Photo Credit:
Miniature by Pierart dou Tielt illustrating the murder of Jews during the Black Plague, circa 1353.

On March 21, 1349, Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh Nissan, 5109, some 3,000 Jews were murdered in Erfurt, Germany. There were accounts of some Jews who set fire to their homes and possessions and perished in the flames to deny the German mob the satisfaction of lynching them. The survivors were expelled from the city.

The pogrom was encouraged by the local bishop implementing orders by Pope Clement VI, under whose rule the Black Death began in Europe. Fewer Jews died in the plague, and so, the common scientific belief of the time was that they were responsible for spreading it. We now believe that the fact that Jews dipped in the mikvah-ritual bath was probably the reason for their lower mortality, while their gentile neighbors were setting records of years without being touched by water.


With that in mind, it is touching that one of the three structures that were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Erfurt, centuries after the last Jew who lived there perished, should be the local mikvah. Here’s the full statement from UNESCO:

Jewish-Medieval Heritage of Erfurt

Located in the medieval historic center of Erfurt, the capital city of Thuringia, the property comprises three monuments: the Old Synagogue, the Mikvah, and the Stone House. They illustrate the life of the local Jewish community and its coexistence with a Christian majority in Central Europe during the Middle Ages, between the end of the 11th and the mid-14th century.

And then, the coexistence ended. But those wonderful, historic relics remained, to testify to the fact that many Gentiles prefer their Jews as a distant, fainting memory.

The UNESCO announcement failed to mention that one of the famous manuscripts of the Tosefta (compilation of second-century oral traditions) was found in the Erfurt genizah, part of 17 bundled manuscripts that ended up in the hands of the Erfurt City Council in 1349. The valuable manuscripts were hidden until the second half of the 1600s in the Erfurt Council Library, when they showed up in the inventory of the library of the Evangelical Ministry in the Augustinian Monastery, which sold them to the Royal Library in Berlin.

The Old Synagogue was used as a storehouse and then a restaurant and dance hall. Now it’s a museum, which means that instead of dancing on our ancestors’ graves, today they walk over them slowly with sober expressions and very quietly.

Kerstin Püschel, the German Ambassador to UNESCO, noted that “The site marks the second Jewish site in Germany to be protected by UNESCO, making it an important step towards honoring the common roots of Judaism and Christianity.”

She said it with a straight face, mind you. Irony is wasted on the Germans.

According to the Virtual Jewish Library, 40 Jews returned to Erfurt in 1951. A new synagogue was opened in 1952, and the community numbered 120 in 1961. Later, as a result of immigrating Jews from the former Soviet Union, the community rose to 550 in 2003.

Irony is wasted on German Jews, too.

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