Historical Background

The Jews in Lower Franconia

Historians claim that Jewish merchants accompanied the Roman legions to Europe after the destruction of the Second Temple; in the year 70 AC. The Bavarian Jews are first mentioned in 981; even though they arrived in Lower Franconia (Unterfranken) only in 1147. Since the 13th century the Jews lived in 28 permanent or temporary settlements in area called the Hassberge district. They lived (among other places) in Hassfurt and in Hofheim who were part of the Ebern district prior to the reformation. The Jewish population was mainly urban but the pogroms forced it to move to the villages or live the life of vagrants. They earned their living as farmers or as peddlers. As vagrant merchants they adopted the conduct and manners described until today as “the Jew’s way” (Judengasse) or “the Jew’s route” (Judenhof). The Franconia Jews means of livelihood did not make them rich; they remained poor and traditional to their religion and to their customs. Some say they were even more traditional than the other German Jews (Sharfman 1995).

This way of life has made them vulnerable to attacks and discrimination. They were registered in the “Jewish Citizens Census” by the district governors and their marriages and birth dates and the dates of their death were noted down. For instance, in Westheim, there were two separate lists of “protected Jews” one reserved for the “Catholic Jews” and the other for the “Protestant Jews”, in accordance with the Christian control areas. The citizen’s census ledger provides information on the number of Jews who were allowed to live in each settlement, in accordance with the quota allotted by the authorities. These numbers were limited. Only in the event of death or departure, could the quota be altered. The quota restricted the growth of the Jewish population and prevented them from owning lands.

Additionally, the right to permanently settle in a specific settlement and build a home there was granted only after payment of “protection fees” to the nobility, the clergy and the bishops. Additional fees were required such as the annual “New Year” sugar as a means of payment, given to the rural priest of Burgpreppach were also added.

The “Jews Edict” which regulated the legal standing of Jews in Bavaria was introduced in 1813. This started the Jewish minority reform. From now on, the Jews were required to obtain official family names (influenced by the French Revolution 1789-1799). Eisak Anschel, the first father to the Hecht dynasty received the name Hecht in 11.10.1790 (see chapter 3 entitled “Four Generations in Germany”)


When the ideas engendered in the wake of the Revolution of 1848 have reached the “Franks country” some families refused to pay the fee required (in sugar and in money), among them was the Kaufman family in the Gleusdorf village and the religious congregation in Burgpreppach. Yet even after the emancipation of the Jews (1848) by King Ludwig the First, it encountered strong opposition especially in the Catholic regions of Bavaria. This opposition served the aims of various social groups in the periphery. The citizens’ protests have prevented the possibility of social and political change. In Lower Franconia (Unterfranken) the regions governor the following words writes the following to the Bavarian Minister of Internal Affairs:

“…public opinion was against equality for Israelites’ adding that no disagreement in this connection between Conservatives and Democrats and little between Catholics and Protestants…” (Harris 1989:73).

The governor’s emphasis that the resistance was not motivated by religious considerations serves as proof of the opposite. This can be understood as related to the resistance of certain sections of the local population who have adopted the new changes in principle but continued to oppose them on religious grounds:

“…Many Bavarians were prepared to accept substantial progress for the Jews, but could not yet accept the idea of full equality with Christians”, (Harris 1989:76).

The spirit of hate and resistance might have disappeared from the Bavarian culture, but the religious elements persist, at least as stated by recent research (Lang & Lang 1984). It was only when the Citizens Census was officially revoked (in 1861) that the Jewish population have obtained a certain degree of emancipation. For the first time the Jew could leave their villages and return to the cities. The Jewish congregations have gradually dispersed (in Altenstein, Pfarrwesiach, Mechenried, Knetzgau, Gleusdorf, Friesenhausen). Synagogues were sold, on condition that they won’t be converted into Pig Stys and the religious artifacts were transferred to the congregation’s new home.


In the cities, the Jews lived in a small area called “the Jew Zone” or “Street of the Jews”. The synagogue was located in the same place, a simple house where the Jews prayed and studied. An event which occurred in 1729 will serve as evidence of the contempt with which the synagogues were regarded by the Christian population: the synagogue in Memmelsdorf was converted into a church by order of the bishop.

Similar fate Maroldsweisach part of the community, who belonged to the rabbinate, Burgpreppach Bezirksrabbinat. Community synagogue was established in 1890 in a private apartment community was also hope and the number of classrooms. Community disbanded in 1936-1937 and the equipment of the synagogue was Ermershausen neighboring village community. The synagogue was sold in 1937 and has since served as a residence. Synagogue on Ermershausen destroyed on Kristallnacht in 1938. ”

The cemeteries were protected zones outside the cities, mostly in remote places with unusable land.
In 1834, by decree of the Royal Bavarian Authority, even the small communities were forced to build their own cemeteries. In the area of Landkries Hassberge, 8 Jewish cemeteries were built1. The Ermershausen cemetery2 (in the
Photograph), which was shared by two villages: Maroldsweisach and Ermershausen, has opened for burial services in 1832. The Jewish cemetery in Ebern was closed already in 1910, while the rest of the cemeteries were closed after the obliteration of their congregations.

cementry_43 The desecration of Jewish cemeteries started, as early as 1894. It continued during the 1920s and increased during the Nazi regime. In 10.11.1938 Jews were sent to the Kleinsteinach cemetery and were forced to destroy the graves of their own congregation. In the Ermershausen cemetery, where members of the Hecht family are buried (and Henry Kissinger’s3 grandmother as well), the graves were also desecrated. Graves were vandalized also in the Memmelsdorf cemetery. This practice has continued even after the Holocaust. For example, swastikas etched on headstones in the Burgpreppach cemetery even in 1988 (17.6.1988).
In this cemetery many of the Blum family are buried ((

The birthplace of Moshe Blum, husband of Malka (nee Hecht), sister of Samuel Hecht, fifth generation descendant of the Hecht Family). (In the photo: the cemetery in Burgpreppach).

The involvement of Jews in the life of Bavaria was manifested, among other things, in their army service in the German wars. Anton Hecht (born in 1846) fought in the war of 1870/1 (see photo) his name is engraved on the memorial monument placed in the center of the village, eleventh line from the top). Anton is the son of Manasses Hecht (1803-1892). 165 German Jewish soldiers from the district fought in the First World War (1914/18) out of which, 24 were killed and many others were wounded. Max Hecht, brother of Samuel Hecht was among those who were killed. His name is among the list of the fallen, engraved on the memorial monument that stands until today at the village’s center near the Protestant church in Herrenstrasse Street (“the street of men”). The name Max Hecht appears in the eleventh place from the top. He himself is buried in the cemetery located in the French German border.


Starting from the 19th century, the Jewish population in Lower Bavaria is gradually decreasing. In 1885 1251 Jewish citizens lived in the county, in 1900 their numbers have decreased to 1063 and in 1925 only 565 Jews have remained. This decrease is due, among other things, to the hatred towards Jews, hatred that was transformed into overt anti-Semitism in the 20s. In 17.3.1929, for example,
a 4 years old child was murdered in the Manau village in the Hofheim district. This event has quickly turned into a “Blood Libel” (alilat dam) similar to those rumors who were distributed during the Lower Ages where Jews were accused of using the blood of a child for the baking of Mazzot for Pesach. The rumor, started by Manu’s Protestant priest (1929) quickly spread among the farmers and disseminated by the newspapers of the Habsburg district.
This case, which has been denied, was used in those days as propaganda by the Nazi party. A similar case occurred in 1937 when a girl who worked in the Max Neuberger Matzoth bakery in Burgpreppach was asked whether she noticed that the dough was reddish hue. This was another example of a false rumor.


In 1933 only 440-445 Jews were left in the Hassberge district. In the whole of Lower Franconia only 9000 Jews were left. Their condition has worsened since 1933. Out of the 136 Jews who were citizens of the district in 1933, 128 were deported and murdered, and the rest died or were expelled.

On March of the same year the transfer of Jews to the Dachau concentration camp has begun. The camp was opened in March 22, 1933. On April 1st 1933 a “Boycott Day” against the Jews (a demonstration of SA Soldiers was held in the vicinity of the Jewish stores).

Racism has become an official state policy, as the Nierenberg Laws were received in 15.9.1935. Among other things, Jews were prohibited to trade in cattle, the major trade of many residents in the region. Thus the Nierenberg Laws have the deprived many Jewish families of their livelihood. As a result many Jews have moved to the cities, where they stayed under assumed names, or else immigrated to America or to Israel.


On 5.11.1935 many Jewish men were arrested and thrown to jail in Ebern, Hassfurt and Hofheim. While the women and children were left helpless and without protection, and suffered the harsh treatment of the SA troops. The marauders were not residents of the region. They provided reinforcement for the local Nazis. The SA troops from Bamberg demolished the Burgpreppach synagogue and the Talmud Torah School. The SA from Coburg went wild in Ermershausen. Nazis from Westheim wrecked havoc in Hansford while the Nazis from Schweinfurt, Hassfurt and Westheim acted in Kleinsteinach. Except from the synagogue in Burgpreppach, the center for bible school studies, other synagogues were not destroyed, because they were located close to Christian quarters. Yet the religious artifacts and the holy Torah books were torn and thrown out in the streets. The Jews were forced to stamp on them and then they were burned. The Jews were also forced to clean out the rubble from the ruins of the Burgpreppach synagogue. They were given the derogatory term “the pasture convoy” by the Nazis (“Kolonne GrÜunspan Lernt Arbeiten”). Rabbi Dr. Saul Munk was among the people who cleared out the rabble, 2 weeks before he was transferred, together with other Jews, to the Dachau concentration camp. Rabbi Munch has survived and moved to Israel.

After “Kristallnacht” on 9-10.11.1938 (the name “Kristallnacht” was given to the first major attack on the Jewish population of Germany and Austria), travel outside of Germany became more difficult. In the area only the families who had no money or were still indecisive were left. In 23.10.41 immigration was forbidden by law, and was no longer possible. The Jews were forced to wear the designated patch at any time, and were also forced to add “Israel” or “Sarah” to their name so as to make it easier to identify them as Jews. In 1938 the “Forced Arianization” process (“Zwangsariserung”) has begun, which meant that all Jewish property had to be sold way below its true value. Many Germans thus became property owners, and their ownership was identified by the businesses the acquired.


During the 40s the ghettos were built, formerly Jewish quarters, in which the remaining Jewish residents were forced to live cramped in a small space. In Hassfurt the ghetto was located in Bruecken Str. no. 3. In the district cemeteries the dead were often buried without a tombstone. And the existing grave stones were vandalized, defaced. In 1942 the deportations have begun, in accordance with the “Final Solution” decision in Winze Conference in January 1941. In the great deportation in 25.4.42 in the Unterfranken region most of the residents were transferred, families and men under 65 who were sent in 27.4.42 to the temporary camps Izvica and Krasnycyn in Lublyn. Yet, before their arrival to the camp, in the Krasnystaw train station, the young men were selected for work in the Maydanek death camp. They too have ended their lives in the Belzec, and Sobibor gas chambers. At this time, Wurzburg served as the center for deportations in the Lower Franconia area. In order to render the settlements “Jews Free” the old and the sick were moved to the Jewish old people homes in Schweinfurt and Wurzburg. In September 10th and 23rd 1942 the jaws were transferred to the Tereizinstadt camp and to the gas chambers in Minsk, while the rest died of hunger and disease. The last deportation left from Wurzburg in June 1943, to Tereizinstadt and from there to the Auschwitz gas chambers.

The Lower Franconia region became “Jew Free”, and life went on, without them. A 15 years old girl wrote in an essay for the fair held in 1983 and titled “The Book-Keeping of Death” (“Buchführung des Todes” ) :

“I have the impression, that as soon as the Jewish families of the Hassberge region were put on the trains their neighbors immediately forgot them”…

mezuza_55Even though there were people who had friendship ties with Jewish families, and were deeply saddened by their departure. It is clear why so few of the Jews who used to live in the county ever came back to visit the place where they were born. Many others never set foot again on German soil. Few of the local residents still mention the existence of the cemeteries of their Jew neighbors, but the memory plaques that were prepared by the national authority were left unused: the new residents refused to install them. On a few remained (see photo of a residence in the Burgpreppach village made during the Hecht family heritage journey in the summer of 2003) in the photo Muly (Samuel), seventh generation descendant of the Hecht family is pointing to a small indentation on the doorframe where the Mezuzah used to hang. In a few houses traces of mezuzah still remain, as for example in one of the houses in Memmelsdorf, not far away from the place where the synagogue used to be, there is still evidence of its Jewish origin, traces of Mezuzah on the doorframes and in the cellar evidence of built Mikveh. There is also a Sukkah in the attic. In this exceptional case the current residents have acknowledged the value of these remains and took care to conserve them.

  1. List of the Jewish cemeteries located in the region:

    — Burgpreppach, opened in 1708, active until 1939. 397 graves

    — Kleinsteinach, the regional cemetery, opened in 1453. 710 graves

    — Ebern, opened in 1633, active until 1909. 1200 graves

    — Limbach, opened in 1933, active until 1909. 1200 graves

    — Memmelsdorf, opened in 1835 until 1937. 112 graves

    — Schweinshaupten, opened at the beginning of the 18th century, active until 1940. 119 graves

    — Untermerzbach, opened in 1841, active until 1940. 52 graves

    — Ermershausen, common to the Maroldsweisach and Ermershausen villages, opened in 1832, active until 1939. 226 graves, 2,000 sqm in size.


  2. In the Ermershausen cemetery nine members of the Hecht family are buried. 

  3. Henry Alfred Kissinger (born 1923) was the American Foreign Secretary in the years 1973-77. He is the son of a Jewish orthodox family from Firth. His family immigrated to the US in 1938 after his father, who was an educator and an instructor in a German school, had lost his job with the rise of the Nazi regime. Kissinger’s grandmother came from the Ermershausen village. 

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