The “New Haman” of Frankfurt

The Jews of Frankfurt established a second Purim in 1616 in celebration of the downfall of a new Haman who tried to eradicate the local Jewish community.


Postcard from the end of the 19th-century featuring an illustration by Hermann Junker of a Jewish family in Germany celebrating Purim. Image from the Folklore Research Center, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

My grandfather’s book collection was impressive. With him, it was hard to play the usual game of guessing someone’s personality through their selection of books because he spent the later decades of his life as a bookbinder in Jerusalem and had a love for the physical material of books. His bookshelves included all sorts of books that people had left him or that he had found and fixed. That being said, I can’t be sure that the old siddur I have from him is the one that he actually used.

The Sfas Emes siddur is fairly famous in Germany. It was first published in Rödelheim by Rabbi Wolf Heidenheim in 1799 and is still being re-published in the German-speaking Jewish world today. Almost every page makes mention of the special liturgical traditions of Frankfurt. In Frankfurt, one says such and such, in Frankfurt one changes the order, in Frankfurt this word is omitted.

I was using my copy of the siddur that I got from my grandfather for a while, trying to get the feel of it, when I noticed an interesting note. Within the list of ‘happy’ days – days of celebration and holidays on which it is inappropriate to say the penitential prayer called Tachanun, the note adds “In Frankfurt-am-Main, also Frankfurter Purim [is celebrated] on the 20th of Adar.”

I’m a big fan of regular Purim but had never heard of Frankfurter Purim. I decided to do a bit of research and this is what I learned.

purim frankfurt
A book from the National Library collection on Jewish customs in Frankfurt, published in 1723. These pages describe the customs of Purim Vintz.

Frankfurter Purim, also called Purim Vintz, celebrates a local miracle on the 20th day of the Hebrew month of Adar, just six days after the holiday of Purim. In 1614, a local baker and troublemaker named Vincent Fettmilch who considered himself to be the “New Haman” lead the city guilds in an uprising against the new Emperor. Included in their demands for lower taxes were also demands for fewer Jews in town and lower interest rates on Jewish loans.

When the Emperor ignored or rejected the demands of the city guilds, Fettmilch led a mob to ransack the Jewish quarter of Frankfurt, burning, fighting, and pillaging until the entire Jewish population was forced to flee. Two years later, in February of 1616, Emperor Matthias had Vincent Fettmilch and five of the other rebels hanged, and the Jews were allowed to safely return to the city. The proximity of the hanging to Purim that year, as well as the resonances of the Purim story, encouraged the community to celebrate the return as a mini-redemption, with special songs and a long poetic retelling of the story in Judeo-German called “Megillat Vintz.”

purim vintz
This 18th-century calender mentions Purim Vintz. From the National Library archives.

Frankfurt is not alone. In many Jewish communities throughout history, local episodes of near-destruction and sudden salvation have been marked along the lines of Purim. Reading through the history books and discovering hints of Purim Narbonne, Cairo Purim, Purim Hebron, Purim of Saragossa and the four Purims of Ancona, Italy, to mention just a few, is a fascinating experience.

The echoes of these celebrations are still felt today. In his latest halachic (Jewish law) treatise, Peninei Halacha, Rabbi Eliezer Melamed defends the religious obligation to celebrate Yom Haatzmaut (Israel’s Independence Day), despite voices that claim that creating holidays after the destruction of the Temple is forbidden, by citing the precedent of Purim Frankfurt.

purim vintz
A closer view of the 18th-century calendar mentioning Purim Vintz. The calendar shows that a fast was held on the 19th day of the Jewish month of Adar ahead of the holiday that was held on the 20th. From the National Library archives.

For me, now, living and continuing my rabbinical studies in Berlin, these stories of local Purims bring life and complexity to the country I now live in, connecting me to libraries and synagogues in Frankfurt and Jerusalem. Nobody in Frankfurt today celebrates Purim Vintz, as far as I know, and since my grandfather z”l has passed away, I cannot ask whether this was the siddur he grew up with. The Jewish story is colorful and complicated, and having a story like Purim being retold and made continually relevant is an inspiration for me today.



This article has been published as part of Gesher L’Europa, the National Library of Israel’s initiative to connect with people, institutions and communities across Europe and beyond, through storytelling, knowledge sharing and community engagement.

How Bergen-Belsen Survivors Celebrated Independence

Take a rare look inside the newspapers published by the inhabitants of the concentration camp after liberation.

Survivors from Bergen-Belsen immigrating to the land of Israel. A photograph from the album, “Destruction and Rebirth: Bergen-Belsen 1945-1965”

The Bergen-Belsen camp was established in Germany in the 1930s to house workers who were constructing a military camp near the village of Belsen. The camp held Polish, French, Dutch and Belgian prisoners of war at the beginning of World War II. In 1941, thousands of Russian prisoners of war were detained at the camp.

At the same time, the German Foreign Ministry ordered the rounding up of Jews with dual citizenship or citizenship of neutral countries in order to exchange them for German citizens who had been taken captive in the Allied countries, such as the German Templar communities in Palestine. In 1943, SS Commander Heinrich Himmler ordered that these “exchange Jews” (Austauschjuden) be moved from a camp in Poland to a camp in Germany. The Bergen-Belsen concentration camp was chosen as the new detention center for these Jews. The lives of a few of the “exchange Jews” were spared when they were returned to their country of origin in exchange for captured Germans. The vast majority, however, did not share this fate.

Within a short time, other European Jews joined the “exchange Jews” at the camp. In the spring of 1944, transports of ill Jews arrived from other camps. Their compromised state of health, combined with the abusive treatment in the camp, greatly increased the mortality rate at Bergen-Belsen. Later, the Germans transferred in Jews from other camps that were deemed too close to the eastern front, including those who had survived the death marches. The camp administration had never planned to hold such a large number of prisoners, and Bergen-Belsen soon became a place of widespread starvation, typhus, dysentery, suffering, and death.


The camp’s survivors sit, packed together. A photograph from the album, “Destruction and Rebirth: Bergen-Belsen 1945-1965”

On April 15, 1945, British armed forces arrived at the site, liberated the camp and arrested its Nazi administrators. The British were shocked by what they saw. One of the first officers to arrive was the chief medical officer of the Second Army, Glyn Hughes. He described a terrible density of humanity in the barracks, where the living and the dead lay side by side. More than 40,000 prisoners were found in the camp, 28,000 of whom required medical treatment. Among the living prisoners, the British also found 10,000 bodies. Thousands of other bodies were found piled in mass, uncovered graves at the edge of the camp,

The British army, the Red Cross and later, Jewish aid organizations such as the Joint, the Jewish Relief Unit, the Jewish Agency, and other organizations sent food, clothing, medical supplies, and relief workers. Sadly, these efforts did not always succeed in helping the starving and sick prisoners. In the weeks following the liberation of the camp 15,000 people died. In most cases however, the survivors’ will to live overcame the compromised state they were found in.

The pictures in the history books change with surprising speed. In the first few pages, we see pictures of horrifying scenes – heaps of dead bodies alongside walking skeletons waiting desperately for their last day. But, shortly following, are group photos featuring smiling, healthy faces and well-dressed children kicking a ball around. In short order, the survivors began to rebuild their lives. Three days after the liberation, on the 5th of Iyar, the date on which David Ben-Gurion would announce the establishment of the State of Israel just three years later, a Jewish committee was established in the camp. The chairman of the committee, from its establishment until the eventual closure of the camp, was Josef Rosensaft.

On May 21, after all the prisoners had been transferred to a nearby military base, the British burned down the camp in order to eliminate rampant typhoid. Over time, a series of monuments and memorials were erected in the location where the concentration camp stood.


Crowds watching flames and smoke in the camp’s vicinity after the British forces entered

With the war over, Jewish life developed rapidly in the new Bergen-Belsen camp for displaced persons. The first wedding of survivors was held in June of 1945. Children of survivors – the next generation – were born in the camp. Among them was Shlomo Goldberg who would later devote nearly 50 years of work to the National Library in Jerusalem.

Within a short time, a primary and secondary school, a Yiddish theater, a hospital, sports teams, and a center of Zionist political activism were all established in the camp. Many came to visit the displaced and assist whenever possible. Just as in the pre-war period, the survivors now joined the various Zionist organizations and extensive Zionist activity began to take shape at the camp.

Many works and periodicals were published in the camp, mainly in Yiddish. A booklet containing copies of 58 periodicals, books, poems and more is now kept in the National Library of Israel. All of the works within the booklet were printed at Bergen-Belsen.


A booklet that was published in the camp.

The first periodical issued by the survivors was published on July 12, 1945, in the town of Celle, in the British zone near Bergen-Belsen. The title of the publication was “Undzer Shtime” (“Our Voice”). Printing in Bergen-Belsen itself began with the second issue.

In the first issue, which opens with the Yizkor (memorial) prayer, David Rosenthal wrote about the decision to publish the journal and the reasons behind it. “The Jewish word will be heard in the land of our enemy,” Rosenthal explained. He added that the purpose of the newspaper was “to reflect our daily lives and to make contact with our brothers in the other camps.”

The publication focused on youth education and national Zionist education in general. The newspaper detailed the suffering of the survivors in the camp and fumed at the British closure of the gates to the Land of Israel. It included articles on the history of the Jewish people, Jewish holidays and festivals, Zionism, and settlement. It offered information about what was happening in the camp, news from the Land of Israel, reviews of Nazi trials, and more.

Since there was no Hebrew typewriter available in the camp, the first four issues were handwritten and then duplicated for distribution. Issue No. 5 was the first to be written on a typewriter. The camp received one typewriter from soldiers of the Jewish Brigade who came into Germany from Italy, and another from a Jewish-Canadian soldier. Around the time of issue No. 12, members of the editorial board were able to obtain a more professional printing machine.

“Undzer Shtime” was intended to be a bi-weekly magazine, but it was not always published in an organized fashion. During its two years, only 24 issues were published. The last issue was published on October 30th, 1947. The three editors (Rafael Olewski, Paul Trepman, and David Rosenthal) belonged to various Zionist parties, which helped maintain the paper’s neutrality and non-partisan approach.

The “Undzer Shtime” editorial board. From the left: David Rosenthal, Paul Trappman and Rafael Olavsky. A picture from “The Tear,” by Rafael Olavsky

The “Wochenblatt” newspaper began to appear in Bergen-Belsen on December 5, 1947, a week after the passing of the UN resolution to establish a Jewish state. The title of the main article in the first issue was “The End of Homelessness, the End of our Wandering- A Jewish State in the Land of Israel. ” Like its predecessor, this newspaper was also issued by the Central Committee for Liberated Jews in the British Zone in Bergen-Belsen. Members of the editorial board were the same members who served on the editorial board of the “Undzer Shtime.” Over time, as the original editors left Germany, they were replaced by other editors.

After two months, the periodical evolved into a bi-weekly paper. It resembled any other newspaper in that the editors made sure to provide news to its readers but, like “Undzer Shtime,” “Wochenblatt” contained a fair amount of articles about camp life, news from the Jewish world, sports and culture. The “Wochenblatt” advocated for Jewish rights, warned against anti-Semitism in Germany, and published the names of former Bergen-Belsen detainees who had fallen in battle in the Land of Israel. The newspaper called on the Jews to leave Germany, which was still difficult as the struggle for independence in the State of Israel trudged on.

On Friday, May 14, 1948, an important article appeared in the newspaper. It was entitled, “The Eve of a Jewish State.” Although rumors were circulating, the editors had no way of knowing that that very day in the Land of Israel, Ben-Gurion would announce the establishment of the State. The announcement was heard in Bergen-Belsen that night on the radio.

“The Eve of a Jewish State.” Issue No. 19, May 14, 1948

The next morning the camp residents woke to loud singing and cries of joy at the birth of the State of Israel. Jews danced in the streets and in synagogues. The youth distributed flyers in the camp, calling on all residents to celebrate the establishment of the State and to participate in a festive rally to be held later in the day. At the rally the chairman of the Central Committee, Josef Rosensaft, announced that recruits from the camp would soon arrive in Israel to serve in the new Israeli military. The group of recruits was invited onto the stage to thunderous applause.

The next issue of “Wochenblatt,” which came out a week later, was titled “Jewish Independence: Reality.”


“Jewish Independence – Reality.” Issue No. 19, May 21, 1948

In the 79th issue of “Wochenblatt,” Josef Rosensaft wrote that the Bergen-Belsen camp was in its closing stages and that the last Jews in the camp would be moved to the Jever displaced persons camp. It was there that the 80th and final issue of the “Wochenblatt” was published on August 18, 1950. It focused on the conclusion of the Jewish Agency’s activities in Germany. The Jever camp was closed the following year.

In September 2010, the Sh’erit Hapleta survivors organization of Bergen-Belsen in Israel published the newsletter “Our Voice – Undzer Shtime”. This time the newsletter was not printed in Yiddish in the Bergen-Belsen displaced persons’ camp, but in the free city of Tel Aviv in the local language of Hebrew.


“Our Voice,” a newsletter issued by the survivors of Bergen-Belsen in Israel


The Jewish Lawyer Who Drafted the Constitution of the Weimar Republic

Hugo Preuss is still considered to be the “father” of the constitution of the Weimar Republic today.

Weimar constitution

From the National Library of Israel collections.

The collapse of monarchic rule following the defeat of Germany in World War I and the revolution of November 1918 gave rise to a new and almost completely unknown political order in Germany: democracy. The nascent political forces understood the need for drafting a new constitution that would suit the democratic regime and prevent the aristocracy from obtaining any political power.

The assembly of the German people that gathered in the city of Weimar included a special committee for drafting a new constitution. Members of the committee were jurists with expertise in constitutional law and legislation.

The committee’s discussions continued for a number of months until the new constitution was approved by the general assembly in Weimar on August 11, 1919. One of the permanent members of this committee who also served as its chairman for several months was the Jewish lawyer Hugo Preuss (1860-1925). His contribution was so great that today he is considered the “father” of the constitution of the Weimar Republic.

Hugo Preuss
Hugo Preuss, image from the Schwadron Portrait Collection at the National Library of Israel.

Preuss presented the first draft of this important text and considerable portions of it became part of the final version approved by the representatives of the general assembly. For the first time in German history, a constitution was passed that included basic civil rights.

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Among the many innovations that Preuss suggested in his draft was a new internal division of Germany, necessitating the dismantling of Germany’s historical states, including the largest state of Prussia. This suggestion was unacceptable to the more conservative assembly representatives – though it seems to have anticipated the future since the idea was carried out in the prevailing political reality after 1945 with the founding of the new German state.

Hugo Preuss, image from the Schwadron Portrait Collection at the National Library of Israel.

Hugo Preuss was born in Berlin to a family of merchants, studied law in Berlin and Heidelberg, and completed his doctorate at the university in Göttingen. He decided to devote himself to academic research and joined the faculty of the University of Berlin as a “private lecturer” (a special status of senior lecturer without a position but with teaching obligations). He remained in this position for 15 years since Jews were not awarded the status of professor unless they agreed to convert to Christianity. While conversion was not a formal legal requirement, in the minds of German academics it was still required. Only with the establishment of a private trade school in Berlin in 1906 was Preuss hired as a professor of law.

Beginning in 1895, Hugo Preuss became a member of the Berlin City Council. In 1918 he became one of the founders of the German Democratic Party DDP. From 1919 to his death, Preuss was a member of the Prussian parliament. He also served as Interior Minister of the Weimar Republic. He resigned from this post in protest when Germany signed the Treaty of Versailles. In this treaty, Germany relinquished its sovereignty in certain areas and committed to paying hefty reparations to the Allies. Preuss’ resignation as minister brought about an absurd situation: the signature of this brilliant jurist does not appear at the bottom of the constitutional text despite the fact that most of it was his brainchild, as the constitution was approved only after he had stepped down.

B3 Weimarer Verfassung1--780X1015
The title page of the printed constitution that was distributed to male and female pupils upon finishing their school education. From the National Library collection.

In 1949, when German jurists drafted the “Basic Law” of West Germany (instead of a formal constitution, which Germany lacks to this day), they used the Weimar Constitution as a basis for their work. Considerable portions of the original constitution migrated to the “Basic Law,” though certain articles that proved to be ineffective or even dangerous to democracy and state stability were amended.

Ultimately, it should be recalled, Hitler established his reign of terror based on Article 48 of the Weimar Constitution, which enabled the revocation of basic civil rights as well as human rights when state security was at risk, a provision that the Nazis exploited for their own interests.


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Who Is the Israeli Who Won 10 Olympic Medals?

During the Holocaust, she escaped the Nazis using forged documents. Only a decade later she was known around the world as one of the greatest Olympic gymnasts of all time. Discover the amazing story of Ágnes Keleti.

אגנס קלטי

The entire State of Israel may have racked up just one Olympic gold medal in its short history, but Ágnes Keleti, a resident of the Israeli city of Herzliya, is the proud owner of no less than ten Olympic medals – five of them gold.

Keleti was born on January 9, 1921 in Budapest to a well-to-do Jewish family. At the tender age of 4, Keleti began taking “swimming lessons” thanks to her father, who enjoyed tossing her into the lake during family vacations. She was also enrolled in gymnastics at a young age. Despite showing obvious physical talent, Ágnes did not begin to take the sport seriously until age sixteen. Instead, she spent most of her time practicing and playing the cello.

Unlike many other athletes, whose distinct competitive drive pushes them to compete at an international level, Keleti says it was not necessarily her hunger to win medals that motivated her.

“The medals were nice, but I didn’t play sports solely for the accolades. I enjoyed the day-to-day routine and the opportunity to see the world. The Communist regime in Hungary was very tough and not at all to my liking. At the time, most people could not even leave Hungary. I decided to excel in sports in order to see the world. I was fortunate enough to visit places that most people didn’t even dare dream of,” she said in an interview several years ago.

Ágnes Keleti, from the Maccabiah Archive
From the Maccabiah Archive

Keleti survived the Holocaust by using a false identity. During the war years, she adopted the name “Yuhasz Piroshka” and assumed the identity of a village maid. Later, she worked in an ammunition factory. Her mother and sister were also saved, thanks to the famous Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who was later recognized as one of the Righteous Among the Nations by the State of Israel. Unfortunately, the same luck did not extend to the rest of her family. Her father and uncles were murdered at Auschwitz.

When the war ended, Keleti returned to gymnastics. In 1946, she won the title of ‘Hungarian National Champion,’ which she held until she fled the country in 1956. Her meteoric rise to world fame came at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. At the age of 31, Keleti won four medals: a gold medal in floor exercise, a silver medal in the all-around team competition, a bronze in the uneven bars and a bronze in the portable apparatus team event.

אגנס קלטי (משמאל) עם אורי זמרי, ברוך בק, ואלינור רוזוולט 23.2.1962, צילום: לע"מ
Ágnes Keleti (left) with Uri Zimri, Eleanor Roosevelt and Baruch Beck – February 23rd, 1962, photo: GPO

In 1956, she competed in the Melbourne Olympics, this time at the age of 35 (twice the age of most of her competitors). She won six medals in Melbourne: three gold medals in individual events (floor, uneven bars and balance beam), another gold in the portable apparatus team event and two silver medals in both the individual and team all-around events.

By the end of her career, Keleti had won ten Olympic medals overall, placing her seventh in terms of all-time medal winners in Olympic history. For comparison, the legendary Carl Lewis also has ten medals to his name, while Mark Spitz has eleven medals in total. In fact, Ágnes Keleti holds more medals than other familiar sports legends like Nadia Comăneci and Usain Bolt. Yet what is perhaps most impressive about Keleti’s medal run is that she won nine out of her ten Olympic medals after reaching the age of 30.

Escape from Hungary and Immigration to Israel

While Keleti was halfway across the world competing in the Melbourne Olympics, a national rebellion was brutally put down by the Soviet regime in her native Hungary. When the revolt broke out, Keleti made the difficult decision not to return to the country for which she was competing. Together with other Hungarian athletes, she appealed to the Australian government for asylum. Their request was granted.

In fact, Keleti had already begun plotting her escape from Hungary prior to her departure for the Melbourne Olympics: “I had had enough of this bloody regime. One day I was swimming in the national team’s heated pool and a young man offered to drive me home. I agreed, but after a while I noticed that we weren’t heading in the direction of my house. He took me to the communist party headquarters and, there, they tried to convince me to spy on my teammates. In that very moment, I realized that I must escape” she told an interviewer.

Although she was an international Olympic star, Keleti was unsuccessful at finding acceptable work in Australia. One day, she received a telegram from Professor Gifstein, her physical education teacher from the Jewish gymnasium in Budapest. In the telegram, he told her that he had decided to immigrate to Israel.

עיתון "דבר" 25.8.1957
“Introducing: Ágnes Keleti” Davar, August 25th, 1957


Gifstein invited her to come to Israel to continue her training while adding a warning: “There is nothing here. Bring equipment with you.” Keleti decided to accept his invitation nonetheless and arrived in Israel in 1957, just in time to participate in the Fifth Maccabiah Games.

From the Tel Aviv Municipality Collection
From the Tel Aviv Municipality Collection

The press in Israel was very excited by Keleti’s arrival in the country. Because of her success at the previous Olympics, she became one of the biggest stars of the Fifth Maccabiah. The stands were packed as Ágnes Keleti took to the floor, this time in her new home of Israel.

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