The Jewish Ruins of the Rhine

August 20, 2018,

In recent months, the Rhine city of Mainz captured worldwide headlines for the murder and rape of one of its Jewish members, 14-year-old Susanna Feldmann, allegedly at the hands of an Iraqi asylum-seeker, now in German custody. In the news coverage of Susanna’s murder and the ensuing heated parliamentary debate over Germany’s refugee policy, few pointed to Mainz’s significance as the cradle of Ashkenazi Jewry.

“Mainz is one of the most important towns in Europe for Jewish culture,” said Peter Seelmann, a tour guide for the city, the center of which is dominated by the Mainz Cathedral. “Already in Roman times, we contend there was Jewish life here.”

During the 10th and 11th centuries, Jews were granted permission to settle, live and, ultimately, thrive in Mainz, a former Roman garrison city, as well as in the neighboring riverside towns of Speyer and Worms. At its peak, Jews accounted for about 10 percent of Mainz’s population. Today, of Mainz’s 200,000 residents, some 38 percent are Catholic, 23 percent are Protestant, 5 percent are Muslim and .5 percent are Jewish.

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