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The Judengasse fire of 1721

On 28 January 1721 another fire broke out in the Judengasse which had just been rebuilt after the fire of 1711. The fire started in the rear of the Vogelsang, in the home of the "master builder" Moses Elkan, and spread very quickly throughout the northern part of the Judengasse. Within eleven hours the entire northern part down to the Drachen burnt down. Around one hundred houses were destroyed, and only the solidly built synagogue survived.
During the rescue work the houses in the southern part of the Judengasse were plundered by many Christian citizens, so that hardly any of the houses in the Judengasse escaped damage. The Jews applied to the city council to waive the community levies, as they had suffered badly from the fire and the looting. The petition complains: "They have not even spared the household goods left in the salvaged houses, not even the ovens, fires and roofs, victuals, wine and even our precious flour "
Through the agency of the imperial senior court factor Samson Wertheimer they sought the backing of the emperor Karl VI in Vienna, who criticized the council for its lenient attitude towards the looters and recommended protecting the Jews from the demands of their creditors. After it emerged that the city council owed the Jewish community money, a compromise was reached after long negotiations on the community levy to be paid.
As a result of the impoverishment and shortage of credit the rebuilding of the Judengasse was a slow process this time. Even by 1750 almost 25% of the Jewish community were unable to pay taxes or were living on charity. The Jewish inhabitants who had rented houses from Christians outside the Judengasse had to return to the ghetto even before all the fire damage had been cleared. In 1729 the city council finally forced the last 45 Jewish families still living in the city back into the ghetto, despite the protests of their Christian landlords.
Just as in the earlier fire of 1711 the Jews saw this fire as a divine punishment. The rabbi warned the community to do penance to avoid further divine chastisement.




© Jüd. Museum Frankfurt 1992-2002 /  Sources