Frank proclaimed himself Zvi’s successor and the reincarnation of King David. “Frankism,” which blended elements of Judaism and Christianity using enlightenment ideals, attracted tens of thousands of followers throughout Eastern Europe and, over the next several decades, some 26,000 Frankists were baptized in Poland. The rabbinical authorities in Poland excommunicated Frank and his followers due to his heretical doctrines, generally a radical anarchist approach that rejected all the prohibitions and restrictions of Jewish law, including the laws of incest, and specifically his self-deification.
Even the Catholic Church convicted him of heresy and imprisoned him for over a decade in a monastery (1760); his persecution, however, only served to heighten interest in his message and status, and his daughter, Eva (born Rachel), became the de facto head of the sect during his incarceration.
When the partition of Poland led to her father’s release, Eva (1754-1816) accompanied him on his travels and played a key part in the movement. When Frank established his “court” in Offenbach, Germany (1787), he perpetuated her mystique as the reincarnation of the Virgin Mary and as the Shechinah, the female essence of divinity, and she became venerated in her own right. Though her mother was Frank’s wife, Hannah Kohen, Frank bolstered Eva’s exclusive standing in his movement by circulating the story that she was an illegitimate child of the Russian empress Catharina and was therefore a princess in the House of Romanov.
After Frank’s death (1791), Eva became known as the “Holy Mistress,” assumed leadership of the Frankists, and became the only woman in history be declared a Jewish messiah. It is in this capacity that she wrote this October 20, 1792 correspondence to Frankfurt merchant Jean Hartman Lindheimer:
I did not want to inconvenience you again but need obliges me, because I do not have enough sugar to share amongst the poor people, so I have waited a while with the exchange until I have asked you to be kind enough to send me a single centnar of sugar again. In case you have fine white sugar I would prefer that. I hope you won’t refuse me. Also, if you have 5 centnars of rice, or 5 centnars of millet, or 10 centnars of barley [?], whichever of these three types you have, and could let me have one of them, it would make me enormously happy. The exchange will follow quickly as soon as I have to reply through my servants. I will be very grateful to you for the news you will be able to bring me soon. I have the pleasure to thank you …
Lindheimer (1753-1824), a prosperous merchant in the Saxenhausen section of Frankfurt, was a relative of Goethe, whose maternal grandmother was a Lindheimer. Eva sent “red letters” (correspondence in red ink) to hundreds of Jewish communities encouraging conversion to Christianity and enlistment into the Frankist movement; her requests for financial help were supported by quotations from her father’s teachings and promises of approaching messianic redemption.
As our letter shows, her funds eventually ran out and she found herself deep in debt with local merchants – including Lindheimer – who finally took legal action against her; she died in poverty, however, before the matter was resolved.