Monday, February 10, 2014

Jews of the German Rhineland-including Worms

Nadene Goldfoot                                                                    

                             The Bridge at Worms, Germany, probably built in Roman days

Archaeological evidence shows that Jews were in what we call Germany today during the Roman Period.  It is surmised that Jewish soldiers served in the Roman garrisons.  Barbarians invaded the area and whether these communities were able to continued during that period is unknown.  We do know that in 321 CE, Emperor Constantine issued regulation indicating an organized Jewish community with rabbis and elders were living in Cologne, which was in the Rhineland.  They most likely settled in other places as well near-by.                                                                            
When we hear the word, "Rhineland," we think of Germany,  but it has a controversial history.  The French word for it is Rhenanie. Originally it was lying in western Germany  It lies east of Germany's border with France, Luxembourg and Belgium and the Netherlands.  It is on both banks of the middle Rhine River..  The Rhineland extends from the northern borders of the French departements of Moselle and Bas-Rhin over the German Lander states of the Saarland and Rhineland Palatinate and into NW Baden-Wurttemberg, western Hesse, and SW North Rhine--Westphalia.  Rabbi Solomon Yitzhaki, otherwise known as RASHI, was born 1040 in Troyes, France and studied in the Rhineland.

Another famous Jew was Eleazar ben Judah of Worms, known to us as the Rabbi of Worms,  who was born in 1160 in Mainz, Franconia, Germany.  His writings are of " the major extant documents of medieval German Ḥasidism (an ultrapious sect that stressed prayer and mysticism)."  He died in Worms in 1238 at the age of 78.  

Along this middle Rhine River are hills that are between Mainz and Bonn.  The hilly area is where they grow grapes and this business of wine-growing country has supported small towns and villages for centuries.  Along here one would find castles that used to house the lords and the many monasteries.  North of Bonn the land changes and turns into the great northern European plain that leads to the North Sea.  It is along this lower Rhine regions that industry has developed.

In ancient Roman times is served as a buffer zone between Gaul and the Germanic peoples to the east.  The Rhineland was later a part of the Frankish kingdom of Austrasia.  Then the Rhineland was divided among the duchies of Lorraine into Upper and Lower Lorraine, Saxony, Franconia, and Swabia.  during the late European Middle Ages, the Rhineland became the seat of many principalities including the bishoprics of Worms.

In the 8th and 9th centuries, the Carolingian royal house adopted a pro-Jewish policy and encouraged the settlement of Jews in its land with the object of developing trade.  New Jewish communities sprang up in commercial centers.  They were found in the 9th century in Augsburg and Metz.  In the 10th century they were found in Worms, Mainz, Magdeburg, Ratisbon, and other places.  The densest settlement was in the Rhineland of Mainz, Speyer, Worms, and Cologne.  This is where intellectual life developed in the 11th century under Franco-Jewish influence.
Persecutions took place against Jews in 1012.  In 1096 the German Crusaders massacred the Jews throughout the Rhineland and neighboring places as they rode through Europe on their way to Jerusalem to kill the Muslims.  The moral atmosphere had changed and became a place of unrest in Germany with Jews being attacked.  All this drove Jews out of being traders and into moneylending.

Massacres in 1298 were brought on by Rindfleisch, a knight.  The massacres of 1336 were led by leather-jerkined fanatics nicknamed Armleder.  Massacres of 1348/49 happened at the time of the Black Death when Jews were accused of deliberately spreading.  They turned into extreme barbarism.  Over 350 Jewish communities suffered from these atrocities.  Over 200 communities were completely wiped out.  From 1350 to 1400, the survivors were kept  impoverished by the imperial authorities' cancellation of the debts due to them.  Though the Jews became as poor as (pardon the expression) church mice, their intellectual curiosity and work ethic kept them into Talmudic study, which was their Jewish intellectual life.  Individual Jews worked in other aspects of German life.  At the end of the Middle Ages, most of the larger German cities banished Jews again.  After the beginning of the 16th century, the only communities that were important left were those of Frankfort-on-Main and Worms.

Germany was having troubles with the Protestant Reformation in Germany when France encroached on Lorraine in the 16th century and the 30 Years' War gave France a foothold in Alsace.  Napoleon moved France's frontier eastward to the Rhine River and on the east bank created the Confederation of the Rhine.  Napoleon suffered a downfall, so the Congress of Vienna, Austria in 1814 and 1815 limited France's frontier on the Rhine to the Alsatian zone again.  In the end of many little wars, the Rhineland became the richest area of Germany, especially with the Prussian north being so highly industrialized.

"Under the terms of Versailles, the Rhineland had been made into a demilitarised zone. Germany had political control of this area, but she was not allowed to put any troops into it. Therefore, many Germans concluded that they did not actually fully control the area despite it being in Germany itself.
In March 1936, Hitler took what for him was a huge gamble - he ordered that his troops should openly re-enter the Rhineland thus breaking the terms of Versailles once again. He did order his generals that the military should retreat out of the Rhineland if the French showed the slightest hint of making a military stand against him. This did not occur. Over 32,000 soldiers and armed policemen crossed into the Rhineland."
Bergen Belsen Concentration Camp in NW Germany near Hanover,  showing one of the ovens
                       used to burn the bodies of dead Jews.  "More than 35,000 people died of starvation, overwork, disease, brutality and sadistic medical experiments in Bergen Belsen.  1800 inmates were in here by 1944.  By March 1945 there were 42,000 prisoners.  Many died of typhus.  On April 15, 1945, the British army found 55,000 prisoners and 13,000 unburied corpses.  13,000 died within the next 3 days.  30,000 Jews died in Bergen Belsen.

The Holocaust which caused the slaughter of 6 million Jews by German Nazis and their European collaborators happened from 1939 to 1945.

The New Standard Jeweish Encyhclopedia,_Germany

1 comment:

  1. Boppard is just the next small town up (or down?) from Cologne!! My uncle came from there.