Frankfort-on-the-Main, some 400 years ago...

The city of Frankfort was even then an important center of business and trade. It was famous for its annual trade fairs, when merchants from far and near came to buy and sell their wares. The local traders and businessmen were organized into guilds, which were quite powerful in the management of the city.

The Jewish community of Frankfort numbered about 3,000 souls. It was a flourishing community, well organized and conducted under the leadership of the rabbi and community leaders. True, the ghetto was crowded and the streets narrow and dark, but the Jewish homes were full of light and warmth: the light of the Torah and mitzvot, and the warmth of Jewish love and devotion to one another. A simcha, joyous occasion, in one family was the joy of the whole community.

Most of the Jews of Frankfort were working men: craftsmen, shopkeepers, traders, peddlers and the like. But among them were also important merchants who helped make Frankfort the great business center that it was. Not less important were the Jewish financial experts, who acted as money changers for merchants who came from foreign countries and did other banking business.

The German emperor well knew how important the Jews were for the country, and especially for the Crown treasury. The Jews paid high taxes, and every privilege granted them to carry on their business and trade was paid for with extra taxes. The emperor therefore took the Jews under his protection. The Jews were, in a sense, the king's personal property. This is how the Jews lived in Frankfort, as in many other cities. They always depended on the king's grace, and on the kindness of the local government officials. The Jews had no rights, only privileges for which they had to pay.

At the time when our story unfolds, Emperor Mathias had just become king. He chose the city of Frankfort to be the city where his coronation was to take place. He informed the city manager of his choice, and requested that all arrangements be made for the coronation, with all due ceremony and pomp. The coronation was to take place in the summer of the year 5372 (1612).

The city manager called a meeting of the city council and informed them of the important event. "This is a wonderful opportunity for our city", the city manager said happily. "All the lords and nobles of the country will gather in our city, foreign kings and princes with their servants, military detachments, visitors and tourists . . . in short, it will bring a fat penny to our city."

"Not for us, but for the Jews we hate,"” a gruff voice interrupted the city manager.

All eyes turned to see the person who spoke those words. It was Vincent Fettmilch, head of the powerful bakers guild.

Vincent Fettmilch was known as a Jew-hater. He was tall and strong, like a prize-fighter. He liked to fight, because there was no one to match his strength. When he got himself drunk, and this was not unusual, he would fight everyone who crossed his path. But above all he loved to fight the Jews whom he hated with all his wicked heart. With a gang of ruffians like himself, he would burst into the Jewish ghetto and attack Jewish men, women and children who happened to be in the street. These attacks went unpunished, because even the city magistrates were afraid of him and his gang.

The Jews finally had organized for self-defense. A number of Jewish butchers, coachmen and porters armed themselves with clubs, and waited for Fettmilch and his gang. When the drunken gangsters appeared in the ghetto, they received such a welcome that they did not dare set foot in the ghetto again. Fettmilch himself was the first to take to his heels, but he did not escape without blows and bruises. This infuriated him even more than ever against the Jews, and he swore that he would take his revenge. He had waited for an opportunity, and now it came.

He rose to his feet and arrogantly informed the city council that he and the bakers guild would not take part in the coronation until their demands were satisfied.

The council meeting was thrown into an uproar. Everybody realized that without the cooperation of the baker's guild, the coronation would be ruined. For without an ample supply of bread and rolls, all the king's men and all the visitors would go hungry. The city manager was worried. There was no choice but to try to come to terms with Fettmilch. "What are your demands?" he asked.

"The Jews have too many privileges," Fettmilch declared in reply. "They have taken our jobs and our livelihood. We demand that a number of restrictions be imposed on them. They should not be allowed to build new homes and new businesses; they should not be allowed to deal in money; no new Jews should be allowed to come into the city."

Fettmilch went on and on with the list off his demands, ending with a demand to expel half of the Jewish population from Frankfort!

Some of the leaders of the other guilds supported Vincent Fettmilch in his demands to impose restrictions on the Jews, but Fettmilch did not get a majority of the council members to support him.


This German Haman did not give up. He continued to agitate against the Jews. By threats and promises, he gained more adherents until he had a majority in the city council. Now Fettmilch was able to carry out his evil designs. By a majority of votes the council decided to send to the emperor an official complaint against the Jews of Frankfort, falsely accusing them of misusing their privileges and causing much harm to the Christian population. The document demanded that the privileges of the Jews be curtailed and that all Jews who possessed less than 1,500 florins should be expelled from the city.

The emperor realized that such a drastic step would mean a loss of revenue to the Crown, and rejected the request. This threw Fettmilch and his followers into a rage. They broke into the ghetto when the Jews were assembled in the synagogue for prayer, and began to destroy Jewish homes and shops and to loot and pillage. Hastily, the Jews attempted to organize their defense, but this time they were greatly outnumbered by the enemy, which was much better armed. Having broken the Jewish resistance, the attackers, with Fettmilch at their head, continued their work of destruction and looting, also desecrating and destroying the synagogue. They killed and wounded many Jews, and drove the rest to the cemetery outside the ghetto. Here the Jews were ordered to flee for their lives, and they were not allowed to take anything with them.

A number of Jews had found shelter in the homes of some friendly Christian neighbors. When Fettmilch found out about it, he let it be known that any Christian sheltering any Jew would be dealt with in the same way as the Jews.

Not a Jew was left in Frankfort. The flourishing Jewish community in that city was a shambles.

The Jewish refugees from Frankfort made their way to the nearby towns of Offenbach and the Hanau, where their brethren received them with open arms and tried to help them and comfort them.

When the news of the destruction of the Jewish community of Frankfort reached the emperor, he became very angry. The Jews were his property and an attack on the Jews, and looting of their possessions, was the same as an attack on the king's property. The emperor saw in it a rebellion against his authority, and he decided to crush it before it got out of hand. The emperor, therefore, sent a special emissary to the city manager of Frankfort with an order to seize Vincent Fettmilch and bring him to trial for treason. The emperor also ordered the City of Frankfort to call back its Jews, restore their homes, and make good their losses.

For a while Fettmilch and his gang continued to terrorize the city and the surrounding villages. Finally he was taken prisoner and put in chains. He was condemned to die as a rebel against the king, and a day for his public execution was set. It was the 20th day of Adar (in the year 5376, or 1616). On this day the Jews of Frankfort returned to their homes, and together with the rest of the population they witnessed the execution of their enemy, who was hanged in the marketplace. As a warning to anyone who might want to follow Fettmilch's example, his head was cut off and stuck on a high pole in the marketplace. Fettmilch's house was ordered to be burnt and destroyed, and his family was driven from the city.

For the Jews of Frankfort, the 20th of Adar was like a second Purim. They took upon themselves to observe this day every year as Purim Vincent, while the day before was proclaimed a public fast day, in remembrance of the victims and of the troubles. Like the Fast of Esther, the 19th of Adar was for the Jews of Frankfort a day of fasting, prayer and repentance, but the following day was, like Purim, a day of rejoicing and thanksgiving to G‑d for a wonderful salvation.