The photos above show the Jewish Memorial Stone, which was placed in the Burg garden in 1998 to commemorate the anniversary of the first mass murder of the Jews in Rothenburg on June 25, 1298.
The memorial has a sculpture which shows the Jews being engulfed by flames. The inscription on the memorial says that the Jews were killed and burned in a fire ignited by the inhabitants of the city. Apparently, the Jews had sought refuge at the castle, but were attacked there by an angry mob and burned to death.
Jews had been present in Rothenburg at least since 1180. In 1241, the Jews in Frankfurt were murdered or driven out and in that same year, a Jewish community was established in Rothenburg. In 1246, when the famous Talmud scholar Rabbi Meir ben Baruch came to Rothenburg, the city became a center of Jewish learning. In 1298, after more than fifty years of peaceful co-existence in Rothenburg, around 250 of the town's 500 Jews were killed during a series of uprisings that were led by an impoverished nobleman from Röttingen named Rindfleish.
According to my tour guide, Rindfleish started rumors about Jewish ritual murder and the desecration of Christian consecrated communion hosts because he was unable to pay back a loan from a Jewish money lender. Rindfleish instigated riots in 146 communities in Franconia between 1296 and 1298, including his own city of Röttingen where 21 Jews were killed on April 20, 1298. In nearby Nürnberg, there were 728 Jews killed in 1298 in what is called the "Rindfleish persecutions."
Only two years later, the Jews returned to Rothenburg, but there were more uprisings in 1336, 1338, and 1342 in which the Jews were murdered or driven from the city. In 1348, the Jews were murdered or driven out of Rothenburg again because of accusations that they had started an epidemic of the Bubonic Plague by throwing diseased bodies into the city wells. In 1349, Jews in Rothenburg were burned at the stake in an attack that was organized by a congregation in a Catholic church. There were similar attacks on the Jews in Nürnberg and Frankfurt.
One might ask why the Jews kept returning to Rothenburg ob der Tauber when it was clear that their lives were in danger there. In those years, the Jews were persecuted everywhere in Europe and they were eventually expelled from every country, starting with England in the year 1290 when King Edward I ordered all the Jews to leave, after an accusation of ritual murder. At that time, Germany was a collection of states, loosely connected with each other in the Holy Roman Empire, but with no federal government which could have officially expelled the Jews from every city and state. After each uprising in Rothenburg and other places in Europe, the citizens eventually allowed the Jews to return because they had to rely on Jewish money lenders when they needed to borrow money, since this occupation was forbidden to Christians.
The persecution of the Jews in Europe continued and in 1511, the Jews of Rothenburg were forced to wear a yellow badge on their clothing. The Jews were finally driven out of the city for good in 1520, at which time Christians were allowed to become money lenders. In 1871, the German states were united into one country and the Jews were given the same civil rights as other citizens; in 1875 a new Jewish community was established by 8 families who moved to Rothenburg ob der Tauber.
In 1933 when Adolf Hitler came to power, the persecution of the Jews in Germany began again. Over 180,000 German Jews perished in the Holocaust, although there were no known Rothenburg Jews included among them. On October 10, 1938, the last 17 Jews in Rothenburg were driven out of the city by the local citizens; their fate is unknown.