Wurzburg is a city in Bavaria, Germany. The Jewish community of Wurzburg was founded around 1,100. The Jews settled near a swampy area that was, however, in the center of the town. Some lived outside this quarter, and there were Christians living among the Jews.
In 1147, at the time of the Second Crusade, the Crusaders, reinforced by rabble from the surrounding countryside, attacked the community. Three rabbis, a scribe, and three other Jews were publicly martyred. The bishop of the town ordered that the bodies of the martyrs be gathered and buried in his garden; he later sold the site to the community, which converted it into a cemetery.
During the 13th century, the number of Jews grew considerably, not only as a result of natural increase but also through the addition of newcomers ariving from Augsburg, Mainz, Nuremberg, and Rothenburg. A Judengasse is noted in 1182, a school in 1170, and a synagogue in 1238.
In the 12th and 13th centuries Wurzburg became an influential and important center of Jewish learning. Foremost among the scholars associated with the city during the period were Joel ha-Levi, son-in-law of Eliezer b. Nathan (Raban) of Mainz; his son, Eliezer b. Joel ha-Levi (Rabiah); Isaac b. Moses (“Or Zaru’a”) of Vienna, who taught in the yeshivah at Wurzburg; and his celebrated students Meir b. Baruch and Mordecai b. Hillel. Of note also were Eliezer b. Moses ha-Darshan, Samuel b. Menahem, and Jonathan b. Isaac. This large community was destroyed in the Rindfleisch persecutions of 1298. About 900 Jews lost their lives, including 100 who had fled from the surrounding area to seek refuge in Wurzburg.
The community was subsequently renewed, this time principally by Jews from Cologne, Strasbourg, Bingen, and Ulm, as well as from Franconia, Thuringia, and Swabia. The Jews paid taxes to both the bishop and the king. In practice, the Jews were under the protection of the bishop, who governed them through a series of regulations issued on his own initiative. His protection aroused the objection of the townspeople, but after the Jews had aided in the financial expenditure of fortifying the city, the burghers were more sympathetic. However, during the Black Death persecutions of 1349, the Jews were accused of poisoning the wells in Wurzburg; in desperation they set fire to their own houses on April 21, 1349, and perished. Among the martyrs was Moses ha-Darshan, head of the yeshivah. The survivors fled, some to Erfurt, Frankfurt, and Mainz, and the bishop took possession of their property.
By 1377, Jews were to be found once more in the city; at the beginning of the 15th century a community had been reconstituted and the cemetery returned to Jewish possession. A new synagogue was built in 1446, but the community remained small in the 15th century.
In 1567, the Jews were expelled from the town and settled in nearby Heidingsfeld. Bishop Julius expropriated the cemetery in 1576, and he founded a hospital on its site, which still exists. While a few Jews lived in the city during the following centuries, the community was not renewed until the 19th century.
In 1813, there were 14 families in the city, and the rabbi of Heidingsfeld then settled in Wurzburg. The synagogue was inaugurated in 1841. Isaac Dov (Seligman Baer) Bamberger acted as rabbi from 1839 to 1878. In 1864, he founded a teachers’ seminary from which hundreds of teachers graduated and taught in the Jewish schools of Germany. The yeshivah founded during his lifetime was also renowned. Wurzburg became the spiritual center for the numerous village communities of Franconia. They prayed according to the minhag of Wurzburg and addressed their halakhic questions to the rabbis there. In 1884, a Jewish hospital was founded in Wurzburg. The Jewish population numbered 2,600 (2.84 percent of the total) in 1925, and 2,145 (2.12 percent) in 1933.
With the rise of Nazism, many Jews emigrated from Wurzburg. On Nov. 9–10, 1938, (Kristallnacht), the synagogue was destroyed. From 1941 to 1945 the 1,500 remaining Jews were deported to concentration camps. After the war, 52 Jews returned to their city. In 1967 there were 150 Jews living in Wurzburg; they had a community organization and possessed a synagogue and an old-age home.
The synagogue was consecrated in 1970. The Jewish community numbered 179 in 1989 and 1,045 in 2004. The increase is explained by the immigration of Jews from the former Soviet Union. In 2001, construction began on Shalom Europa, a new cultural and community center located next to the synagogue. Slated for completion in 2006, the center was to house offices, classrooms, a club for senior citizens, the Ephraim Gustav Hoenlein Genealogy Project of the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation (founded in 2002), and a documentation center of Jewish history and culture in Lower Franconia. The former old-age home, which is part of the complex, was rebuilt by the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation and houses the Lauder Chorev Center for educational seminars and youth get-togethers.
In 1987, when a house in Wuerzburg-Pleich was demolished, 1,508 Jewish gravestones and gravestone fragments were discovered, dating from 1138 to 1347. This was the largest such find in the world. The stones will be exhibited in the community center.
In 2020, a memorial to the victims of the Holocaust was dedicated at the main railway station where Jews were deported to Theresienstadt. The last major deportation from the Wurzburg station took place in June 1943.
The memorial, designed by Matthias Braun, features a collection of suitcases, backpacks and assorted travel gear made of stone, ceramic and other materials. Local artists were asked to create a symbolic piece of luggage in all 109 towns in Lower Franconia that had prewar Jewish communities. So far, 69 towns have participated. Each sculpted suitcase has a twin in one of those towns.
One suitcase is open and contains the poem “Little Ruth,” by the Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai, whose family fled Germany in the 1930s. The verse is dedicated to his childhood friend Ruth Hanover, who was murdered in Sobibor.
The memorial also has information and photos relating to the period. Scanning the QR code on the luggage provides information about the Jews in the town.
The project is funded by the city of Wurzburg and other local towns.
Historische Zeitschrift, 17 (1867), 177–81; J. Weissbart, Geschichtliche Mitteilungen uebers Ende der alten, Wiedererstehung und Entwicklung der neuen israelitischen Gemeinde Wurzburg (1882); L. Loewenstein (ed.), in: Blaetter fuer juedische Geschichte und Literatur, 2 (1901), 59–60; 3 (1902), 105–8; 4 (1903), 38–39, 150–3; H. Bamberger, Geschichte der Rabbiner der Stadt und des Bezirks Wurzburg (1905); M.L. Bamberger, Ein Blick auf die Geschichte der Juden in Wurzburg (1905); idem, Beitraege zur Geschichte der Juden in Wuerzburg-Heidensfeld (1905); D. Weger, Die Juden im Hochstift Wurzburg waehrend des 17. und 18. Jahrhunderts (diss., 1920); M. Bohrer, Die Juden im Hochstift Wurzburg im 16. und am Beginn des 17. Jahrhunderts (diss., 1922); M.A. Szulwas, Die Juden in Wurzburg waehrend des Mittelalters (1934); idem, in: Shmuel Niger-Bukh (1959), 176–92; idem, in: Between the Rhine and the Bosporus (1964), 15–31; J. May, in: zgjd, 8 (1938), 99; H. Hoffmann, in: Mainfraenkisches Jahrbuch, 5 (1953), 91–114; Germania Judaica, 1 (1963), 475–96; 2 (1968), 928–36; 3 (1987), 1698–1711; Baron, Social2, 9 (1965), 181–4. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: H. Schultheis, Juden in der Dioezese Wurzburg 1933 – 1945 (1983); U. Gehring-Muenzel, Vom Schutzjuden zum Staatsbuerger. Die gesellschaftliche Integration der Wuerzburger Juden. 1803 – 1871 (Veroeffentlichungen des Stadtarchivs Wu erz burg)
Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved;
Toby Axelrod, “At a German train station, a unique memorial is dedicated to Jews deported to their death,” JTA, (June 18, 2020).