Hostilities against the Jews can be traced far back into antiquity. The Middle Ages are characterized by a pronounced Christian Anti-Judaism, which was first and foremost a religiously based rejection. However, social and economic motives were ever present, as well. Anti-Semitism first originated as a term in the 19th Century, designating the race-motivated enmity that increasingly defined the Jews as an ethnic and social group.
Pogroms on the Middle Rhine
Legends began evolving in the 13th Century that helped strengthen the aggressive enmity against the Jews by proving their viciousness toward Christians. Stories of ritual murders found their expression in these legends. In 1287, the death of the young boy Werner from Womrath in Oberwesel on the Rhine River was exploited in a familiar pattern and gave rise to the legend: Jews supposedly kidnapped the young Christian lad around the time of the Passover festival in order to re-enact the Passion of Christ and use his blood for ritual purposes. Based on these accusations, aggressive pogroms ensued that not only struck the villages in the Middle Rhine Valley, but extended far beyond the region. Violent attacks and expulsions arose time and again; even into the following centuries. Proof of murders exist in Oberwesel, Boppard, Kirchberg, Rheinböllen, Koblenz, Alken, Münstermaifeld and Cochem, as well as in other locations.
Prior to the 16th Century and up until the French Revolution, the fate of the Jews rested primarily in the hands of their respective territorial rulers. In return for large payments, they were granted permission to settle and were afforded a minimum degree of protection from persecution.
Little by little in the wake of the Enlightenment, the Jews began to overcome social barriers and to enjoy legal equality. Yet, certain movements immediately followed their emancipation, demanding a denial of that equality, with social and economic crises leading to renewed pogrom-like incidents.
“Reichspogromnacht” (The night of broken glass)
On the 9th of November 1938, Secretary of the German Legation, Ernst vom Rath, died from wounds he suffered during an assassination attempt in Paris several days earlier. Herschel Grünspan, a Polish Jew, fired multiple shots at the diplomat to seek revenge for the deportation of his parents from Germany to the Polish frontier and to call this injustice to the world’s attention. Rath’s murder was used by the NSDAP leadership as a pretext for inciting violent clashes against the Jews with the destruction of their property and possessions. These anti-Semitic initiatives were declared to be the spontaneous expression of “public anger", while related instructions were issued to local chapters of the NSDAP in every village.
The initial assaults took place on evening of November 9th in Gemünden and Boppard. As in most rural regions, however, the lootings, the desecration of Jewish sanctuaries and the brutal attacks against individuals in the other Rhine-Hunsrück villages first began during the afternoon hours on the 10th of November. SA and SS raiding parties travelled from village to village in order to initiate attacks and to draw bystanders into the fray. Assaults continued against individual persons even into the next day.
"The synagogue suddenly caught fire in some inexplicable manner around 12 midnight."
With the exclusion of the synagogue in Rheinböllen, the synagogues in today's Rhine-Hunsrück region were ransacked without exception. It was only because of their close proximity to other structures and thanks to the determined intervention of concerned residents that the places of worship did not go up in flames in Boppard, Kastellaun, Kirchberg, Laufersweiler, Oberwesel, Sohren, St. Goar and Werlau. The synagogues In Kastellaun and Boppard, however, were torn down to their foundations over the days that followed. In Boppard, prisoners who had only just recently been placed in protective custody were used for this purpose. Almost all of the Jewish men throughout the Hunsrück communities were arrested on the 10th of November. Many of them were deported to concentration camps in Buchenwald, Sachsenhausen and Dachau just after being arrested and were released only after declaring their intent to leave Germany at the earliest possible opportunity.
Recollections of the “Reichspogromnacht”
Heinz Joseph, 13 years old at the time, experienced the abuses in Laufersweiler together with his sister, mother and grandfather. During the evening of the 10th of November, SS henchmen forced their way into their house, shattered the furnishings and numerous windows, brutally beat his grandfather and chased the family out of their home under threats and insults. Their family matzo bakery also fell victim to the destructive vandalism while the family, itself, found shelter with the Catholic priest. Heinz Joseph recorded his memories of this night on the backside of a movie poster.
The photos and objects shown in this slide presentation represent the anti-Jewish prejudices, as well as the religious and racially-motivated hostilities towards Jews in various cultural and historical contexts.