Centers of Jewish Life in Franconia.
"House of Life” is the literal translation of the Hebrew word for “cemetery.” There are over 100 Jewish cemeteries in Franconia, testament to the fact that FRANCONIA’S CITIES and rural communities once were home to a vibrant, Jewish community.
In fact, Franconia used to be a center for Jewish culture: Jewish scholars, researchers, merchants, and entrepreneurs helped shape the culture of FRANCONIA’S CITIES and communities. Anybody who traces back and explores Jewish culture in Franconia will be reminded of the gruesome time of the holocaust under the Nazi regime as well as the times of amicable relationships between Jews and Christians in Franconia.
A Cradle of Jewish Historiy
Mikveh and Matzeivah, torah scrolls and seven-armed candelabras, synagogues and Talmud schools - Jewish culture was omnipresent in Franconia for centuries. The cities of Ansbach, Aschaffenburg, Bayreuth, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, and especially Fürth were lively centers of Jewish culture.
In contrast to many other areas in Germany, Jews were never completely expelled from Franconian territory. Jews have called Franconia home since the 11th century. Almost a thousand years of Jewish presence have resulted in not only an abundance of synagogues and Jewish scholars; their presence also influenced the local dialect and cuisine.
Prior to 1861, Jews were not allowed to freely choose their place of residence, so, until that time, most Jews settled in rural areas where there were many Jewish villages with synagogues and schools. After 1861, Jews increasingly migrated to the cities where they developed a dynamic culture. Since Jews were also not allowed to learn a trade, many of them became merchants instead. The big exception to all this was the town of Fürth: When Jews were evicted from the town of Nuremberg in 1499, the Margrave of Ansbach, who was also in charge of Fürth, saw a wonderful opportunity for making some money: in exchange for a large sum of money, he allowed Jews to settle in Fürth.
Taking in the Jewish refugees was an economic as well as cultural windfall for the town of Fürth. Tolerance soon grew into a sense of belonging. Jews living in Fürth increased the wealth of the city through foundations and donations. In part because of its new Jewish College, Fürth developed into a center of Jewish culture in Central Europe. At the beginning of the 19th century, almost a fourth of Fürth’s residents were of Jewish faith. Famous Jewish individuals, such as Henry Kissinger and Leopold Ullstein, were born here. The Nazi regime delivered a gruesome end to this peaceful coexistence. During the Kristallnacht, synagogues in FRANCONIA’S CITIES were burned to the ground. Many of the synagogues in rural communities were spared, but only because they were located too close to other buildings to safely burn down. The same was true for the synagogue in Bayreuth that stands directly adjacent to the Margravial Opera House. The fact that Bayreuth’s synagogue was still intact kept allied bombers from targeting that part of the town.
So, in a sense, the synagogue and the opera house served to protect each other and were unharmed during this terrible time in German history.
Today, there are again Jewish communities in Franconia. Jewish heritage from centuries past can also be discovered on guided and self-guided tours, as well as in museums. Especially interesting is the Jewish Museum Franconia with branches in the towns of Fürth, Schwabach, and Schnaittach.
Yiddish Small Talk
The Franconian dialect with its many soft consonants is often difficult to understand for outsiders. It gets even more interesting when the Franconian dialect gets mixed with Yiddish… The small town of Schopfloch near Dinkelsbühl is a classic example. The Jews that lived here in the 19th century were mostly cattle traders and they spoke a kind of secret language that had developed there, locally called “Lachoudisch.” Local Christians learned that “secret” language too to keep out-oftowners from overhearing their conversations. To this day, you can still hear Schopfloch residents use that language on occasion.