Whether there was already a Jewish community in the late antique settlement Colonia Agrippinensis is still unclear today. Excavations in the former Jewish quarter, the site of the emerging LVR-Museum MiQua. LVR-Jewish Museum in the Archaeological Quarter Cologne, now allow the legitimate assumption that there was a prosperous Jewish community in Cologne in Roman times. The first written evidence for the existence of a Jewish population is a document of Emperor Constantine from the year 321, which in 2021 provides the starting point for the festive year “1700 years of Jewish life in Germany”.
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View to the main entrance of the MiQua and the town hall square, on the left the renaissance arcade of the town hall. © Wandel Lorch Architects
Directly in front of the historic city hall of the City of Cologne, an innovative and in every respect extraordinary cultural project is being developed: The MiQua. LVR-Jewish Museum in the Archaeological Quarter Cologne. Together with the Roman Praetorium, the medieval Jewish Quarter, and the Goldsmith’s Quarter, the MiQua presents highly significant archaeological evidence from the history of Cologne and the Rhineland. As of 2024, visitors will be able to explore an underground archaeological route of more than 600 meters in length on an area of more than 6,000 square meters.
With its eleventh-century synagogue and the ritual bath (mikvah), as well as community and residential buildings, the Jewish quarter is unique in its size and state of preservation. Impressive finds from the excavation illustrate everyday life and coexistence in the quarter. This presentation is supplemented by a large number of written sources from the Middle Ages, which illustrate the phases of peaceful coexistence, but also bear witness to times of expulsion, persecution, and murder.
The upper floor of the new museum building on Rathausplatz will house a permanent exhibition focusing on Cologne’s Jewish history and culture from 1424—the year when Cologne’s Jews were forced to leave the city and their quarter—to the present day.
The MiQua is a project of the LVR–Rhineland Regional Council and the City of Cologne.
Learn more about the MiQua at https://miqua.blog/, as well as on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!
Bronze sculpture in memory of the destroyed Cologne synagogues, missing since 2010. From --Superbass - Eigenes Werk, CC BY-SA 3.0
The history of the Jewish Cemetery in the Bocklemünd district of Cologne goes back to the year 1918. Several well-known citizens of the City of Cologne are buried here, including the department store founder Leonhard Tietz and the renowned sociologist Alphons Silbermann. The name of the art historian and journalist Louise Straus-Ernst was added posthumously to the family grave—in 1944, she was deported from French exile to Auschwitz and murdered there.
On the central walkway of the cemetery stands the monument designed by Franz Josef Lipensky, which commemorates the destruction of the Cologne synagogues during the night of pogroms. On the pedestal of the monument was a bronze sculpture composed of six Stars of David, which symbolized the six million murdered Jews, and a menorah as a symbol of Judaism. Destroyed Torah scrolls and a wall fragment commemorated the devastation and destruction of Cologne’s synagogues on November 9, 1938.
After the pogrom, members of the congregation hoped to be able to save at least a few ritual objects from the destructive fury of the Nazis and buried Torah scrolls and ritual objects on the grounds of the cemetery. In 1978, the congregation decided to open the hiding place. At that time, however, it had already been looted and the remaining objects had mostly decayed and rotted. They were later buried on the same site during a ceremony. The monument still stands on this site today—but without the bronze sculpture, which was stolen in 2010 and has been missing since.
So-called "baker's list", Hebrew names and amounts of money, on the right the nail hole in the roof slate can be recognized. © Stefan Arendt /LVR-ZMB.
During the excavations of the medieval Jewish quarter in Cologne conducted since 2007, archaeologists found numerous inscribed slate tablets. To date, more than 500 fragments have been catalogued and analyzed as part of a project of the Department of Jewish Studies at the Goethe University Frankfurt (2019–21). A large number of these slate tablets were excavated in a layer of finds dating from after the fire in the Jewish quarter in the course of the so-called Black Death pogrom in 1349. These slates, unique worldwide in terms of their quantity found in one place, provide a wealth of information about everyday life in the Middle Ages: writing exercises for schoolchildren in Hebrew, drawings of ornaments, animals, and caricatures, lists of names with small sums of money, and part of a knight’s tale in Yiddish. Thanks to the names lists, we know who lived in the Jewish quarter in Cologne at that time.
The residents inscribed the slates with a stylus, a pointed, hard writing instrument. This could be made of metal or slate. They used roofing slate tiles (recognizable by the nail hole) or slate fragments. These were occasionally inscribed several times and were not intended for long-term use.
So-called Jewish quota refugees from Russia shortly after their arrival in Cologne at the city's housing office, 1996. © LVR Center for Media and Education, Herby Sachs
In 1991, the Conference of Ministers-President decided to apply the Quota Refugees Act to Jewish migrants from the former Soviet Union. In their countries of origin, they were not permitted to practice their religion publicly. The act made it possible for them and their children to obtain a permanent residency status and a work permit in Germany.
In this way, more than 200,000 people came to Germany by the beginning of the 2000s. Not all of them became part of the congregations, but the number of members nevertheless increased. In the synagogue congregations of Cologne, for example, the number of members doubled within a few years. The new arrivals played a key role in inner-Jewish developments and ensured the continued existence of smaller congregations with predominantly older members. In addition, many new—especially liberal—congregations were formed throughout Germany during this period.
The photographer and photojournalist Herby Sachs documented the diversity of Jewish life in Cologne. From everyday situations and activities to significant events, such as the arrival of migrants in Cologne, he captured many things with his camera. His pictures provide insight into the Cologne congregations, which at that time were marked by change and transformation.
Passport of Henry Gruen, late 1930s. Source: NS Documentation Center of the City of Cologne
As a young man, Henry Gruen (born as Heinz Grünebaum, 1923–2013), witnessed the brutal devastation and destruction of Jewish life in Cologne on November 9 and 10, 1938: Unknown persons in “semi-civilian clothing,” as he later testified, plundered and destroyed his own family home and the Ehrenfeld synagogue, where his father was a prayer leader. The latter advised his son to quickly fetch the most necessary things from the apartment—young Henry only took his pajamas, a shirt, and his piano album with his favorite pieces by Johann Sebastian Bach with him before fleeing to friends of the family.
In 1939, Henry Gruen was able to escape the National Socialists to safety in Great Britain with a children’s transport. Roughly 130 of his fellow students from the Jawne Jewish grammar school were saved in this way. The farewell to his parents Thekla and Leopold and his sister Inge was an eternal one—in 1942, they were deported from Cologne to Theresienstadt and murdered in Auschwitz in 1944. Gruen’s attempts to take Inge out of the country had been unsuccessful.
A sponsorship, a so-called affidavit, from his uncle enabled him to emigrate to the USA, where he completed his chemistry studies and lived until 1971. He decided to return to Germany with a profound sense of ambivalence. His commitment to liberal Judaism was all the more unambiguous: Gruen was one of the co-founders of the Jewish liberal community “Gescher LaMassoret” (Bridge to Tradition) and remained a committed member until the end of his life.
The exterior view of the synagogue Roonstraße in Cologne around 1900. Source: Rheinisches Bildarchiv, signature: RBA 004665.
The synagogue on Roonstrasse looks back on an eventful history: Completed in 1899, it shaped both Cologne’s cityscape and inner-Jewish developments. In accordance with the reforms in the nineteenth century, the bema, the elevated pulpit for the weekly reading of the Torah, was no longer located in the center of the room, but moved to the east side near the Torah shrine. Another characteristic of the reform orientation of the members of the congregation was the desire to install an organ—this led to a break with the orthodox members.
During the Nazi regime, the synagogue congregation developed into a central place of help and support for the persecuted Jews of Cologne. Nevertheless, they had to watch defenselessly as their synagogue was set on fire and cult objects desecrated or stolen. In mid-1941, the Nazi authorities declared the building complex behind the synagogue a ghetto house. Among the forcibly confined and later deported were the last Cologne rabbi Isidor Caro and his wife Klara.
In April 1945, survivors of the Shoah founded a new congregation in the ruins of the synagogue. The dedication of the rebuilt synagogue took place in 1959 in the presence of the German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer and the Cologne Rabbi Zvi Asaria.
Roonstrasse continues to be the cultural and religious center, as well as the official seat of the synagogue congregation of Cologne, which today boasts roughly 5,000 members.
Dieter Corbach: "I cannot remain silent." Richard Stern, Cologne. Marsilstein 20. search for traces of Jewish activity. Scriba Publishing House.
Richard Stern (1899–1967) was one of roughly 100,000 Jews who fought for Germany during the First World War. He was honored for his special services with the Iron Cross, 2nd Class—whereby the respect and gratitude did not last long. During the so-called Jewish boycott on April 1, 1933, the National Socialists called for people not to purchase products from Jews and not to consult Jewish doctors and lawyers. Richard Stern offered resistance.
On this day, he wore his military decoration from the First World War and stood in front of the entrance of his bedding and upholstery store in Cologne next to the SA men positioned there. Prior to this, he had had a flyer printed which he had written himself, in which he appealed to the solidarity of the people of Cologne and protested the boycott. Here, he expressly referred to the merits of Jewish front soldiers in the First World War and quoted a statement—cynical in this context—by Adolf Hitler, Wilhelm Frick, and Hermann Göring: “Anyone who insults a front soldier in the Third Reich will be punished with imprisonment.” He was arrested for his behavior.
During the pogrom, his home and business were raided and devastated. He managed to escape in time, went into hiding, and thus escaped imprisonment. He fled to the USA in 1939—shortly before the outbreak of war. There, he joined the American army in 1942 and fought against the Nazi regime, which had excluded and persecuted him. For his commitment, he received the Silver Star, the third highest award of the American armed forces.
The exterior view of the synagogue Glockengasse in Cologne. Source: Rheinisches Bildarchiv, signature: RBA 065 334.
After their expulsion from Cologne in 1424, Jews were not permitted to resettle in the cathedral city until 1798. After being readmitted, they founded a congregation and used the premises of the former convent of the Order of Saint Clare on Glockengasse. A steadily growing number of members led to the planning of a new place of worship, which was financed by Abraham von Oppenheim. The design of the new building, which was inaugurated in 1861, was by the master builder of the Cologne Cathedral, Ernst Friedrich Zwirner.
Zwirner designed the synagogue using Moorish forms, in the style prevailing at that time for synagogues. Both reform and orthodox communities had drawn on the Moorish style for their synagogues. In doing so, the latter pursued a clear distinction from Christian houses of worship. In contrast, the reform congregations demonstrated with the use of Moorish forms their renunciation of the reconstruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, which was reconstructed in the Arabic style in the nineteenth century. Zwirner’s building was considered one of the most beautiful synagogues of the nineteenth century, in which the self-confidence of the Jewish community was also expressed.
During the November pogrom, the building was set on fire and destroyed as a result of the non-intervention of the fire department. The Catholic priest Gustav Meinertz rescued a Torah scroll from the burning synagogue. This was returned to the Jewish community after restoration in 2007.
There is nothing left to be seen of the synagogue—the foundations are probably preserved beneath what is now Offenbachplatz.
A double page from the Offenbach-Hagadah. Photo: Tanja Potthoff / MiQua.
Isaac Offenbach, the father of the composer Jacques Offenbach, was a cantor in the Jewish community in Cologne for many years. He was a musician, composer, and bookbinder. In 1838, he penned the Haggadah, traditionally written in Hebrew, in German. In doing so, he presented a new adaptation of the scripture that has been read for centuries by Jews all over the world for the Feast of Passover, in memory of the biblical Exodus from Egypt.
At the beginning of the feast, which lasts several days, the Haggadah is read at a festively decorated table with family and friends. This tells not only about the liberation from slavery in Egypt, the plagues, and the exodus, but also includes prayers, songs, and ritual instructions, so that the Haggadah gives this important evening a fixed order.
The Offenbach Haggadah pays testimony to the far-reaching developments in German Judaism in the nineteenth century, since Offenbach reacted to these developments with his German edition and the desire to make the text “[...] accessible to a large part of our fellow believers [...].” In the introduction to the Haggadah, he explains this intention and also makes a plea for further reforms: “We must therefore work hard to reform not religion, but the guise of it. For religion will forever remain a need of our hearts, a precious legacy of our fathers.”
Amsterdam Machzor, Folio 58v, ca. 1250. © Joods Historisch Museum, Amsterdam and Landschaftsverband Rheinland.
Today, it is known as the “Amsterdam Machzor”: In the mid-thirteenth century, a French scribe created this very special manuscript for the Jewish community in Cologne, which is also one of the oldest Hebrew manuscripts from the Middle Ages in the German-speaking world.
A machzor (Hebrew for “cycle”) is a prayer book for the Jewish High Holy Days and contains prayers and liturgical verses. In the Middle Ages, these compositions could differ from town to town. The Amsterdam Machzor contains the traditions of the Jewish community in Cologne. It consists of 331 parchment pages and is richly decorated with illustrations, ornamental letters and words, and the signs of the zodiac.
The thirteenth century, in which the machzor was created, was a time of cultural prosperity in Cologne, as well as a time that bears witness to a peaceful coexistence of Jews and Christians: In 1248, the foundation stone for the new Cologne Cathedral was laid; and in the second half of the century, the bema, the central pulpit in the middle of the synagogue, was refurbished in the Gothic style. It can be assumed that the craftsmen of the Dombauhütte, the cathedral workshop, built the bema with its extraordinarily beautiful and rich furnishings for the Jewish community.
The Amsterdam Machzor was presumably brought to safety in 1349, before the massacres in the course of the plague, and had verifiably been in Amsterdam since the seventeenth century. Today, it is accessible with all its pages for everyone at: www.amsterdammahzor.org.
LVR-Jewish Museum in the Archaeological Quarter Cologne.
In the early 4th century AD, Cologne, the capital of the Low Germanic province of the Roman Empire, attracted the attention of Rome and the Emperor. The members of the city council of the Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium turned to the Emperor in an administrative matter, who probably took care of this matter immediately. For his reaction took place in the form of a decree with legal character valid in the entire Imperium Romanum.
Constantine's decree of 321 allowed the provincial cities - with certain possibilities of special rights and dispensation - to appoint Jews to the city council. At the same time, the decree highlights Cologne's Jewish history in late antiquity.
This decree is the earliest surviving document on the existence of Jews north of the Alps. Accordingly, Jewish life in Germany in 2021 looks back on a 1700-year history.
Constantine's decree of 321 has survived as a copy in a collection of laws, the Codex Theodosianus. Commissioned by Emperor Theodosius II (408-450) between 429 and 437, it contains all the Roman laws and imperial constitutions issued since 321 by Constantine the Great and the following Roman emperors, in Latin and in abbreviated form. The oldest preserved copy dates back to the 6th century and is now in the Vatican.