General information: First Jewish presence: 9th century; peak Jewish population: 831 in 1933
Summary: Although records mention a temporary Jewish presence in Erfurt during the 9th century, the famous medieval community did not take shape until the second half of the 12th century. This community maintained two synagogues, a yeshiva and a mikveh, the last of which has recently attracted much scholarly attention. The massacre of 1223 was later commemorated by a fast day, as recorded in the memorial book of the Mainz Jewish community. The city, twice chosen as the venue for regional rabbinical synods, produced shofars for the whole of Germany. The Black Death pogroms of 1348/49 decimated the large community (976 members), and although the survivors attempted to reestablish themselves soon afterwards, their descendants were expelled in 1453/54. It was not until 1768 that Jews were allowed to live or trade in the city again. The modern community was founded in the early 19th century, soon after which it consecrated a cemetery; religious services were conducted in a private residence. In 1823, the community built a synagogue—it also housed a mikveh—but by the end of the 1830s the congregation’s increasing wealth and growing membership necessitated the construction of a new structure. Accordingly, a modern synagogue was inaugurated with much fanfare in 1840 and consecrated by Rabbi Dr. Phillipson of Magdeburg. When this synagogue, too, was deemed insufficient for the swelling congregation of 450 members, the community built (in 1884) the Great Synagogue, consecrated by Rabbi Dr. Kroner and Rabbi Dr. Karo. The presence of an organ and the proposed inclusion of women in the choir, however, forced a number of Orthodox families to secede from the community and establish their own synagogue. Notwithstanding this and other examples of religious disagreements, the community prospered, boasting factory owners, doctors, lawyers, town councilors and several national politicians. Erfurt was also home to a chevra kadisha, women’s charity committees and cultural societies. The Jewish community of 1933 included a number of Polish immigrants. Jewish businesses were boycotted that year, and emigration from Germany began in earnest. The weakened community suffered another blow when, in October of 1938, the Polish Jews were deported to the East. On Pogrom Night, the synagogue was set on fire; Jewish premises were vandalized, and many householders were arrested and assaulted. Erfurt’s remaining 188 Jews were deported in stages during the war. After the war, a new community of 129 members established itself in Erfurt and built a new synagogue. For many years the second-largest Jewish community (after Berlin) in the German Democratic Republic, it numbered only 30 members by 1988. The reunification of Germany, however, generated much interest in the medieval synagogue, mikveh and surviving religious artifacts and Hebrew manuscripts.
Photo: For the holiday of Shavuot, the synagogue of Erfurt was decorated in the traditional style with plants and flowers. Courtesy of: City Archive of Erfurt.
Photo 2: The synagogue of Erfurt. Courtesy of: City Archive of Erfurt.
Photo 3: Curious onlookers in front of the ruins of the synagogue of Erfurt shortly after it was burned on Pogrom Night, 1938. Courtesy of: City Archive Erfurt
Author / Sources: Harold Slutzkin
Sources: AJ, EJ, EJL
Located in: thuringia