Frankfurt am Main - Introduction

General information: First Jewish presence: 11th-12th centuries; peak Jewish population: 29,658 in 1925; Jewish population in 1933: 26,158
Summary: The Middle Ages: Beginnings (11th to 15th centuries)
What was later to become one of the largest and most notable European Jewish communities and centers of learning began, in the 11th-12th centuries, with a trickle of Jews from Worms, most of whom did not settle in the city. Once the community became established, however, during the 13th century, it grew to approximately 200 members. Members of this early community were mainly moneylenders, silk and textile traders and importers of precious stones and metals. As elsewhere in Europe, the fortunes of the Frankfurt Jewish community waxed and waned; periods of persecution were interspersed with interventions by city authorities who recognized the Jews’ role in strengthening the local economy. In 1241, more than three-quarters of the city’s 200 Jews were massacred over the issue of forcible conversions to Christianity. Yet in 1265, just two decades later, an agreement was signed, making the townspeople responsible for Jewish lives and property. This prompted a revival of the Jewish community, as Jewish moneylenders proved a valuable source of tax revenue for the local authorities. Jewish communal institutions included hospitals, a social center, a synagogue and two Jewish educational institutions. With the outbreak of the Black Plague in the mid-14th century, Frankfurt’s Jews were massacred once again by an angry mob (1349). But in 1360, under Emperor Charles IV, Jews were encouraged to resettle in Frankfurt, receiving imperial as well as municipal protection. From 1424 until 1616, a set of regulations (known as a Schutzbrief, or “letter of protection”) governing the right of Jews to reside in Frankfurt (for which they had to pay levies) were enforced. Although the periodic imposition of new taxes weighed heavily on the city’s Jews, causing many to leave, others came to Frankfurt to escape persecution elsewhere in Germany.

The Judengasse (15th to 18th centuries)
The year 1462 saw the establishment of a Jewish quarter, called the Judengasse (or “Jews’ Alley”), which would exist for 350 years. Surrounded by a wall with three gates, it consisted of a single narrow street flanked by two rows of tightly packed houses. As it could not be expanded, this ghetto became more and more crowded with the passage of time, and living conditions became increasingly unbearable. It was during this period, too, that local Jews were deprived of their citizenship. Nevertheless, the next two centuries witnessed a remarkable growth in the Judengasse’s population (“the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied” – Ex. 1:12). By 1610, the Jewish population had nearly reached 3,000 (from an original population of 110). The pendulum of Jewish fortunes swung once again in 1614, when Vincent Fettmilch, an anti-Semitic guild master who had gained control of the city, launched a violent attack on the ghetto and expelled 1,390 Jews. Two years later, Fettmilch was arrested and executed for this crime, and Emperor Matthias brought the Jews back into Frankfurt accompanied by a military band. The city even paid damages, and the Jews were assured “perpetual residence rights” with certain conditions attached: no marriages under age 25, and only 12 marriages per year. The Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) triggered a steep decline in population numbers: from 409 Jewish families in 1624 to 285 in 1639. This trend was reversed after the war ended, and by 1709 the population had grown to 505 families. In 1711, and again in 1721, fires ravaged numerous buildings in the Jewish quarter, but each time the homes and businesses were quickly rebuilt. The advent of Jewish emancipation in the second half of the 18th century gradually ended the ghetto existence of Frankfurt’s Jews; and the restoration of their full citizenship in 1811 enabled them to live anywhere in the city. In 1874, the Judengasse was finally demolished, 10 years after which, in 1884, it was renamed Boernestrasse (and Boerneplatz) after Carl Ludwig Boerne (1786-1837), who had dedicated his life to advocating equality for Jews.

Impact of the Emancipation (18th to 20th centuries)
In 1742, Emperor Charles VII lifted several of the restrictions on the community—such as the requirement to wear a “Jewish badge”—a trend that developed further in 1806, when Frankfurt was incorporated into the Napoleonic Confederation of the Rhine. Thus, in 1808, 447 Jewish families acquired citizenship; and in 1811 the restrictions on the ghetto were abolished and the Jews of Frankfurt, who then numbered 3,117 (7% of the total population), received equal rights. In 1848, the emancipation movement was further cemented when the Frankfurt parliament implemented a list of “Basic Rights,” stipulating that civil rights were not conditional on religious faith. However, this move, hailed at the time by such liberal Jewish leaders as Abraham Geiger and others as a singularly positive achievement, was decried by the more traditional segment of the community—led by Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888)—as a distinctly dangerous threat to the spiritual (and ultimately physical) survival of the Jewish community. This difference of opinion gave birth, in the mid-19th century, to the separatist religious community, the Israelitische Religionsgesellschaft (IRG). From 1851 until his death in 1888, Rabbi Hirsch headed the IRG and established it as a synagogue community, the Kehal Adass Jeshurun. Offering regular services, Sabbath sermons in German and a trained male choir, the synagogue community had, by 1860, a membership of 250 families who still belonged to the main community. As the leading representative of neo-Orthodoxy in the 19th century, Rabbi Hirsch devoted his life to the revival of Orthodox Judaism through a synthesis of Torah learning and secular studies (Torah im Derech Eretz), the same doctrine that was to inform the curriculum of the school that bore his name. After his death in 1888, Rabbi Hirsch was succeeded as spiritual leader of the IRG by his son-in-law, Salomon Breuer (1850-1926). Between 1858 and 1867, the Jewish population of Frankfurt grew, mainly as a result of an influx of Jews from rural Hesse: from 5,730 (9% of the total population) to 8,238 (over 10%), to 11,887 (12%) in 1875 and to 26,228 (6%) in 1910. New arrivals from Eastern Europe also contributed to this marked increase in the Jewish population. The passage, in 1876, of the Law of Secession—it was championed by Rabbi Hirsch and supported by Edward Lasker, representing Frankfurt in the local parliament- enabled Jews to leave their community on religious grounds and to establish or join another community. Hirsch and his adherents then seceded from the main community, officially establishing themselves as a secessionist community (Austrittsgemeinde). The new community’s majestic new synagogue, dedicated in 1907, had 1,600 seats and was the largest in Frankfurt. Many of the traditionalists, however, preferred to reach a compromise with the liberal majority, providing for separate Orthodox membership, facilities and rabbinical authority. The main community thus came to be known as the United Community (Einheitsgemeinde), in which Liberal and Orthodox coexisted. The era of the Emancipation had both positive and negative consequences for the Jewish community in Frankfurt. On the one hand, it released the Jews, to a large extent, from the onerous social and economic restrictions that had weighed so heavily on them up to that point. On the other hand, as already noted, it triggered a serious rift in the community, one that never fully healed. It was at this time that Mayer Amschel Rothschild (1744- 1812) launched what was to become one of the leading banking dynasties in Europe; his sons later ran commercial branches of the bank in Vienna, London, Naples and Paris. In 1824, the Frankfurt Senate granted Jewish residents a form of citizenship that excluded them from public office but allowed them to practice law. The removal of Jewish restrictions was accelerated in 1835, when Frankfurt joined the German Customs Union, which boosted the city’s commercial importance. Many Jews participated in the struggle for political reform and for a constitution that would guarantee their civil liberties. The Jews’ social and spiritual life flourished during this period as never before. In 1847, the community, then numbering 4,737 members (8%), maintained seven synagogues, 12 prayer quorums and various welfare organizations. Earlier (in 1834), the Jewish reformers had won a sweeping victory in communal elections, and in 1842 Theodor Craizenach and others denounced circumcision, religious dietary laws and anything else that threatened to keep Jews and Gentiles apart. An enactment by the Senate in 1849 recognized the Jews as equal citizens; however, with the collapse of the 1848 revolution and the ascendancy of reactionary elements in Germany and Austria, this enactment was repealed. In 1853, with the Liberals returning to power in new elections, the pendulum swung back yet again as Jewish rights were partially restored. Finally, in 1864, a new law granted Jews equal rights. Jews played a prominent role in the economic and political life of the city. Leopold Sonnemann (1831-1909), owner and editor of the Frankfurter Zeitung from 1866, served as Chairman of the City Council for nearly 20 years and, from 1871, as a member of the Reichstag (National Parliament); several other Frankfurt Jews attained that honor between 1867 and 1890, an achievement unmatched by any other German city. Campaigners for women’s rights in Germany included Frankfurt Jews such as Henrietta Fuerth, a leading Social Democrat, and Bertha Pappenheim, co-founder of the League of Jewish Women. Jews also made a major contribution to the city’s cultural and scientific progress. Frankfurt’s public library was endowed by the Rothschild family, and Charles Hellgarten (1838-1908) donated hundreds of volumes. Jews were involved in the founding of Frankfurt University in 1914, supporting the study of modern languages, history, law and economics. Jacob Schiff, the Frankfurt-born American philanthropist, helped fund a chair in Semitic Philosophy; Berthold Freudenthal was the university’s first rector and dean of the law faculty; Paul Ehrlich (1854-1918), the Nobel Prize laureate in 1908, headed an institute of chemotherapy bearing his name. Many other prominent Jewish scholars taught at the university up until the Nazi era. At its peak, in 1925, the Jewish community of Frankfurt numbered 29,658 – over 5% of the city’s total population. The two main schools in Frankfurt were the Philanthropin (established in 1804), which introduced secular education (taught alongside Jewish studies) as well as other social and educational reforms; and the Samson Raphael Hirsch School, founded by the secessionist IRG, which was strongly opposed to these reforms (although its curriculum, too, included secular subjects). The community was home to four large synagogues and a number of smaller ones and prayer quorums. The four main synagogues were:
1. The main community synagogue on the Boernestrasse (Liberal, dedicated in 1860)
2. The Boerneplatz Synagogue (Orthodox, dedicated in 1882)
3. The Kehal Adass Jeshurun in the Friedberger Anlage (Orthodox, dedicated in 1907)
4. The West End Synagogue on Freiherr-vom-Stein Strasse (Liberal, dedicated in 1910). This synagogue was re- dedicated in 1950 as the only major synagogue in Frankfurt to have survived Pogrom Night.

The Nazi Era (1933-1945)
The economic crisis of 1929 triggered a sharp increase in anti- Semitic propaganda in Germany. In the Reichstag elections of July 1932, the local Nazi vote soared from under 5% (May 1928) to almost 39%. A few months later (in September of 1932), the Zionist Organization held its 24th convention in Frankfurt in the shadow of the Nazi menace. On March 12, 1933, six weeks after Hitler came to power, Ludwig Landmann was forced to resign as mayor of Frankfurt, after which a Nazi was appointed to the post. Leading opponents of the regime, among them many Jews, were arrested and sent to concentration camps. “Non-Aryan” officials and university professors were dismissed, and an economic boycott was launched against Jewish-owned factories, shops and kiosks, theaters and cinemas, as well as against Jewish lawyers, physicians, artists, writers and journalists. Jewish teachers and judges were fired, and by October, one-third of Frankfurt University’s teaching staff had been dismissed. An aggressive campaign by a local Nazi business association resulted in the closure of over 500 Jewish firms during 1933/34, the expulsion of Jews from the cattle trade in 1935, rampant unemployment and a massive flight from the capital. All reminders of Jewish contributions to the city were systematically eliminated: in the course of 1935 and 1936, every street or square bearing a Jewish designation was renamed. With Nazi persecution intensifying, the liberal Jews agreed to a power-sharing arrangement with the Zionists. Although cooperation with the IRG leadership was harder to achieve, a law banning ritual slaughter (shechitah) resulted in a joint effort to import kosher meat and poultry until this, too, was forbidden (1936). Another joint project involved provision of relief for the needy. By 1936/37, the number of Jews drawing welfare benefits had reached 4,765, but in 1939 this enterprise, too, came to an end. Zionism began to attract increasing interest and support. Hebrew classes were organized, training farms (hachsharah) prepared youngsters for work on a kibbutz and Aliyah arrangements were made through the local Palestine Office, which had to work overtime to accommodate the stream of applicants. Pogrom Night in Frankfurt began with Nazi storm troopers looting and setting fire to the Adass Jeshurun Synagogue on the Friedberger Anlage: forty Torah scrolls were destroyed in the blaze. The main community’s three synagogues also went up in flames, and others were vandalized later in the day; the police were ordered not to intervene. Storm troopers also broke into Jewish homes and shops, smashing windows and looting goods. Rioters invaded the communal offices and pillaged the Jewish Museum, but the mayor saw to it that historically valuable archives were rescued. There were mass arrests of Jewish men aged 16-50. Compelled to surrender money and valuables, the 2,621 Jews were paraded before a hostile mob and dispatched to the Buchenwald and Dachau concentration camps. Between April 1939 and March 1940, the number of Jewish emigrants (618 in 1938) rose to 8,500. In May 1939, 14,191 Jews still lived in Frankfurt. The main and secessionist communities were amalgamated, with an Orthodox rabbi and a liberal preacher, and services were held in the Samson Raphael Hirsch School. Jews at this time were forbidden to use public telephones, buy newspapers or visit places of entertainment. Starting in September 1941, all Jews over six years of age were forced to wear a yellow star with the word Jude (Jew) inscribed on it. More than 700 Jews committed suicide. Between October 1941 and January 1944, 9,415 Jews were deported: 6,332 for “resettlement” (mainly in Poland) and 3,083 to the Theresienstadt ghetto. By July 1, 1944, 428 remained in Frankfurt. When U.S. troops entered the city on March 29, 1945, a mere 100 Jews were still alive there. Another 300 came back after having survived the death camps. One of them was Rabbi Leopold Neuhaus, who was to head the post-war Jewish community in Frankfurt, officially re-established in 1948.

The Post-War Revival (1945 –)
From about 400 members in 1945-46, the community grew to over 1,800 in 1949. By 2006, more than 7,000 Jews lived in Frankfurt, the largest Jewish community in Germany after Berlin. The West End Synagogue, which had been renovated and re-dedicated in 1950, continues to serve as the community’s main synagogue. Religious, cultural and Zionist institutions abound in Frankfurt. The Ignaz Bubis Community Center is named after the President of the Jewish community in Germany (he died in 1999). The City Council has preserved the local Jewish cemeteries and erected Shoah memorials: a school and a plaque honor the memory of Anne Frank, who perished in Bergen- Belsen (she was born in Frankfurt); and the ancient Jewish cemetery in Frankfurt’s Old City—with 2,300 tombstones and thousands of fragments—is the oldest in Germany after Worms. Five rows of metal slabs bearing the names of the 11,000 Frankfurt Jews who perished in the Shoah have been affixed to the wall that encompasses this cemetery. There are 12 Jewish cemeteries in the Frankfurt area: three of them belong to the community in Frankfurt; the other 9 serve neighboring Jewish communities. The Jewish Museum, opened in 1988, contains exhibits on the history of the Jewish community in Frankfurt. A research center for Jewish studies is to be established at Frankfurt University. The Bibliographia Judaica Archive (established in 1983) documents the Jewish contribution to the history of German culture from 1750 to the present day. The Fritz Bauer Institute (established in 1995) is the only institution in Germany dedicated exclusively to interdisciplinary research on the history and impact of Nazi crimes against humanity, with particular emphasis on the Shoah. The institute operates as an independent cultural body (affiliated, since 2000, with the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University) and maintains regular contact with scientific research centers, memorial organizations and museums the world over.
Author / Sources: Moshe Aumann
Sources: EJL, GFG, LJG
Located in: hesse