Fotoeins Fotografie

questions of place & home

Posts from the ‘Jewish-German History’ category

Past and present histories of Jewish communities and culture in Germany

Juedischer Friedhof, Heiliger Sand, Jewish Cemetery, Holy Sand, Worms, Rheinland-Pfalz, Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany, fotoeins.com

Worms’ Holy Sand: The Rabbi and the Patron

From Worms to Rothenburg, and back to Worms

Located near the entrance to Worms’ old Jewish cemetery are gravestones of two important figures in medieval Jewish-German history. The cemetery is also called “Holy Sand”1, and is one of many places of interest in the medieval ShUM league of Jewish cities. The gravestones for Rabbi Meir ben Baruch (centre) and Alexander ben Salomo (right) are shown in the picture below.

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ShUM, SchUM, medieval Jewish cities, Speyer, Shpira, Worms, Warmaisa, Mainz, Magenza, Germany, Ashkenaz, Rheinland-Pfalz, Rhineland-Palatinate, fotoeins.com

Jewish ShUM on the Rhine: Speyer, Worms, Mainz

When threats of destruction to property and life follow and linger over a group of people through no fault of their own over centuries, there’s something to be said about an eternal need to keep a watchful eye. Words like Verfolgung, Vernichtung, and Vertreibung1 have been etched into memory. I have all this in mind as I explore Jewish history in Germany as part of my need to answer the following question:

How did a nation of people which fostered composers Bach, Beethoven, Handel, Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, Strauss; and writers Goethe, the Brothers Grimm, Heine, Hesse, Heinrich and Thomas Mann, and Schiller sink to the worst depths of human atrocity and depravity in the first half of the 20th-century?

It’s easy to forget Jewish people have lived in what is now Italy and southern Europe since the middle of the 2nd-century BCE and inhabited southern Germany from the late 10th-century AD/CE2. During the High Middle Ages, three important bishopric (and cathedral) cities of Speyer, Worms, and Mainz along the Rhine river formed an important league or federation of Jewish communities (Kehillot) from the end of the 10-century to about the mid-to-late 14th-century. The word שו”ם or ShUM (SchUM in German)4 is an acronym consisting of the first letters of the Hebrew names for the three cities:

•   Shin (ש), Sh for Shpira (שפירא) → present-day Speyer;
•   Waw or Vav (ו), U for Warmaisa (וורמש) → present-day Worms;
•   Mem (ם), M for Magenza (מגנצא) → present-day Mainz.

The ShUM cities became centres for learning, training, religion, culture, and trade within medieval Germany (Ashkenaz3) and throughout Europe. Today, the three ShUM cities establish key destinations for historical travel, provide rich examples for continuing research on medieval Jewish life, and add up to a comprehensive project in recognizing an important chapter of the history of Jews in Germany.

Germany has presently over 40 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, but none of them relate to the long-standing Jewish history in the country. The German federal state of Rheinland-Pfalz (Rhineland-Palatinate) submitted the ShUM cities for national consideration in the summer of 2012. Having passed the rigours of internal ranking among other worthy candidates within the national committee, the application entered the UNESCO’s tentative lists for World Heritage Sites in 2015. In 2020, the German Foreign Ministry will submit to UNESCO all documentation relating to the nomination, says Susanne Urban, Managing Director of the ShUM-Cities Association. Urban adds that a final decision by UNESCO regarding the ShUM cities as a new World Heritage Site is not expected until 2021.

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Römerberg, Frankfurt am Main, Germany, fotoeins.com

Fotoeins Friday: Heine’s warning about book burning (Frankfurt)

Most visitors to Frankfurt am Main will stop at the historic Römerberg square for pictures of the surrounding buildings with bank towers in the background. But a glance down onto the cobblestones near the Gerechtigkeitsbrunnen (Fountain of Justice) reveals a writer’s stern warning. In the tragedy “Almansor“, the German-Jewish writer Heinrich Heine warned readers about the dangers of burning books:

Das war ein Vorspiel nur. Dort wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man auch am Ende Menschen.
– Heinrich Heine, “Almansor” (1820-1821)

Heine wrote how burning books is a dangerous omen: “where books are burned, people aren’t far behind.” A little over 100 years later, this prescient line played out as the Nazis took over and targeted in particular Jews. On 10 May 1933 in Frankfurt and in other cities across the country in plans orchestrated by the Propaganda Ministry, tens of thousands including university students loyal to the Nazis gathered to burn books by writers who were Jewish or who were deemed ‘unpatriotic’ or ‘un-German’ to the Nazi ideal. Books by Bertolt Brecht, Sigmund Freud, Heinrich Heine, Erich Kästner, and Heinrich Mann among others were thrown into the fire. The Gedenkplatte (or Gedenktafel) Bücherverbrennung is a memorial and modern reminder for constant vigilance against the dangerous reasons for book burning and the consequences beyond.

Gedenkplatte Bücherverbrennung, Römerberg, Frankfurt am Main, Germany, fotoeins.com

Gedenkplatte Bücherverbrennung: memorial plaque to 1933 book burning

I made the photos above on 9 May 2015. This post appears on Fotoeins Fotopress at fotoeins.com as http://wp.me/p1BIdT-79O.

Judengasse Brunnen Ecke Klingengasse, D-5-71-193-319, Bayerisches Baudenkmal, Bavarian Cultural Heritage Monument, Jüdisches Wohnviertel, Jewish quarter, Judengasse, Altstadt, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany, fotoeins.com

Rothenburg ob der Tauber: Jewish history since 1180

After their visit, most will depart Rothenburg ob der Tauber with memories of a romantic medieval town that seems almost frozen in time.

But a careful measured walk also produces a deeper examination of the town’s history with clear signs to an historical and centuries-old presence of Jews. A Jewish settlement goes back to at least 1180 AD/CE in written records with the appearance of the name of Samuel Biscopf, a Jew from Rothenburg ob der Tauber (“erste Erwähnung eines Rotenburger Juden”: [ℵ1], p. 136; [ℵ2], pp. 133-135).

The centuries are marked with a growing thriving Jewish community, persecution, violent death, explusion, and a return to life.

Summary Timeline:

•   1180 AD/CE, first mention of Jewish community in Rothenburg; 1st Jewish quarter and synagogue at present-day Kapellenplatz.
•   1250-1286, Rabbi Meir ben Baruch, teaching life and times in Rothenburg.
•   1298, Rintfleisch-Pogrom: 450 Jews killed in Rothenburg; total 5000 Jews dead in Franconia.
•   1339, some of the first set of graves buried at the Jewish Cemetery, at present-day Schrannenplatz
•   1349, Pogrom and persecution, Jews accused of poisoning wells with corpses due to the Black Death.
•   1370, Establishment of 2nd Jewish quarter, around Judengasse.
•   1404, 1st Synagogue converted to St. Mary’s Chapel.
•   1407, 2nd Synagogue constructed close to burial ground, at present-day Schrannenplatz.
•   1520, Theologian Johann Teuschlein incites anti-Jewish hysteria, forcing expulsion of all Jews from Rothenburg. No Jews allowed in the city for next 350 years; 2nd Synagogue and Jewish cemetery destroyed.
•   1861, all Jews allowed to settle anywhere in Bavaria.
•   1870-1875, Jews begin returning to the city.
•   1872, Equality granted among Jews and Christians, after the 1871 constitution of the new German Empire.
•   1888, Prayer hall (“3rd synagogue”) at present-day Herrngasse 21.
•   1875, 2nd Jewish cemetery at Würzburger Strasse and Wiesenstrasse.
•   1938, Rothenburg declared “free of Jews” on 22 October, as last remaining 17 Jews driven out, two and a half weeks before the Reichspogromnacht.
•   1942, 2nd cemetery desecrated and destroyed. Few, if any, descendants of early 20th-century community remain or known to be alive.

The word “pogrom” is a late 19th- to early 20th-century Russian word (“погром”), derived from the verb “gromit” (громи́ть) meaning “to destroy with violence.” While “pogrom” is used generally to describe mob violence by one ethnic or religious group on another, the term is used in this post to describe attacks on the Jewish community.


The following map shows a recommended 1.6 km (1 mi) self-guided walk with labeled stops and corresponding descriptions and photographs below. The walk begins and ends at Marktplatz near the Tourist Information centre. Click on the “arrow-window” icon at the upper-left corner of the map below for additional details.




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Berlin Grunewald: no train will ever leave track 17

Present in the vicinity of a train station are very distinct and familiar sounds: the racket of heavy locomotives chugging down the rail and the screech of high-friction braking. A breeze sweeps through two columns of trees, creating a low keening sound which escapes into the open space beyond. To stop and listen, the sounds could easily be human: faint shouts and cries. Are they tricks of the mind, or are the dead speaking? The spectre of cruelty, despair, and suffering clings to the abandoned track; seven decades in the past don’t seem very far.

On a cool grey late-autumn afternoon, I’m on an S-Bahn train heading towards Potsdam. Beyond the limits of the “Stadtbahn” and one stop beyond the “Ring” at Westkreuz, the train pulls into the former goods and freight station at Grunewald. Dropping into the underground passage, signage points to the memorial at track 17. I leave the station by the southeast exit, and turn left to ascend the ramp along the side street.

In the Berlin borough of Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf, Grunewald station lies on the S7 S-Bahn line serving central Berlin city, the city of Potsdam to the southwest, and Ahrensfelde to the northeast in the Berlin borough of Marzahn-Hellersdorf. Grunewald station began operation in 1879 under its original name Hundekehle named after a nature reserve nearby. The station changed its name to “Grunewald” in 1884 when the old Grunewald station began its new life as “Halensee” station. Grunewald station and its tracks were incorporated into Berlin’s S-Bahn train network in 1928.

Many companies including the Deutsche Reichsbahn (German Imperial Rail) were actively complicit in the machinery of mass murder during Nazi rule. After reunification of East and West Germany in 1990, the two separate railways also merged to form Deutsche Bahn in 1994, and calls arose for the new company to acknowledge its dark past. To mark the Reichbahn’s collaboration in deporting people to camps and their deaths, present-day Deutsche Bahn AG established a memorial at track 17. Inaugurated in 1998 the memorial was designed and built by architects Hirsch, Lorch, and Wandel who were very mindful of the 1991 Karol Broniatowski memorial near the station’s entrance.

Along track 17, metal plates have been inserted, one for every transport train which took Berlin’s Jews to their deaths. Each plate includes the transport date, the number of people deported, and the transport’s destination. The first train of record departed Grunewald on 1941 October 18 when 1251 Jews were deported to Łódź. Another plate marks the last train of record (so far) leaving Grunewald on 1945 March 27 when 18 Jews were deported to Theresienstadt; blank plates leave room for additional commemorations with new uncovered information. More than 50-thousand Jews from Berlin were deported from this station alone. The first set of trains went to concentration-camps in eastern Europe, but by the end of 1942, trains were directed to Auschwitz and Theriesenstadt.

The vegetation that’s been left to grow around the track over the years is a visible symbol and an unspoken promise to all: that no train will leave track 17 ever again.

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