COLMAR (German, Kolmar ):

Chief town of Upper Alsace, Germany, on the Lauch and the Fecht. At the beginning of the thirteenth century Colmar had a large community of Jews, who enjoyed the favor of the municipal authorities. They occupied a special quarter, where they had a synagogue. The building was destroyed by fire in 1279.

In 1285 the emperor Rudolph I. besieged Colmar, for which the Jews were held responsible by its citizens, who declared they had induced Rudolph to attack the city; the Jews were accordingly expelled. That this charge was groundless can be seen from Rudolph's subsequent treatment of them. Meïr of Rothenburg, rabbi of Colmar, passing through Rudolph's camp, was held for a ransom of 1,500 marks. He, however, forbade his flock to pay such a heavy sum, and spent the remainder of his life in prison.

The period of banishment must have been brief, for several years later, when Adolph of Nassau, Rudolph's successor, besieged Colmar, Jews were among the defenders of the city. In 1292 the Jews of Colmar were accused of a ritual murder, and a riot ensued, in which many Jews lost their lives.


More fortunate than many other Alsatian communities, Colmar escaped the persecutions of the hordes of Armleder, who, on hearing of the approach of the army of Louis of Bavaria, raised the siege. But this relief was dearly paid for. Louis of Bavaria handed over the Jews of Colmar, with their possessions, to the city for the sum of 200 marks. The year 1348 was fatal to the community of Colmar, as to all Alsatian communities. The accusation of having caused the Black Death found credence with the anti-Jewish council of Colmar. In fact, on Dec. 29, 1348, the city council announced to their fellows of Strasburg that one Hegman had, under torture, accused Jacob, the cantor of the synagogue of Strasburg, of having sent him the poison which he had put into the wells of Colmar. Thereupon the Jews, without being permitted a hearing, were burned outside the gates of the city. The place where the auto da fé occurred is still known as the "Judenloch" (Hole of the Jews). In the following year, Charles IV. of Germany absolved the inhabitants of Colmar from all responsibility for the burning of his "servi cameræ."

Jews were again admitted to Colmar, at the request of King Wenceslaus, about 1375. Nevertheless, when the latter took the part of the nobles in their quarrels with the Alsatian towns, the Jews of Colmar helped to defend the city, and refused to pay taxes for three years (1385-88). They were, therefore, together with their Christian fellow citizens, put under the ban of the empire. Later an arrangement was made between the city and the emperor, relinquishing to the former the Jewish taxes for a period of ten years; whereupon the ban was removed. Wenceslaus, however, did not forget their recalcitrance, and in 1392 annulled all the claims of the Jews against their Christian debtors.

During the reign of Robert of Bavaria the condition of the community improved. On Sept. 28, 1401, he granted the Jews of Colmar a renewal of their old privileges. But the hostility of the council of Colmar continued to manifest itself in many ways; and in 1437 the council secured from King Sigismund an edict prohibiting the citizens of Colmar from renting or selling houses to Jews without special permission from the mayor. In 1468, the council made changes in the statutes affecting Jews, and added the following clauses:

"In addition to the yearly taxes, the Jews shall contribute to the tax for the maintenance of the fortress, and give New-Year gifts to the mayor. In case of war they shall pay supplementary taxes. They shall remain in their houses during Holy Week, Easter and the feasts of Corpus Christi and Assumption. Only unmarried children may reside with their parents, and no Jew shall harbor without special permission any foreign coreligionist. Foreign Jews shall pay, on entering the city, a 'blappert' at the gate, and a pfennig to the gatekeeper. If they wish to pass a night in the city, they shall pay one shilling. The city protects the Jews only from persons amenable to its tribunal."

Their Banishment of 1512.

At the end of 1476 the community suffered greatly at the hands of the Swiss Confederates, who, on their way to France, plundered the Jews and committed many acts of violence. Moreover, the council, fearing that the Christian inhabitants would get into trouble with the Confederates on account of the Jews, prohibited the latter from entering thecity. Thus in 1478 only two Jewish families were tolerated there. At length the council requested from Maximilian I., in Dec. 1507, permission to banish the Jews from Colmar, which request was granted in 1510 (Jan. 22). In vain the community exerted every effort to secure the repeal of the decree of banishment. All that it obtained, through the help of Josel of Rosheim, the leader of the Alsatian Jews, was the postponement of enforcement until St. George's Day, 1512. Thenceforth all Jews who came to Colmar for purposes of trade were compelled to pay a toll and to wear the yellow badge. The synagogue and the Jewish cemetery of Colmar were presented by Maximilian to his secretary, Jean Spiegel of Schlettstadt. The cemetery, however, was also used by the Jews in the seigniory of Ribeaupierre. The council was therefore constrained to take over both the cemetery and the buildings formerly belonging to the Jews, paying an indemnity to both Jean Spiegel and William of Ribeaupierre.

The council was not yet satisfied. The banished Jews settled in the neighboring villages, and came daily to Colmar to transact business with its citizens. The council therefore passed a law prohibiting Jews from depositing their merchandise with Christians. On Feb. 2, 1534, the council passed another law forbidding the inhabitants, under penalty of loss of citizenship, to harbor Jews. These laws remaining without effect, the council solicited and obtained from Charles V. (April 25, 1541) permission to forbid them from entering Colmar. Through the intervention again of Josel of Rosheim the imperial chancelry, a month later (May 24, 1541), renewed all the privileges previously enjoyed by the Jews of Colmar. These contradictory enactments became the occasion of litigation between the city and the Jews, lasting eight years, the Jews being ultimately defeated.

Recent History.

Until 1691 no Jew set foot into Colmar. A community, however, began to form in 1789; and its history, from that time on, differs little from that of other communities in France and Germany. With the introduction of the system of consistories (1808) Colmar became the seat of one, with twenty-five dependent communities. At present (1903) Isidore Weill is grand rabbi of the consistory. The district of Colmar includes about 11,000 Jews. There are several benevolent societies, the most noteworthy of which are the Société de Patronage des Jeunes Israélites and the Société des Dames. See Alsace.

  • Mossmann, Etude sur l'Histoire des Juifs à Colmar, Colmar, 1866;
  • Scheid, Histoire de Juifs d'Alsace, Paris, 1873;
  • idem, Josel et la Ville de Colmar, in Rev. Et. Juives. xiii. 70-74;
  • J. Kracauer, Procès de R. Joselmann Contre la Ville de Colmar, ib. xix. 282-293;
  • Reuss, L'Alsace au XVIIe Siècle.
G. I. Br.
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