Exclusion of Jews can already be found in the Middle Ages: stereotypically, Jews were often described as “money-grubbing,” “devious,” “treacherous,” as “well poisoners,” “ritual murderers,” ” profiteers,” and depicted in pictures as “ugly,” “unsympathetic,” and so on. This was also the case in everyday life, for example in the business seal of an Iacobus from Bremen around 1350, where a distorted depiction of a Jew looks into the anus of a pig as an anti-Jewish invective. Such so-called “Jewish pigs” as invective objects from this period can also be found on 36 Christian places of worship in Central Europe, such as the Wittenberg City Church (around 1310). In addition, Jews were also marked in their clothing in everyday life. This is shown until modern times by yellow Jewish hats in pictorial manuscripts, on frescoes in churches and also the regulations on the color and shape and wearing of such hats. Similarly, in the dress regulations until the 17th/18th century, the attachment of a yellow ring on the left side of the cloak was prescribed for a long time.
Across the board, the Jewish religion was represented in the juxtaposition of radiant “Ecclesia” (for the Christian church) and depressed “Synagoga” (for the Jewish religion) in allegorical sculptures on Romanesque or Gothic churches (e.g., Strasbourg Cathedral or Bamberg Cathedral). The aim of these depictions and the dress codes was to exclude, humiliate and offend Jews.
After the introduction of printing by Johannes Gutenberg (Mainz, around 1456), many anti-Jewish diatribes appeared in the 16th century (e.g. Martin Luther’s “Von den Jüden und jren Lügen”, Wittenberg 1543). In their function at the time, these deliberately distorted images are comparable to today’s inflammatory and hateful posts on social media.
In the relationship between Christians and Jews, periods of coexistence and exclusion alternated: on the one hand, sovereigns granted Jews a right of protection and residence, on the other hand, Jews were persecuted.
The modern development in Frankfurt am Main can serve as an example for a stronger integration of Jewish life in Germany: although the so-called “Fettmilch Rebellion” of 1612 resulted in acts of violence against the council as well as the looting of the Judengasse, a period of mutual respect and tolerance began afterwards.
Jews were able to practice their religion, their culture, their customs and traditions in villages and towns for a long time in coexistence and side by side. For example, children of Christian denominations and Jewish religion could learn reading, writing and arithmetic together from the 17th century onwards, as in the Old School in Lorsch.
Fig. 1: Anti-Jewish object of shame of a so-called “Judensau” at the city church in Wittenberg (around 1310).
(Source: Jewish sow at the town church in Wittenberg, Posi66, via Wikimedia Commons)
Fig. 2: Anti-Jewish depiction of the crucifixion of Christ. Chapel of St. Catherine in Landau in the Palatinate, after 1350 (Source: Wall painting Landau, D. Krieger, via Wikipedia Commons).
Fig. 3: Depiction of a Jewish hat in the Frankfurt Jewish Ordinance (Stättigkeit 1613). The obligation to wear the hat had already been abolished around this time (Source: Judenhut, public domain, via Wikipedia Commons)
Fig. 4 | 5: Portrait of a Jew from Worms, Thesaurus Picturarum of Marcus zum Lamm (1544 – 1606), University and State Library Darmstadt, manuscript 1971, vol. 23, p. 121/122 (Source: Portrait of a Jew from Worms / Portrait of a Jew from Worms, in the public domain, via Wikipedia Commons)