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Jewish Communities of Hessen, Germany

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Regional Background

The earliest Jewish settlement in upper Hessen goes back to the twelfth century with the oldest communities to be found in the Wetterau region. In the Vogelsberg area (which includes Hilda Stern's birth place of Nieder-Ohmen) references to Jewish settlements can be found as early as the fourteenth century.

These large numbers of Jewish settlements in certain areas -- among them also the Odenwald, Rheinhessen and enclaves of the bishopric of Mainz in northern and eastern Hessen -- is unusual only at first glance. It can be explained by the existence of a multitude of small patronage holders directly responsible only to the [Holy Roman] Empire.

In admitting and granting protection to Jews, these patrons were not bound by the policies of their respective governing prince; they even continued to exercise this "patronage privilege" after the reforms of 1803. Thus the admission of Jews, for which the latter had to pay a "protection fee," was a welcome source of revenue for these small patronage holders which explains the clustering of Jewish congregations in the region.

In the nineteenth century, along with the gradual demise of restrictions in the legal status of Jews, the demographic distribution of the Hessian Jews began to change. More options in the choice of residence also led to the dissolution of many small rural congregations, as did the increasing opening of the region by modern means of transportation.

Until the election of Hindenburg in 1925 relations between Christian and Jewish citizens were quite friendly. After 1925 these relations deteriorated as a result of increasing hate propaganda, particularly with the deepening crisis of the world-wide economic situation.

Once again, the Jews were cast in the role of scapegoats. This attitude eventually made it possible for the Marburg librarian Dr. Otto Böckel to act as the spokesman for antisemitic parties, which were to remain a political potential to be reckoned with in Upper Hessen until the beginning of the First World War.

The immediate aftermath of the Reichstag elections in March of 1933 pogrom-like popular excesses against the resident Jewish Germans occurred. Such a pogrom is documented for the night of 12-13 March in Lich/ district Giessen, another is documented for the hamlet of Gedern in the Vogelsberg.[20]

Anti-semitic prejudice was rooted in the Upper Hessian population long before 1933 and were passed from generation to generation. The rise of Hitler was "no explosion" of 1933 Ernst-Ludwig Chambré wrote in 1987 and was " the result of fires that had been smoldering for centuries until he helped them break into flames."

Expulsion and Extermination

The systematic expulsion of Jewish Germans took place mainly in the years 1933-38. Jewish families remaining in Hesse after 1933 were brutally terrorized in the pogrom-night of 9 November 1938. By way of forcing their expulsion, 238 men (most of them heads of families) were forcibly taken to the Buchenwald concentration Camp. Upon the written promise of their speedy emigration, most of these men were released by the end of the year, although some did not survive their incarceration.

With the outbreak of war, emigration was made increasingly difficult and soon was prohibited altogether. Jews were deported from Frankfurt, and in 1942 from the rest of Hessen. Their destinations were ghettoes and camps in occupied Poland. In the fall of 1942, Jews still present in Upper Hessen were deported, and some of these transports went to Theresienstadt (Terezin). Prior to these departures, however, the financial administration systematically stripped the potential deportees of all of their possessions.

Financial assets were confiscated; houses, furnishings, and valuables were "forfeited to the State." The "good neighbors" seized these opportunities: public auctions of Jewish property took place everywhere in Hessen, the population showed great interest, and participation was more than lively. Few people refused to participate in this "legalized robbery."

Some of the deportees of the February 1945 transport were liberated by the Soviets at Theresienstadt and could return to their home villages by early summer.

In addition to Frankfurt, Jewish congregations existed in 9 towns: Bad Homburg. Bad Nauheim, Darmstadt, Fulda, Gelnhausen, Kassel, Marburg/Lahn, Offenbach, and Wisebaden. Of the 400 members of these 9 Jewish congregations, 120 lived in 48 communities in the rural areas around these towns. According to Maor the total number of Jews living in Hessen in 1961 was between 1563 and 2,142.

Sources


1. Paul Arnsberg, Die jüdischen Gemeinden in Hessen, 2 vols (Frankfurt/Main: Societätsverlag,

2. Kingreen, loc.cit, pp 5 ff.

3. O. Schneider, "Die Juden von Nieder-Ohmen," (no place no date) p.112.

4. Letter to the author from Ernst-Ludwig Chambré, Dec. 12, 1987. In Klaus Konrad-Tromsdorf, Die Licher haben ein grosses Schweigen... [The People of Lich Keep a Great Silence...] (Lich: private printing, 1999)

5. Rüdiger Mack, "Otto Böckel und die antisemitische Bauernbewegung in Hessen (1887-1894) [Otto Böckel and the antisemitic farmers' movement] in Wetterauer Geschichtsblätter 2 (1967); Mack, "Laubacher Juden vor 1933 und Antisemitismus in Oberhessen," in Die Laubacher Juden.

6. http://www.am-spiegelgasse.de/willkommen-in-der-spiegelgasse/geschichte-und-erinnerung/erinnerungsblaetter/ Beschreibung vieler deportierten Wiesbadener Juden. Einige Beispiele unter Dokumenten.

7.http://www.alemannia-judaica.de/synagogen_hessen.htm Synagogen in Hessen.