Jüdisches Museum Frankfurt am Main

Towards the Ghetto

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Towards the Ghetto

The beginnings of Jewish life in Germany can be traced back to the fourth century of the Christian era. In the course of the Middle Ages and the early modern period, there was a marked deterioration in the legal and social situation of the Jews. Their expulsion from most of the imperial cities in southern Germany in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, and the establishment of the Juden­gasse in Frankfurt as a closed area mark an important turn of events, illustrated by the architecture of the exhibition: from the late Middle Ages until their emancipation in the nine­teenth century, Jews in Germany had to live behind barriers, both judicially and physically.

This ruling shows that although Jews were in permanent resi­dence in Frankfurt around 1150, there were so few of them that the commu­nity had no need of an administrative structure.

In comparison with Eliezer's home town of Mainz and other towns on the Rhine, such as Cologne, Worms and Speyer, where Jews are docu­mented in the early Middle Ages, the Frankfurt community would appear to have been relatively recent. In fact, it is likely that the establishment of a Jewish community in Frankfurt was closely linked to the beginnings of the Frankfurt trade fair, which is first mentioned in Rabbi Eliezer's work.


The oldest Jewish quarter in Frankfurt. From the city plan by Matthäus Merian, 1628

The oldest Jewish quarter in Frankfurt. From the city plan by Matthäus Merian, 1628


Since the massacres of the Rhenish Jews during the crusades, Jews had been accorded the special protection of the king, as had clerics and women. A Christian who killed a Jew faced execution on the grounds of breach of the royal peace.

The distance between the Jew – recognizable here by the pointed hat – and the group of Christians in the upper picture indicates that Jews already occupied a separate position on the margins of Christian society, a situation that was to be further exacerbated in the course of the Middle Ages.


Killing of a Jew and decapitation of the murderer. From the Heidelberg illuminated manuscript of the Sachsenspiegel, c. 1330

Killing of a Jew and decapitation of the murderer. From the Heidelberg illuminated manuscript of the Sachsenspiegel, c. 1330


The crusades fuelled the persecution of Jews in Germany with attacks becoming more frequent and more violent. At the end of the thirteenth century, a wave of persecution swept through Southern Germany and Austria.

Yet the Jews who had resettled in Frankfurt after the massacre of 1241 were not affected, nor were they victims of the second wave of pogroms that was unleashed thirty years later. In the plague year of 1349, however, when Jews were persecuted throughout Europe the Jews of Frankfurt were killed or burned alive in their homes.


The Judengasse Ghetto in Frankfurt. From the city plan by Conrad Faber von Kreuznach, 1552

The Judengasse Ghetto in Frankfurt. From the city plan by Conrad Faber von Kreuznach, 1552


This development culminated in the Jews having to leave their traditional district. They were resettled in a newly built, closed lane in the eastern part of town that had developed with the expansion of the city in 1333.

The city plan shows the old city walls of the late twelfth century, beside which the Judengasse was built, the tree-lined former city moat, the palisades on the ramparts and the two rows of houses that form the Juden­gasse. The Judengasse had three gates – north, west and south.

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Last change: 2013, April 02





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