Jewish live in Trier – Timeline

Trier was already home to Jews in the late Roman period. It’s unclear if this ancient Jewish presence continued into the Middle Ages. The 9th century was probably when new arrivals of Jews started settling in Trier (again). The first written evidence for this Jewish population is from 1066. The Jewish cemetery to the south of the city, where today the St. Antonius Kirche stands, probably also dates from the 11th century.

In Trier, relatively few Jews were killed in the pogroms unleashed in 1096 during the First Crusades.

Jewish life flourished once again in Trier from the early 12th century. Its focus was the Jewish quarter, a densely built area near the market and cathedral. Residents benefited from such essential infrastructure as synagogues for men and women, a ritual bath, and a festival hall.

After their expulsion from the kingdom of France in 1306, many Jews settled in the western Holy Roman Empire, and Trier in particular. This heralded a golden age of Jewish life in Trier in the first half of the 14th century, during the reign of archbishop Baldwin of Luxembourg. Some 300 Jews lived in the city during this period, about three percent of Trier’s total population.

That golden age came to an end in 1349, when the Black Death triggered a wave of violent scapegoating across the Holy Roman Empire. Many survivors fled to Poland, while Jewish life in the Empire largely collapsed. Only small numbers of Jews, subject to strict conditions, were tolerated in cities. Archbishop Otto von Ziegenhain expelled Jews from the entire archdiocese in 1418–1419, which marks the latest possible date for the abandonment of the cemetery on the site of St. Antonius Kirche.

It was not until 1610–1620 that Jews were able to return to the archbishopric, although their numbers remained very low. From 1624, Jews were protected by a Judenordnung governing Jewish life in the electorate-archbishopric of Trier. The Jewish cemetery on Weidegasse was opened in 1651.

The synagogue on Weberbach was built in 1761. This was a poor part of town, where Jews and Christians lived together in close proximity.

The Jewish population became increasingly assimilated during the 18th and 19th century, and lived scattered across the entire city.

After French revolutionary troops occupied Trier in 1794, and particularly with the introduction of Napoleon’s Code Civil in 1804, Jews achieved full legal equality. However, these civic rights were scaled back – first in 1808, and then considerably from 1815 under Prussian rule.

As in many other Prussian cities, Jews in Trier made up about one percent of the overall population in the 19th century.

In 1818, Karl Marx was born in Trier into a Jewish family with branches across Europe. He left Trier at the age of 17 to study at Bonn University.

In 1859, the synagogue on Zuckerbergstrasse replaced the one on Weberbach. Most Jews in Trier in this period were liberal-minded and adherents of Reform Judaism, alongside a small Orthodox minority.

Following the creation of the unified German Empire in 1871, Jews enjoyed – theoretically, at least – equal rights as citizens.

The new Jewish cemetery (today part of the main cemetery) was established in the 1910s.

After Hitler came to power in 1933, the Jewish population soon faced increasingly repressive measures. During the coordinated pogroms on 9 November 1938 (‘Kristallnacht’), the synagogue in Trier was one of many across Germany to be defiled and plundered. By then, roughly half of Trier’s approximately 600-strong Jewish population had fled abroad. From 1939, Jews lost all their civic rights, were forced to carry special identity cards, and had their property ‘Aryanized’. From 1941, Jews were rounded up, placed under arrest, and then deported to ghettos, concentration camps, and extermination camps in the east, where it is thought at least 300 Jews from Trier were murdered.

After the war, 20 surviving Jews returned to the city, 14 of whom went on to re-establish the Jewish congregation. In 1957, the Jewish congregation inaugurated a new synagogue on Kaiserstrasse, while the ruins of its forerunner on Zuckerbergstrasse were demolished.

Trier’s postwar Jewish population remained very small until 1990, when numbers were boosted considerably by the arrival of 800 Jews who settled in Germany as ‘quota refugees’ following the collapse of the USSR. Today the Jewish congregation is around 500 strong and inclines to a more Orthodox form of Judaism. Its members enjoy a vibrant community life, and offer a range of activities for young people. The congregation comes under the aegis of the rabbi of the French commune of Thionville.

In 1996, the Arye Maimon Institute was founded at the University of Trier – an internationally respected and interconnected research centre on the history of Jews.


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