History of the Jewish Community in Frankfurt
From the Middle Ages to the Nazi years, Jewish life flourished in Frankfurt. After 1945 the Jewish Community was quick to establish a far-reaching reputation. Today it forms an integral part of the city community.
The beginnings of Jewish life in Frankfurt am Main date back to the twelfth century, when the first community settled in the area around where the cathedral now stands. But the pogroms of 1241 and 1349 put an end to this period of Jewish life in the city. In 1360 Jewish families returned, when the Jewish Code of Residence (Stättigkeit) once again granted them the right to settle here.
In 1464 the city’s Jews were allocated an area on the edge of the city, where later the Judengasse, or Frankfurt ghetto, emerged. With the exception of the two-year Fettmilch Rising between 1614 and 1616, this was where the city’s Jews remained until emancipation. In 1846, Jews were granted equal rights and gradually relocated to other areas of Frankfurt.
By 1933, the Jewish Community in Frankfurt numbered more than 30,000 members, the majority of them organised in the Israelite community. In 1804 the new Philanthropin schoolhouse was founded, and the Jewish Community in Frankfurt became a centre of religious reform.
In a counter-movement, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch led the formation of the secessionist orthodox community, which banded together to form the Israelite Religious Society in 1848. As well as numerous smaller places of worship, there was the main synagogue in the Jewish Quarter, another at Börneplatz, a third in the Friedberger Anlage, built in 1907 for the secessionist orthodox community, and the liberal Westend Synagogue, built in 1910. The Jewish Community in Frankfurt reflected the open-mindedness of the city.
Numerous members of the Jewish Community took on prominent roles in the cultural and political life of Frankfurt, with many institutions growing from Jewish foundations or established by Jewish citizens, such as the Johann Wolfgang von Goethe University and Frankfurter Zeitung newspaper, predecessor of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Frankfurt has also been home to several famous rabbis of the various religious groups, including Samson Raphael Hirsch, Markus Horovitz, Nehemia Anton Nobel, Ceasar Seligmann and Georg Salzberger.
During the twelve years of Nazi rule, Jewish life in Frankfurt was obliterated. Many members of the community managed to leave Germany in time, but around 12,000 Frankfurt Jews were put to death in the Nazi extermination camps.
Rebirth of the community
On 29 March 1945 the US Army liberated Frankfurt. In July of that year Rabbi Dr Leopold Neuhaus, who had returned from the camp at Theresienstadt, was commissioned by the US military government to establish a Jewish Community. After the Nazi years, only few Jews remained in Frankfurt. Largely Polish Holocaust survivors, they became some of the forefathers of the city’s Jewish Community today. They were initially accommodated in so-called DP (displaced persons) camps, such as the one near Frankfurt, in Zeilsheim.
In January 1947 the Jewish Community in Frankfurt elected its first regular Executive Board. On 1 February 1948 it set out its first post-war statutes, and by 1949 it had become a public body, with around 800 members.
In 1956 the Jewish Community grew even further, when the uprising in Hungary brought in survivors from Hungary and Romania. Further migrants arrived in 1968, after the Prague Spring and anti-Semitic clashes in the former Czechoslovakia and Poland. The community had also welcomed numerous Israelis.
By the mid-1980s the Jewish Community in Germany – including that of Frankfurt – were living with what was known as a ‘packed-luggage’ mindset. The population stagnated at around 35,000 nationally, with 4500 in Frankfurt. After 1989, however, the Jewish population in the Federal Republic of Germany increased more than threefold, when those from the former Soviet Union were permitted to leave the country. Today, Frankfurt’s Jewish Community numbers almost 6500.
In the 1980s several political debates drew public attention to the Jewish Community in Frankfurt. In 1985, for example, the production of a play by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, called ‘Der Müll, die Stadt und der Tod’ (‘Refuse, City and Death’), was the subject of much debate. Further attention was attracted in 1987 by excavations on Börneplatz, and by the Walser-Bubis controversy of 1998.
Frankfurt developed not just into a model of integration but also into a unified community with exemplary status. Its members represent the entire religious spectrum, and since October 2007 the synagogue on Freiherr-vom-Stein-Straße has offered both orthodox and liberal religious services. Frankfurt also runs an Egalitarian Minyan.
Today, the Jewish community in Frankfurt is one of the youngest Jewish communities in Germany. The importance of services for children and young people is reflected, among other things, in the inauguration of a new building for the I. E. Lichtigfeld elementary school in August 2020. The family center in Westend, which opened in June 2021 in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, also illustrates the community's commitment to young families with its wide range of services for pregnancy, birth, baby, toddler, kindergarten, schoolchild and family time.
The pandemic posed a major challenge for the entire community and was managed well together. Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 also required quick and coordinated action. A welcome center for Ukrainian refugees was opened within a few weeks. No other Jewish community in Germany has taken in so many Ukrainians and people from the former USSR as members since the start of the war.
In 2023, the Jewish community of Frankfurt will celebrate the 75th anniversary of its reestablishment with numerous events and celebrations for members of the community and the city society. At the same time, a completely new, forward-looking corporate design is introduced.
MILESTONES OF THE JEWISH COMMUNITY
1945: Rabbi Dr Leopold Neuhaus returns to Frankfurt from the Theresienstadt concentration camp and is commissioned to establish a Jewish Community
1949: Baumweg Synagogue officially opens
1950: The kindergarten in Gagernstraße 36 opens, and the Westend Synagogue is consecrated
1952: The Home for the Elderly opens in Gagernstraße
1955: The first post-war Community Council is elected
1956: The tax office levies municipal taxes for the first time
1955-56: Baumweg Synagogue is extended, with the addition of a Community Centre comprising a hall, youth centre, religious school and mikveh
1964: A second kindergarten opens in Westend
1966: The Jewish Community Elementary School opens in the Westend Synagogue building
1968: The Jewish Community newspaper, Frankfurter Jüdisches Gemeindeblatt, is launched
1968: The Henry and Emma Budge Home opens in Frankfurt-Seckbach under Judeo-Christian management
1969: The community establishes a residential block at Röderbergweg with 60 dwellings for rent
1971: The current Bereschit Kindergarten opens in Röderbergweg
1974: A new Centre for the Elderly opens in Bornheimer Landwehr
1978: The synagogue in the Centre for the Elderly is consecrated
1986: The new Community Centre officially opens. Holger Börner, Minister President of Hesse, and Max Willner, Chairman of the Association of Jewish Communities in Hesse, sign a state treaty ensuring the financial security of the Jewish Community
1988: The Jewish Museum opens in the former Rothschild Palace. The Jewish Adult Education Centre is established
1992: The Museum Judengasse (Ghetto Museum) opens
1993: The Saalburgallee residential complex is constructed and inaugurated
1995: The Fritz Bauer Institute is established
1996: The Börneplatz Memorial is inaugurated
2000: The Community Centre is renamed the Ignatz Bubis Community Centre in memory of Ignatz Bubis
2004: The City of Frankfurt sells the Philanthropin (Elementary School) to the Jewish Community
2006: I. E. Lichtigfeld School opens in the Philanthropin
2008: The new crèche opens in Westend. After a refurbishment, the Centre for the Elderly reopens on Bornheimer Landwehr
2013: A new, luxurious mikveh is inaugurated in the Westend Synagogue
2014: A new wave of anti-semitic threats reaches its peak
2015: The Großmarkthalle Memorial opens in what is now the building of the European Central Bank
2016: Museum Judengasse reopens after an extensive refurbishment
2020: Opening of the new primary school building of the I. E. Lichtigfeld School on the site of the community center in Westend
2020: Opening of the extension to the Jewish Museum with a completely revamped permanent exhibition on Frankfurt's Jewish history and present
2021: Opening of the Family Center in Westend, the first Jewish family education center in Germany
2022: Reception and care of numerous Ukrainian war refugees, opening of a welcome center
2023: Extensive celebrations to mark the 75th anniversary of the refounding of the Jewish community in Frankfurt
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