JEWISH-AMERICAN HALL OF FAME • JEWISH MUSEUM IN CYBERSPACE
ANTI-SEMITIC BIGOTRY AS CHRONICLED BY HISTORICAL MEDALS


 

The Frankfurter Judengasse was one of the earliest Jewish ghettos in Germany. It existed for more than three hundred years, from 1462 until 1796, and was home to Germany's largest Jewish community in early modern times. It was located outside the city walls in the East End of the city of Frankfurt and had three town gates, which were locked at night and on Sundays and (Christian) holidays. When the gates were closed, the Jewish population was essentially locked in.

In 1711, one of the largest fires that ever occurred in Frankfurt broke out in the Judengasse. The fire started in Rabbi Naphtalis house, which was located directly opposite to the synagogue. Strong winds and the density of the buildings spread the fire, causing it to race through the ghetto. As the gates to the ghetto were locked, the Jews were trapped inside. The neighboring Christians finally allowed the Jews to flee the burning ghetto and helped extinguish it when it appeared that the fire, if not contained, would spread to the Gunpowder Magazine and other buildings in the Christian sections of the city. The residents were unable to save the ghetto, and within 24 hours several people had died in the fire, almost every house was burned to the ground and many treasures were lost, including books, manuscripts and Torah scrolls.

After the disaster the inhabitants of the lane were allowed to rent houses in the Christian areas of Frankfurt until their homes were rebuilt. Those who couldn't afford the rent were forced to search for homes in Jewish communities in surrounding communities. Jews who had lived in the ghetto without permission were expelled.

Significantly, a medal was issued in 1711 apparently celebrating(!) the event (figure 27), this by the virulent anti-Semite Christian Wermuth, who had previously made several other anti-Semitic medals (see figures 2, 5, 8, 9, 11, 12, 21, 25). On the obverse side of the medal can be seen a father, mother and two children, hands outstretched in lament. Behind them the flames of the fire are destroying the buildings, while untouched is the gunpowder magazine. The legend reads: “And Indeed a Good Thing That in Such a Manner Is Proved,” Wermuth evidently being pleased with the outcome.

On the reverse can be seen a long Latin legend, translated as, "Oh, Miraculous No less than Wretched Event! Alas for That Fortunate Day, When at Frankfurt Am Main, the Street (i.e., the Judengasse Ghetto) of the Jews Was Destroyed by Fire, Rabbi Naphtali from Poland Being the Cause, and over a Twenty four Hour Period Burned to the Ground, Though the Store of Gunpowder Was Safe and All the Houses of Christians Were Unharmed. Which Street Now Rises Again from the Rubble on the 23rd Day of March, Now That the Foundation of the Synagogue Has Been Rebuilt."

As if this weren’t enough, Wermuth added on the rim of the medal a quotation from Symphosius, "It Pleased the Gods for the Jew to Be Thrown into the Flames," a harbinger of the horrors to come to the Jews in Nazi Germany.

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