Jewish History Walking Tour, Frankfurt

Jewish History Walking Tour (Self Guided), Frankfurt

The history of Jews in Frankfurt dates back almost 900 years, which is more than in any other German city. Attesting to this fact alone is one of the oldest Jewish cemeteries in Europe, the Old Jewish Cemetery of Frankfurt, first recorded in the 12th century.

At some point, the city was even referred to as "Jerusalem of the West", highlighting its importance as a center of Jewish life and culture. The Jewish community played an important role in Frankfurt's economic and cultural development. Indeed, for centuries, Jews made living and prospered here as bankers, merchants, politicians, philanthropists, artists, and scientists.

At its peak, during the 17th-18th centuries, the local Jewish community was one of the largest and most influential on the continent, having in their midst the likes of the Rothschilds and other prominent Jewish families. The Rothschilds' former home, the Rothschild Palais, today houses the Jewish Museum of Frankfurt. Its branch on Börneplatz, known as the Judengasse Museum, is located on the site of the former Jewish ghetto and is one of the most important places of Frankfurt's Jewish heritage.

Under the Nazi regime, during the 1930s and 40s, the community faced severe discrimination, resulting in the deportation of and forcing to flee many thousands of Jews. Their persecution culminated during the Holocaust, in 1941-1945, which saw the vast majority of Frankfurt's Jewish population killed. The memory of these people is preserved nowadays at the Börneplatz Memorial, opened in 1996.

Despite this dark period in Frankfurt's history, today the city is home to a vibrant Jewish community, with several synagogues, museums, kosher restaurants, and cultural institutions. If you're keen to explore some of the chapters of Frankfurt's Jewish heritage, take this self-guided walk.
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Jewish History Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Jewish History Walking Tour
Guide Location: Germany » Frankfurt (See other walking tours in Frankfurt)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 5
Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.4 Km or 1.5 Miles
Author: helenp
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Jewish Museum Frankfurt
  • Börneplatz Memorial
  • Judengasse Museum (Jewish Museum, Börneplatz)
  • The Old Jewish Cemetery, Battonnstrasse
  • Place of Remembrance: Synagogue Friedberger Anlage
Jewish Museum Frankfurt

1) Jewish Museum Frankfurt

The Jewish Museum of Frankfurt is the oldest independent Jewish museum in the Federal Republic of Germany. It is aimed at preserving and recounting the 900 years of Jewish history and culture in the city. The Museum includes a permanent exhibition at two locations with site-specific references. The Judengasse Museum on Börneplatz deals with the history and culture of Jews in Frankfurt during the early modern period and includes the ruins of the former Frankfurt Judengasse and the second-oldest Jewish cemetery in Germany. The Jewish Museum in the Rothschild Palais is dedicated to Jewish history and culture since the Jewish emancipation.

At the end of the 1970s, the head of the municipal cultural department initiated the project for a museum bank. A Jewish museum in the Rothschild Palais and an adjoining building on Untermainkai were approved by the city council in 1980. In the following years, a commission of historians developed a concept for the museum that was to present the history of Frankfurt's Jews from the 12th century to 1945. Donations made it possible to create the basis for its own collection. The opening of the first Jewish Museum in the Federal Republic of Germany took place on November 9, 1988, to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1938 pogrom, and was presided by Helmut Kohl.
Börneplatz Memorial

2) Börneplatz Memorial

The Börneplatz Memorial is a tribute to the Jewish community of Frankfurt that suffered immense devastation during the Holocaust. It was opened to the public on June 16, 1996.

The memorial comprises several significant features. In the heart of the square, along Rechneigrabenstrasse, stands a stone cube constructed from the remains of the foundations of the former ghetto. This cube is encircled by a grove of plane trees, and the square's ground is paved with gray gravel stones. The layout of the Börneplatz synagogue, which was constructed in 1882 and tragically vandalized during the November pogrom of 1938, is outlined by metal rails on the ground. Additionally, a memorial plaque for the destroyed synagogue can be found on the rear wall of the municipal utilities building.

At the core of the memorial is the frieze adorning the outer wall of the old Jewish cemetery. This frieze serves as a remembrance for the Frankfurt Jews who perished during the Nazi regime or succumbed to persecution. At the time of the memorial's dedication, a total of 11,134 victims had been identified, and their biographical information is engraved on metal blocks resembling gravestones. In line with Jewish burial traditions, visitors to the memorial have the opportunity to place small stones there.

The memorial also incorporates other elements, designed by Wandel Lorch Architects, that evoke the complex history of the former Frankfurt Judengasse and Börneplatz, as well as the tragic obliteration of Jewish life in the city.
Judengasse Museum (Jewish Museum, Börneplatz)

3) Judengasse Museum (Jewish Museum, Börneplatz)

The Judengasse Museum is a branch of the Jewish Museum in Frankfurt, and it was opened in 1992. The museum presents the history and culture of Frankfurt's Jews, from the Middle Ages to the emancipation, manifested in the foundations of five houses on Judengasse.

Frankfurter Judengasse was the first Jewish ghetto in Europe. It was built in 1460 by the old Hohenstaufen city wall; two years later, the Jewish residents of Frankfurt, who had previously lived in the immediate vicinity of the cathedral, were forced to resettle. The Judengasse developed over the centuries into a cultural center that was widely known for its scholarship, being visited by students from far and wide.

The ghetto was demolished in the 1870s, but the neighboring old Jewish cemetery was retained, even though no more funerals had been carried out there already. Immediately next to the cemetery, at the southern end of the former Judengasse, the Börneplatz synagogue was built in 1881/82. The latter was destroyed during the November pogrom of 1938. In 1942, the Nazi administration ordered the demolition of the old Jewish cemetery, which was not fully implemented.

In 1987, during the construction of an administration building on Börneplatz, the foundations of 19 houses on Judengasse were discovered – the largest archaeological find to date of a Jewish settlement from the early modern period in Europe. The discovery sparked a nationwide public debate on how to deal with this evidence of suppressed Jewish history. While the city of Frankfurt endeavored to only document the remains and remove them to clear space for the new building, numerous protests were voiced against the removal as a "history disposal". At the end of the so-called Börneplatz conflict, which once again highlighted the strained German-Jewish relationship, a compromise was finally reached: five of the found house foundations were removed and rebuilt in the basement of the administration building at the original location.

In March 2016, the house was reopened with a newly designed exhibition.
The Old Jewish Cemetery, Battonnstrasse

4) The Old Jewish Cemetery, Battonnstrasse

Battonnstrasse cemetery in Frankfurt is the second oldest Jewish burial sight in Germany; the first documented mention of it goes back to 1180. Throughout history, the size of the cemetery hasn't practically changed. The oldest surviving tombstone at Battonnstrasse is dated July 12, 1272, whereas many Frankfurt Jews – victims of the pogrom, known as the “Frankfurter Judenschlacht” – had found their final resting place here as early as 1241. The very last burial at the cemetery took place on September 16, 1828, after which it had to be closed, being overcrowded with nearly 6,500 graves.

Under the Nazi regime, in 1942, 4,666 gravestones were demolished and piled up as rubble for removal. Some of these stone heaps can still be seen today. 175 gravestones were removed, but not crushed, and ended up in the newer Jewish cemetery on Rat-Beil-Strasse. In the 1950s, they were returned, but because there was no information on their original location, they could only be placed along the cemetery wall.

The gravestones of important religious and secular personalities, such as Nathan ben Simeon ha-Kohen Adler, the Frankfurt chief rabbi Jakob Jehoschua Falk, Pinchas Ben Zwi Hirsch Ha-Levi or Meir ben Rabbi Yaakov Schiff, have been grouped together in a place of honor. The grave of Meir Anschel Rothschild, founder of the Rothschild banking house, is one of the most famous grave sites on the grounds.

The Battonnstrasse cemetery is permanently closed; those who wish to visit (except on Jewish holidays, Mondays, and Saturdays), may obtain the key at the neighboring Museum Judengasse. For that, a deposit of a valid ID must be placed. Guided tours are offered every second Sunday, and can be booked by phone at the museum. The entrance to the cemetery is via the gate on Battonnstrasse. Men are requested to wear a head cover (e.g. Kippa, which can be borrowed from the museum).
Place of Remembrance: Synagogue Friedberger Anlage

5) Place of Remembrance: Synagogue Friedberger Anlage

No. 6 Friedberger Anlage is the former location of a Jewish synagogue in Frankfurt that was deliberately destroyed by the Nazis.

The synagogue was built from 1905 to 1907 and was characterized by the transition style of reform architecture with elements of Romanesque and Orientalism. On November 10, 1938, it fell victim to an arson organized by the Nazis as part of the November pogroms of 1938. The police ordered the demolition of the building out of the risk of collapse. The destruction began on November 17, 1938, and was finished on June 12, 1939.

In 1942-43, a five-storey bunker was built on the site. While the surrounding Ostend district was badly damaged by air raids, the bunker remained intact. After the war, from 1947 to 1965, it served as a book storage and university library, and then as a furniture store, from 1968 to 1988.

Since the early 1950s, the Jewish Restitution Successor Organization had demanded the removal of the bunker and restitution of the property. Eventually, it came into the possession of the Federal Finance Administration, upon which the city undertook to erect a permanent memorial for the synagogue. The Friedberger Anlage Synagogue Memorial Site, designed by landscape architect Jeannette Garnhartner, was finally erected in the forecourt of the bunker in 1988. The bunker itself now houses a permanent exhibition about Jewish life in Frankfurt's Ostend.

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