General information: First Jewish presence: unknown; peak Jewish population: unknown; Jewish population in 1933: 1,016
Summary: The Jewish community of Worms was one of Ashkenaz Jewry’s most prominent. Rashi, the Bible and Talmud commentator, and Rabbi Eliezer ha-Roke’ach were among the many celebrated rabbis and scholars of the town. The early Jewish community maintained a synagogue (built in 1034), a renowned yeshiva and the Heilige Sand (Holy Sand) cemetery, which was the oldest Jewish cemetery in Europe and the resting place of several leaders and sages of Ashkenaz Jewry, including the Maharam of Rothenburg and the Maharil. Worms’ medieval Jewish community, however, was destroyed on several occasions; the Crusader massacre of 1096 is still commemorated in Jewish elegies. In 1150, the rabbinates of Speyer, Worms and Mainz (referred to by the acronym SHUM) were empowered to serve as a high court for the Jews of Germany. The community’s 16th-century rabbis were appointed as chief rabbis of the Holy Roman Empire. Later, in 1614 and again in 1615, Jews were expelled from Worms for short periods. The aforementioned synagogue, which had been destroyed and rebuilt on several occasions, underwent extensive renovations during the years 1616 to 1624, during which time a women’s gallery and the “Rashi Chapel” were added to the structure. (The latter served as a yeshiva until 1760.) In the 18th century, Worms was home to a private synagogue whose owners, the Sinsheimer family, hired a series of rabbis. The community’s synagogue was renovated in 1842, after which, in 1868 and 1875, respectively, the congregation was introduced to the use of a harmonium and an organ during synagogue services. Accordingly, the community’s Orthodox members decided to establish their own prayer halls and, in 1875, a second synagogue—an organ was not used there—was built in Worms. Eastern European Jews prayed in their own Orthodox prayer hall, and services were also conducted at the old-age home, whose building, referred to as the Tanzhaus (“dance house”), had once housed a yeshiva. During the years 1849 to 1852, a Jew, Friedrich Eberstadt, served as mayor of Worms, a rare achievement for a Jew in 19th-century Germany. The old cemetery was closed in 1911 and declared a historical monument, as was the Rashi Chapel, which had been renovated in the mid-19th century and preserved. The new cemetery, opened in 1911, was built in Hochheim, next to the general burial grounds. In 1912, a Jewish museum was opened in Worms. Dr. Isaak Holzer was the community’s rabbi in 1933. Holzer emigrated in 1935, after which the rabbi was Manfred Rosenberg and, after 1937, Rabbi Helmut Frank. In 1935, a regional Jewish school was opened in Worms. On Pogrom Night, the synagogue was burned to the ground, as was the Rashi Chapel. The interior of the second synagogue was destroyed, and so were most of the objects in the Jewish museum. Jewish homes and businesses were wrecked, Jews were severely beaten—some were hospitalized—and 46 men were sent to Buchenwald. In 1941/42, the remaining Jews were forcibly moved into a few houses, from which the men were taken for forced labor. From 1942 until 1945, 186 Jews were deported to the East. At least 435 Jews from Worms perished in the Shoah. The old synagogue was rebuilt and rededicated in 1961; several Jewish-owned homes have been restored. In 1971, the Tanzhaus building was replaced by the “Rashi House,” a cultural and memorial center.
Photo: The interior of the synagogue of Worms. Courtesy of: Leo Baeck Institute Photo Archive, 19391.
Author / Sources: Nurit Borut
Sources: AJ, EJL, PK H
www.zum.de/Faecher/G/BW/Landeskunde/rhein/staedte/worms/ worms.htm