Mohelbuch (Beschneidungsbuch)

Documents and photographs

Overview of the collection

Our collection of documents and photographs comprises shelves of more than 300 metres of written materials and over 21,000 photos on the history and culture of Jews in the German-speaking regions.

The heart of the collection

At the heart of the collection are works that bear witness to the history of Jews in Frankfurt from the late Middle Ages to today. These include numerous legacies on Frankfurt Jewish family history as well as eye witness reports on the Nazi era. Worthy of particular mention are the collection of Fritz Schlomo Ettlinger (1889–1964) on the biographical history of Frankfurt Jews from 1241 to 1830, the legacy of Eugen Mayer (1882–1967), the last legal counsel of the pre-war community, and the collection of Dora Edinger (1890–1977) on women’s rights activist Bertha Pappenheim (1859–1936).

Paul Arnsberg legacy

The estate left by Frankfurt historian Dr Paul Arnsberg (1899–1978) contains a vast collection of photos on Hesse’s Jewish history: The regional association of Jewish communities in Hesse has made this collection available to us as a permanent loan along with the material on Arnsberg’s publication The Jewish communities in Hesse. The holding of written documents and photographic material is far more comprehensive than the published work.

Alexander Besser legacy

Lawyer and economics journalist Dr Alexander Besser (1899–1978) came from Lower Lusatia. He lived in Frankfurt and in Hessian Mörfelden-Walldorf following his return in 1950 from exile in Israel until his death. His widow Rita Besser bequeathed us his written legacy shortly before her death in 1990. Alexander Besser’s neighbour Peter Härtling crafted a literary monument of Alexander Besser in his novel entitled Felix Guttmann published in 1985.

Bernhard Brilling legacy

Rabbiner Dr. Bernhard Brilling (1906–1987)
Rabbiner Dr. Bernhard Brilling (1906–1987)

The comprehensive legacy of rabbi Dr Bernhard Brilling (1906–1987) comprises the entire life work of this important German-Jewish historian. Brilling concentrated his research on the Jewish regional history of Silesia, Poznan and Westphalia, as well as on biographical history and the history of books and archives. The documents reflect these research focal areas, with some even extending beyond the research scope.

Civil staturs registers of Jewish communities

On loan from the Westphalian Wilhelms University Münster, Brilling’s estate further contains microfilm copies of birth, marriage and death registers of Jewish communities in central Germany and eastern Germany – of what are now the new German federal states and the west of Poland.

Hans Julius Wolff legacy

The estate of Hans Julius Wolff (1902–1983), professor of ancient legal history and the history of the Wolff and Pinner families,  is also of particular importance. The most well-known members of these families are the physician Julius Wolff (1836–1902) and the chemist Adolf Pinner (1842–1909). The letters from the family of Hans Julius Wolff’s cousin Ruth Alexander-Zeilberger (1915–1979) relate the tumultuous story of the difficult life circumstances of Jews who fled Nazi Germany to British-mandated Palestine and in the fledgling state of Israel. The letters also tell of the increasingly bleak situation of family members who had stayed behind in Berlin.


The photo archive consists of a collection of photographic documents on the history and culture of the Jews in Frankfurt am Main and Hesse. It contains photos of buildings, people and  companies, as well as documents on institutions, events, religion and customs. The photo archive also maintains photographic documentation of synagogues and other Jewish community buildings as well as ritual objects of Jewish communities from the entire German-speaking region.

The photo archive has considerably expanded its collection activities in relation to the museum’s exhibitions since it was founded. Of particular historical significance is a collection of almost 500 original colour slides from the Lodz ghetto, which we purchased in preparation for the exhibition ‘Unser einziger Weg ist Arbeit’ (Our only way is work) (1990).