An 1871 Travelers’ Guide on the European Continent

Posted By Ann Rabinowitz

One of the many delights of utilizing the Internet of late is that there are many digitized or e-books which are now on-line.  Recently, I was searching for information on Tilset, when it was under Prussian rule, and found a very interesting website utilizing Google Books.
The book is entitled “A Handbook for Travellers on the Continent, being a guide to Holland, Belgium, Prussia, Northern Germany, and the Rhine from Holland to Switzerland”.  It is geared towards British travelers and was published by the firm of John Murray and Son, Albemarle Street, London, England, in 1871.  It is a latterday Baedecker or Michelin Guide to Europe and covers general topics of interest as well as specifics in each locale such as area history, churches, art and places to stay.  This is only one of several John Murray guidebooks which can be found on-line dating back to 1836.
What is so special about this book?  It is a marvelous resource as it covers a period of time when many of our ancestors were either leaving or getting ready to depart from their ancestral homes for places more conducive to religious freedom and economic prosperity.  Described in detail are numerous towns throughout Europe and methods of travel and costs of travel which will be of interest to those who want an enhanced detailed view of their ancestor’s lives.
To begin with, you can search within the book for whatever area or place you are interested in or whatever topic might strike your fancy.  For instance, if you look up the following terms you will find a number of curious references:
  • “Jew” – five references
  • “Jews” – thirty references
  • “Jewish” – three references
  • “Hebrew” - five references
  • “Hebrews” – two references
They show an acceptance and repetition of the commonly held local anti-Semitic views regarding Jews as well as those of the author.  As you can see, there are just a few specifically Jewish references, but they are worth checking out along with the general references. 
Here are a few examples:  
  • Amsterdam, Netherlands – There is a brief description of the Jewish community of Amsterdam and the four synagogues therein.  The writer describes the streets leading to the Muiderstraadt Portuguese Synagogue as follows:     “. . . the streets leading to it seem but a repetition of Monmouth, St. Giles – the same dirt and filthy smells, the same old clothes.” 
  • Tournay, France – Mentioned is Perkin Warbeck who was a pretender to the throne of Henry VII of England . . . “who gave himself out as one of the princes murdered in the Tower, was, by his own confession, the son of a Jew of Tournay.”
  • Brussels, Belgium – The Collegiate Church of Ste. Gudule’s Chapel of St. Sacrement des Miracles, offers the following snippet of anti-Semitic history:  “In the chapel . . . are deposited the Miraculous Wafers, said to have been stolen from the altar at the instigation of a sacrilegious Jew, and subjected to insults by himself and his brethren assembled in their synagogue.  To add to the sacrilege, the day chosen for this outrage was Good Friday.  When the scoffers proceeded so far as to stick their knives into the wafers, jets of blood burst forth from the wounds, and by a second miracle they were struck senseless.  They were then denounced by one of the pretended spectators, who had been converted to Christianity, and were seized and put to death by the most cruel torments, having their flesh torn off by hot irons before they were burnt at the stake.  This took place about the end of the 14th cent., and it proves that the Jews at Brussels must then have been so numerous and wealthy as to have been worth plundering.  The miracle is one of many similar tales invented by those who took advantage of the superstition of the age, and the general hatred of the race of Israel, to incite the populace to deeds of cruelty, which enabled them to enrich themselves with the confiscated goods of the unbelievers.  This triumph of the faith, as it is called, is celebrated once a year, on the Sunday following the 15th of July, in the enlightened city of Brussels, by a solemn procession of the clergy, and by the exhibition of the identical miraculous wafers.”
  • Oberwesel, Germany  – Describes that “in some period of the dark ages a boy named Werner is said to have been most impiously crucified and put to death by the Jews in this place.  A similar story is told in many other parts of the world; even in England, at Gloucester and Lincoln (vide Chaucer).  It is probable that the whole was a fabrication to serve as a pretext for persecuting the Jews and extorting money from them.  A little Chapel, erected to the memory of this Werner, stands upon the wall of the town, close to the Rhine.”
  • Worms, Germany – “The Synagogue near the Mainz Gate is a small 12th cent. building, a plain Roman vault, resting on 2 piers of single shafts with sculptured capitals, like those at Jerusalem.  A recess at the side is devoted to the women:  windows mostly round-headed.  The ark for holding the books of the Law is of poor Renaissance style (18th cent.).  The Jews have been established in this spot from a very early period, and enjoyed privileges denied them in most other parts of Germany.  They have a very ancient burial-ground like that at Prague.”
  • Berlin, Germany – “The Jews’ Synagogue, Oranienbergerstrasse (Note:  now the Neue Synagogue), is perhaps the most costly one in Europe; splendid within and without; enriched with gilding and painting; in fact no expense has been spared by the wealthy Hebrew community here.  It is lighted by gas from without, in a very skilful manner.  Friday evening at 6-1/2 is the time to see the service:  very fine vocal and instrumental music.”
  The partially restored post-War Neue Synagogue in Berlin, Germany
  • Rheinstein, Germany – “At the narrow pass below Rheinstein, which even now, after having been widened by French and Prussian engineers, leaves barely room for the road between the rock and the river, there existed till recent times a “Jew’s Toll”, where certain fixed dues were levied upon all the Hebrews who passed.  It is said that the contractors kept little dogs, who were trained to single out and seize the Jews from among the passing crowds!”
Many of the things mentioned in the book are no more, due to the depredations of time and war.  In this respect, these guidebooks give us an intimate view of a Europe that is all, but a memory.  It also provides clues to where things of interest might have been located such as sign posts, cultural institutions, some Jewish areas, and routes of travel our ancestors might have taken.  Many maps and other illustrations are to be found throughout the book that are quite helpful in determining where things are to be found in a specific area.  An example of this is the plan map of Coblenz, Germany.
Remember, use to locate these guidebooks and other such resources which you may find of interest to expand your notion of the environment in which your ancestors spent their daily lives.

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