For first time since WWII, a Jew to reign over major German city

Peter Feldmann, mayor-elect of Frankfurt am Main, calls himself a liberal Jew, but says his religious beliefs are a private matter

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Peter Feldmann (photo credit: Courtesy)
Peter Feldmann (photo credit: Courtesy)

For the first time since the Holocaust, a Jew is going to be the mayor of a major German city.

Peter Feldmann (photo credit: Courtesy)
Peter Feldmann (photo credit: Courtesy)

Peter Feldmann, 54, was unexpectedly elected Sunday the mayor of Frankfurt, Germany’s fifth-largest city. Feldmann, who belongs to the center-left SPD party, won 57.4 percent of the vote, thus upsetting the candidate of choice of incumbent mayor Petra Roth, Boris Rhein, of the center-right CDU party.

“I didn’t expect that,” Feldmann said after his victory. “Frankly, nobody had expected that.”

According to German-Jewish weekly Juedische Allgemeine, Feldmann is the first Jewish mayor of an important German city since World War II.

A self-described “liberal Jew,” Feldmann five years ago co-founded the Arbeitskreises Jüdischer Sozialdemokraten, a group of Jewish SPD politicians. In his youth, Feldmann spent several months in Israel, where he learned to become a gardener.

Before Sunday’s election, Feldmann, who will be sworn into office on July 1, told the Juedische Allgemeine that he felt obligated to fight against child poverty, the lack of housing and the exclusion of senior citizens, and for education.

Feldmann’s religious background played no role during his campaign, during which he had to overcome the fact that his challenger was locally much better known. “It’s a strength of our open and liberal city that this point wasn’t a topic for debate,” Feldmann told the paper. “Religion is very important for me, but it’s a private matter.”

The city on the Main river, where Jews have lived since the Middle Ages, was an important center of prewar German Jewry. For example, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, who paved the way for Modern Orthodoxy, served in Frankfurt for the last 37 years of his life.

Feldmann is not the first Jew to be the city’s mayor: Ludwig Landmann held that position from 1924 to 1933. He is credited for building the city’s stadium and airport.

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