Jews of Erfurt

Categories: Sightseeing, Cultural and History

Jews of Erfurt
Jews of Erfurt

[ source: Wikipedia]

As is the case with many European cities, the history of the Jews of Erfurt (Erfurt vacation rentals | Erfurt travel guide) is a troubled one at best. The Jewish community here dates back to the late 11th century, when the construction of the Old Synagogue commenced. Jewish culture in Erfurt became increasingly active starting in the 13th century. At this time, the Jews of Erfurt were especially engaged in the banking industry, maintaining professional connections with municipalities and noblemen across the region, as well as across the Holy Roman Empire.

In Erfurt, the Jewish living quarter was adjacent to the city center. The Jews were allowed to live next to Christian merchants, and the Old Synagogue was located in this area. The Jews of Erfurt developed a highly advanced intellectual life during the Middle Ages, as reflected in the Hebrew manuscripts that were produced in the city at this time. In 1349, however, everything began to change. A pogrom was started against the city's Jews, allegedly because they were guilty of poisoning the public wells. All of the Jews in the quarter were killed in the riot, and the entire quarter was burned down.

Starting in 1354, Jews again began to settle in Erfurt. The Erfurt City Council built a new synagogue for them between 1355 and 1357. The Jews moved back to the old quarter, mainly renting city-owned "Jewish houses." Life here remained calm only until the rise of virulent Antisemitism in 15th century. At this time, the City Council retracted its protection of the Jews of Erfurt, and after a proclamation in 1458, no Jews were allowed to reside in the city. The synagogue was turned into an arsenal, and the Jewish cemetery was destroyed.

Only first again in the early 1800s were Jews allowed to live in Erfurt. A new synagogue was built in 1840, and eventually a larger one was built to replace it. This opulent domed structure, with seating for 500, was destroyed in the Kristallnacht pogrom on November 9, 1938. The synagogue was plundered and set on fire by Nazi rioters. During World War II, only 250 of Erfurt's Jews were allowed to emigrate. The remainder of the approximately 1,000 Jews in Erfurt were deported to extermination camps. Only 15 individuals survived the deportation and returned to Erfurt after their liberation.

After the war, Jewish immigrants to Erfurt, especially Eastern European ones, increased the Jewish community again, and the New Synagogue was built in 1952. Antisemitism was actually quite pronounced in all of the Eastern Bloc countries during this period, and about 2/3 of the Jews in East Germany left their homeland. In Thuringia, the Erfurt community was the only one to survive this period; all of the others were dissolved over the years.

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Rachel Hildebrandt

This travel guide has been written by Rachel Hildebrandt.

Starting with her first trip to Germany at the age of 16, Rachel has traveled, worked, and studied in Germany extensively. Although her first encounter with German culture was in Lower Saxony, since that time the focus of her subsequent work as a freelance historian and translator has shifted eastward. Building on her graduate studies in Dresden, Rachel has worked for a variety of German foundations as a historian and translator, and is currently pursuing research pertaining to the Sorbs in Lusatia (eastern Saxony).

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