Life in the Frankfurt Ghetto
For more than three hundred years, the Jews of Frankfurt were isolated from the rest of society, living in the Judengasse from its inception in 1462 until its dissolution in 1796 under the influence of the French Revolution. During this time, the Frankfurt Jews made efforts to reduce the discrimination and restrictions of Frankfurt's regulations governing Jews, the Judenordnung.
Yet the Christian community's deep-seated feelings of animosity and contempt towards the Jews, coupled with their business rivalry, meant that they were more inclined to maintain the status quo and, if anything, even tended to tighten existing restrictions.
The city council sought to smooth the conflict without jeopardizing its own already barely tenable position.
With the aid of the imperial court in Vienna, where the ideas of the Enlightenment were gaining ground, the Jews of Frankfurt managed to gain at least a modicum of freedom in the field of commerce.
At the same time as the Jews of Frankfurt were forced to move to the ghetto in the Judengasse, Jews were being driven out of most other Southern German cities. The displaced either settled in rural areas or moved to Poland.
Frankfurt was one of the few cities that did not expel its Jews. The influx of Jews to Frankfurt from around 1550 onwards led to a considerable increase in the population of the Judengasse, making it the largest Jewish community in Germany.
View of the exhibition area showing “Life in the Frankfurt Ghetto”
The city council, whose arrogance and incompetence had made it highly unpopular, was soon unable to contain the wrath of the Christian community at the increase in the Jewish population and the involvement of the Jews in Frankfurt's trading and business.
At the height of a conflict with the guilds, who demanded greater participation in municipal government, the Judengasse was attacked and looted and the Jews driven out of Frankfurt.
Ringleader Vinzenz Fettmilch and his associates were outlawed by the emperor and executed after the failed uprising in 1616. The Jews were allowed to return to Frankfurt.
- Jews being driven from a town in Germany, c. 1470
From a Haggadah manuscript, formerly in the Sassoon collection, Jerusalem
The looting of the Frankfurt Ghetto on 22 August 1614
Copperplate engraving from Johann L. Gottfried's "Historische Chronica" of 1657
The execution of Vinzenz Fettmilch and his comrades, and the return of the Frankfurt Jews (right) on 28 February 1616
Woodcut in a contemporary pamphlet of Johann Ludwig Schimmel
The "Judenordnung" regulating Jewish life in Frankfurt, 1616
After crushing the uprising, imperial commissioners drew up a new Judenordnung which remained in force until 1808.
It included almost all the restrictions that had previously applied and limited the number of Jews residing in Frankfurt to the 500 families already living there.
Since 1452, the Jews of Frankfurt had been obliged to wear a yellow ring on their chests.
From the early eighteenth century, this rule was no longer enforced, and in 1728 it was officially repealed in Frankfurt.
The woman and the man are wearing the typical dress of the Frankfurt Jews around 1700. The woman has a bonnet with two peaks, a black cloak and a large ruff. The man has a black hat, a short black mantle and lace collar.
“Frankfurt Jew and Jewess”. Copperplate engraving by Christoph Weigel in Abraham a Santa Clara's “Neu-Eröffnete Welt-Galleria” of 1703
Hanukkah lamp; Frankfurt am Main, c. 1680, crafted by Johann Valentin Schüler (1650-1720), silver gilt, bequest of Franziska Speyer (1844–1909)
This lavishly ornamented eight-branched candelabrum, which is lit during Hanukkah, the festival of lights, is based on the description of the original candlestick of the Jerusalem Temple as described in the Bible (Exodus 25: 31–38). Its base is a rectangular plate borne by four shield-bearing lions, bounded by a small gallery and ornamented with putti.
Four branches, decorated with blossoms and bell-shaped components, extend on either side of the shaft. The eight holders for oil are crowned with olive trees, and there are bells on the spouts and animal figures on the lids: a squirrel, a stag, an eagle and a pelican on either side.
The removable small oil jar on the central shaft is crowned by a male figure with helmet and weapons, probably Judah Maccabee. The central shaft itself bears the figure of Judith with the head of Holofernes. The four animal figures are very probably references to four houses in the Judengasse and may even refer to the marriage of Moses Michael Speyer and Scheinle Bing-Kann in 1681. The bridegroom came from the house known as Goldener Hirsch (Golden Stag) and his mother from the house known as Goldener Adler (Golden Eagle).
The bride came from the Eichhörnchen (Squirrel) branch of the family Goldene Kanne (Golden Jar) and her mother from the house of Pelikan (Pelican). Thus, the links between these four families are illustrated in the decoration of this candelabrum, which may have been a wedding present.
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Frankfurt am Main
Last change: 2013, April 02