A Jewish beginnings
In the first quarter of the 13th century, the settlement Frankfurt is founded, probably by Franconian merchants. It gets a town charter in 1253. Even before that, the place was considered a centre of east-west trade.
The first documented mention of Jewish life in the town on the Oder is from 1294 and relates to a dispute between Jewish and Christian butchers, which is amicably solved through an ordinance. We can assume that at this point there is already a large, organised Jewish community in Frankfurt and that even before the town was founded, first Jews settled in Frankfurt and were involved in building the town.
But how did the Jews get to the town on the Oder?
In the year 70 AD, the Romans conquer insurgent Jerusalem and destroy the temple. After further insurrections the Jews are banished from Palestine and there arises a strong Jewish diaspora - dispersal through many lands. After initial settlements in the Middle East, Jews move on into Europe. The so-called Ashkenazic Jews get through Turkey and Greece to central Europe. They settle in Germany, which is called Ashkenaz in rabbinic literature. The Ashkenazi speak Yiddish and form the largest part of the whole of Jewry. The first documented mention of Jewish life in Germany is from 321 AD in Cologne. The Rhineland forms the early centre of Jewish settlements, which sees a heyday in the 10th century.
Jewish trading stations emerge along the European trade and traffic routes of the Rhine, Danube, Main and Elbe. When the peaceful cooperation of Jews and Christians sees an abrupt end with the first Crusade in 1096, the Jews leave the Rhineland. They move further east and so come to Frankfurt.
On the whole continent, Jewish merchants form a well-functioning network because of their common language. Therefore they are present in most European trading areas.
The Jewish cemetery is evidence of Jews and Christians living peacefully together in the Frankfurt of the middle ages. It is probably one of the oldest Jewish burial places in central Europe. The land originally belonged to the merchant family Hokemann, which allowed Jewish funerals from the start of the 14th century. On 2 July 1399 the Jewish community buys the cemetery. You can get more information on the Jewish cemetery at the "Jewish Cemetery" station.
We also recommend you visit the Marienkirche (Church of St. Mary), where the Antichrist Window can be admired. In the lead glass window from the year 1360 an ambivalent attitude to Jews is manifest. They are pictured here with Jewish caps and are evidence that there was a Jewish community in Frankfurt at that time.
The beginning of Jewish settlement in Frankfurt resembles the development in other cities of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. Jews become wards of the territorial lords and do, on the one hand, enjoy privileges such as freedom of travel. This is meant to promote their trading activity. On the other hand, they are dependent on the good will of their lords. Envy and dissatisfaction develop in the rest of the population. Together with religious discrimination through the Church, anti-Judaism makes itself felt in many places. In Frankfurt, too, there are first expulsions of Jews, in 1490.
There is no evidence of Jews in Frankfurt for the next 150 years.
During this time the buildings of Viadrina University, among others, are erected on the former synagogue site. Only in the middle of the 17th century does Prince-elector Friedrich Wilhelm again give out settlement rights to Jewish families from Austria. The living conditions of Frankfurt Jews improve and a new community develops.
One example of the progressive integration of the Jewish population is the Alma Mater Viadrina and the Hebrew printing office closely connected to it.
Johanna Adrian, student at the European University Viadrina