Frankfurt, and Communal Rabbi from 1863 to 1870. The revolutionary movement of 1848 hastened the emancipation of the Frankfurt Jews, which was finally achieved in 1864. The autocratic regime of the Community Board weakened considerably. A small group of Orthodox members then seized the opportunity to form a religious association within the community, The Israeli-tische Religionsgesellschaft, and elected Samson Raphael Hirsch as their Rabbi in 1851. The Jewish population of Frankfurt numbered 3,298 in 1817 (7.9% of the total), 10,009 in 1871 (11%), 21,972 in 1900 (7,5%), and 29,385 in 1925 (6.3%).

The comparative wealth of the Frankfurt Jews is shown by the fact that, in 1900, 5,946 Jewish citizens paid 2,540,812 marks in taxes, while 34,900 non-Jews paid 3,611,815 marks. The Jew Leopold Sonnenmann was the founder of The Liberal Daily Frankfurter Zeitung, and the establishment of the Frankfurt University (1912) was also largely financed by Jews. Jewish communal institutions and organizations included two hospitals, three schools, a Yeshivah, religious classes for pupils attending city schools, an orphanage, a home for the aged, many welfare institutions, and two cemeteries. In 1920 Franz Rosenzweig set up an institute for Jewish studies, where Martin Buber, then professor at the Frankfurt University, gave popular lectures.

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 reacted by expanding existing services, establishing new agencies for economic aid, reemploy-aent, 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 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 Juedische Gemeinde. In 1939 this autonomous community was forcibly merged into the State-supervised Reischvereinigung. Jewish leaders were compelled to enter into Juden-vertraege, 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.

After the war, a new community was organized, consisting of those who had outlived the war in Frankfurt, survivors from concentrations camps, and displaced persons. One of the large synagogues was rebuilt, and by 1970 five prayers rooms were also in use. The first postwar Jewish elementary school in Germany was opened there in 1965, and a communal periodical, Frankfurter Juedisches Gemeinde-blatt, commenced publication in March 1968. The Frankfurt Municipal Library contains the largest collection of Judaica in Germany (about 25,000 volumes and 325 mss.)' The ancient Memorbuch of the community was presented to the Jewish National Library in Jerusalem in 1965.

1These two pages without any further bibliographical information, including the name of the author, were found in the book by Rachel Heuberger and Helda Krohn, Hinaus Aus Dem Ghetto, Juden in Frankfurt am Main 1800 - 1950.


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