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A Frankfurt Museum
Devoted To The Ghetto
RUTH ROVNER SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH NEWS
he view from the entry lev-
el of the museum is strik-
ing. In a large area below,
the visitor looks down to
see five unusual rectangular
structures. Made of thick, weath-
ered stones, they are obviously
fragments, pieces of larger
wholes. Next to one of them a
sign reads, "Mikwe, 1462-1711."
The display area looks more
like an excavation site than a mu-
seum. But it is indeed a museum
— and a unique one. Opened two
years ago, the Judgengasse Mu-
seum in Frankfurt displays the
stone foundations of five houses
which were once part of the Jew-
ish ghetto of Frankfurt.
World of Watches
4301 Orchard Lk. Rd.
Thurs. & Fri. 10-9
- - 11 i.1
dations of five actual houses, plus
two mikvehs, one of them dating
back to the 15th century, a rate
It was the surprise discovery
of these remnants that led to the
creation of a modern museum
that displays ancient remnants.
Seven years ago, construction
began on a new city utilities
building on the site of what was
once the ghetto.
That's when something amaz-
ing was discovered: Below the
ground, the workers' shovels
struck solid stone. Soon the stone
foundations were unearthed, still
`These were the original stones
PHOTO BY RUTH ROVNER
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A photo of houses in the ghetto hands in the museum.
Hundreds of years ago, Jews
of Frankfurt lived in these hous-
es and others just like them —
houses which one stood on the
very site of the museum.
It is the only museum in Eu-
rope, and probably anywhere
else, which is entirely devoted to
the history of a Jewish ghetto.
From the 15th to the 19th cen-
turies, the Jews of Frankfurt
lived in narrow, crowded hous-
es on one long street, called "Jud-
gengasse" — Jews' Street —
where the gates were locked
morning and evening.
Named for the ghetto itself, the
Judgengasse museum offers vis-
itors a detailed and close-up look
at the oldest Jewish ghetto in Eu-
There is, first, a carefully de-
tailed photo exhibit in three lan-
guages. There are also films to
see, available in both English and
German, plus an audio display
which narrates the reaction of
19th century travelers who saw
Of course, there are the stone
remnants themselves: the foun-
and cellar rooms of houses in the
Judgengasse," explained Fritz
Backhaus, curator of the Jud-
gengasse. The houses themselves
were built of wood and did not
survive fire and other destruc-
tion. But these stone foundations
The oldest part of the excava-
tion dates back to the 15th cen-
tury, while the other houses in
the display were built after the
great fire of 1711 destroyed the
Both the city of Frankfurt and
its prestigious Jewish Museum
cooperated in creating a museum
to display these unique finds. "It
was a decision of the Frankfurt
City Council to give the remnants
to the Jewish Museum, which is
part of the city museum system,"
explained Mr. Backhaus.
`The city funded it and they let
the Jewish Museum take charge
of how to design it."
Together with the other cura-
tors, Mr. Backhaus spent three
years intensively researching
records of the Frankfurt ghet-
to.They pored over city archives