Saturday, March 28, 2020

When the Old Synagogue Was New


The Nazis burned down Freiburg's "old" synagogue on 9/10 November 1938, in the so-called Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass).

Meeting at the site of the Old Synagogue.
On March 11, Red Baron participated in an excursion offered by the Badische Zeitung on Jewish life in Freiburg, guided by Professor Heinrich Schwendemann, a known expert in the field.

Heinrich Schwendemann and photographer Ingo Schneider.
In the background, street sign Gurs 1027 km.
It was possibly the last public tour in a long period to come.

On March 11, there is only moderate physical distancing.
Red Baron is talking to the author of Freiburg zu Fuß (© Ingo Schneider).
Here`s pointing at you, Red Baron (© Ingo Schneider)
A hitherto unknown aerial photograph of the Old Synagogue in flore.
Historian Heinrich Schwendemann talked about Jewish life in Freiburg, taking the occasion of the solemn inauguration of the synagogue on September 23, 1870, nearly 150 years ago.

Jews lived in Freiburg, demonstrably in Schusterstraße and Wasserstraße as early as the Middle Ages. They worked as retailers, peddlers, grocers, and ironmongers, for the mighty guilds did not allow them to become craftsmen or artisans.

Jews as money lenders: A Jew sets his mind night and day on how he may ruin a Christian
When a resolution of the 4th Lateran Council in 1215 tightened the canonical prohibition against Christians demanding interest for loans, the Jews stepped in. Emperor Frederick II, in particular, appreciated their usefulness as lenders and, for their protection, declared them slaves of the royal chamber for all time in 1236. Although "protected" Jews had to pay protection money to their specific rulers, some of them became quite wealthy and were regarded with envy by Christians.


Here I will add some additional information about Jewish history in Freiburg based on some earlier information by Professor Schwendemann.

In 1310 the Counts of Freiburg had acquired the lucrative regal right* to levy protection money. The fees paid were not sufficient for the greedy rulers so that in 1326 Count Conrad had accumulated a debt to the Jews of 400 silver marks. Thus he was obliged to issue a comprehensive letter of protection dated October 12, 1338, to the local Jews for the benefit of the city and to avert damage to his rule.
*Always in need for money, the German kings had traded their regal right to levy protection fees to their sovereign princes

With the onset of the plague in 1349, suddenly, this letter was no longer valid. At the instigation of Freiburg’s city council, Jews suspected of well-poisoning were arrested. After cruel torture, many of them made forced confessions of guilt. In their fear of death, they also accused fellow believers from other places. As a result, the persecution of Jews spread from place to place.


On Friday before Candlemas of 1349 (on January 31), all adult Jews in Freiburg, except for pregnant women, were burned for their misdeeds and murders that they had instigated and then admitted. The children of those executed were compulsorily baptized. There were rumors that with this action, the city council had wanted to harm the counts of Freiburg, depriving them of their funds.

The creditors of the Jews now hoped to get rid of their debts, but Freiburg's city council decided to waive only five pounds of pennies from each citizen's obligation and to transfer the remaining debts to the city coffers.

The poisoning of the wells served as a pretext for the Christians, but as a Strasbourg chronicler writes, "The wealth of the Jews was the poison that killed them."

Following the pogrom, Jews only hesitantly resettled in Freiburg. The city council was not sure how to handle this situation when in 1392, Freiburg’s Austrian ruler Leopold IV (1386-1411) came for a visit. At the request of the city council, he issued a Jewish Order on September 14, 1394: Jewish men were required to wear Gugelhüte (pointed hats) and were generally forbidden to wear the liturgical colors red and green.

As a result of the news of ritual murders of Christians in faraway Bavaria and after consultation with Duke Leopold, the city council had the clergy announce from their pulpits the expulsion of all Jews from Freiburg on July 4, 1401.

When the city got rid of its Jews, the joy was so general, and the event seemed so important that all city councilors solemnly signed the resolution that No Jew shall ever be allowed to settle in Freiburg.

From 1411 onwards, Jews were re-admitted, but during the time when Freiburg was an imperial city (1415-1427), King Sigismund, at the request of the city council, officially confirmed the decree of 1401 in 1424 with the Eternal Expulsion.

It was not until 1862 that Jews were again allowed to stay legally in Freiburg.

I shall stop here but not for 438 years. Stay tuned for the second part of Jewish life in Freiburg.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you very much for this informative, however, very sad article dear Manfred. Margit

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