Articles written for AUFBAU by Leonard J. Lehrman

On the Trail of Coburg's Jewish History AUFBAU 64:22 October 23, 1998 p. 11
[original title: A (Jewish) History of Coburg]
651 words
Copyright by Leonard Lehrman & AUFBAU
photos by Helene Williams

The town of Coburg, the jewel of Upper Franconia which escaped Allied bombing because of its statue of Prince Albert (Queen Victoria's beloved first cousin and husband), was first mentioned in extant records in 1205. Martin Luther lived for several months in the impregnable castle called the Veste, which even Wallenstein was unable to conquer.

Gravestones date back to the 15th and 16th centuries, many of them Jewish, most of them virtually illegible. There were eight stone gates to the city, of which three still stand. The oldest and most beautiful of them is the Judentor, which opens onto the Judengasse and the so-called Jewish Quarter. Not "Ghetto," our native-born Coburg guide Guenter Hartan stressed: "Quarter." The Jews lived there voluntarily, as did many artists and musicians who were not Jewish, some of whom are still memorialized there.

In the city's oldest cemetery, the Jewish and Protestant sections are side by side. One of the oldest legible graves, from around the 17th century, is that of Christian Zizman, evidently the product of a mixed heritage. In the "new cemetery," there are many individual and collective memorials to Jews. Every year at Kristallnacht, the mayor lays a wreath in a commemorative ceremony here. A sign warns plainly that "damage, destruction, or any desecration will be prosecuted and punished."

In fact the Jewish section of the cemetery was not disturbed even during the Holocaust. Twelve years ago, I had been told that residents of Coburg, as part of Bavaria, had not been "vicious Nazis, just average Nazis." And even Thomas Kahle, a native of Bremen and now Managing Director of Foreign Travel and Congresses in Coburg, admitted: "Yes, they were all a little brown."

Herr Hartan assured us, though, that while Coburg was grateful to have become part of Bavaria in 1920, so that in 1945 it ended up in the Western Zone rather than under the Soviets, still the people never really considered themselves or were considered by their southern neighbors to be "true" Bavarians. In October, 1922 Hitler took a special train to Coburg, along with 800 paramilitary supporters and a marching band. The town fathers met him at the station and requested that he not march through the city. He did anyway; the resulting violence attracted press coverage.

One of the oldest houses of worship in Coburg, known as the Chapel of St. Nikolaus, built in the 15th century, became the city's first and last synagogue, from 1873 to 1932. Before and after that period it was Protestant, then Catholic.

Tolerance seems to have been the rule rather than the exception: When the composer Johann Strauss, Jr. wanted to divorce his second (Catholic) wife to marry his third, the Viennese would not allow it. So he came to Coburg, which not only permitted it but made him an honorary citizen of Coburg--for which the Viennese never forgave them!

In the late 19th century, Jewish citizens of Coburg flourished. The Mayer family was among the most prominent citizens, as borne witness by the imposing monument to Max Mayer, who died in 1883 at the age of only 26. A more recent witness to the memory of Jewish life in Coburg is the monument to Harry Homburg, born in Coburg November 17, 1923, buried in New York February 21, 1997. "Often visited Coburg, and never forgot [it]," states his gravestone.

Of the approximately 800 Jewish families that lived in Coburg until the Holocaust, fewer than 20 survived and returned. Those living there now worship with the Gemeinde in Bamberg. As Coburg becomes more of an international city--the common language of the family of the Prince of Saxe-Coburg, which has relatives on or formerly on the thrones of nearly every country in Europe, is English--it will need better rail connections than through the tiny town of Lichterfels, an autobahn, and, maybe, more of a--living--Jewish presence....

[See Aufbau article #72a for published correspondence on this article.]

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