The City of Jewish Saints

Kaisers, even dead, especially dead, are a powerful attraction. Speyer’s Kaiserdom has four of them, including Heinrich IV of Canossa infamy, and four kings to boot. They lie in rows in the Kaiser crypt under the stones that look freshly stone-masoned even though they will soon mark their Y1K anniversaries. Nearby, a whole separate chapel of her own is dedicated to Dr. Edith Stein. The flyer next to the bronze image of the blessed describes how the current pope beautified her to the wide acclaim of the population.

The story, however, begins with the words “Judin, Philosophin, Konvertitin, Karmelitin” (Jewess, and so on). Her Carmelite status did nothing to interfere with her trip to Auschwitz in 1942, which is also duly noted in the flyer.

Back in the fresh air and turning the corner, one finds Judengasse leading to Judenbad, i.e., mikveh, dating from the time of its neighbors, the Kaisers. This is a museum. Plywood covers the entrance, but a plan of the future construction promises almost as much reverence as enjoyed by the kicked-in-the-bucket monarchs.

A marble monument on the main street has the following carved inscription: “Deutschland muss leben, auch wenn wir sterben müssen” (Germany must live even if we have to die). A bronze plaque attached at the corner explains that the ideas expressed here are those of the (bad) old times, the 1920’s and the WWI (not, god forbid, of the present Stadtrat of Speyer).