Together with the neighboring villages of Wenkbach and Argenstein, in former times Roth was part of the so-called Schenkisch Eigen (The Schenken’s Own). The noble family of the Schencken zu Schweinsberg executed important rights in these villages and had considerable influence in the northern part of Hessen. Among these rights was the privilege of allowing Jews to settle in their towns and villages. They gave them letters of safe-conduct and in turn received monetary contributions from the Jews. The first note about Jews in The Schenken’s Own dates from 1594/95. A tax register lists seven Jews who had to contribute to the war the German Empire was fighting against the Turks. They are not listed by village, but it is likely that at that time Jews did reside in Roth.

In 1666 Jews in Roth were first mentioned: Four Jews with their families were living there. Until the middle of the 18th century there are only sporadic references about Jews in Roth. In 1744, however, nine families with about 38 members living in Roth are listed in a register. It shows that at that time roughly 10 per cent of Roth’s inhabitants were Jewish. The ruling family, the Landgraves of Hessen, created this register, which listed all Jewish families in the towns and villages of their country. Its purpose, however, was to expel such families from the country who were living in poor economic circumstances. In Roth, only two of the nine Jewish families received permission to remain. And so during the rest of the 18th century there were only two Jewish families and some Jewish individuals living in Roth.

During the Kingdom of Westphalia (1807-1813), when Napoleon’s brother Jerome ruled the country, Jews for the first time gained equal civil rights. During these years some Jews moved into the village and married daughters from existing families. These marriages were the basis for the dynamic demographic development of the Jews in the 19th century. In the middle of the 19th century about 50 Jews in eight families lived in Roth; again they reached 10 per cent of the population. In percentage the Jewish Community of Roth was always one of the largest in the area of Marburg. In 1933, when Hitler came to power, there were six families with 32 members.

During the 19th century, the Jews from Roth, Fronhausen and Lohra formed one community (so-called Synagogengemeinde) which had its center in Roth. Since the middle of the 18th century there were a synagogue and a cemetery in Roth. In the 19th century the Jews also had their own school in Roth for the children of the named villages. In 1881 Fronhausen separated and at that time the Jewish school was dissolved and the children attended the local public schools.

The Jews of Roth earned their living with various trading businesses: dry goods, cloth, grain and fertilizers, cattle. Until the 20th century some of them were peddlers, others had shops. Some additionally owned a few acres of land, farmed it and had cows or goats.

Toward the end of the 19th century the Jews participated more and more in community life. Some of them joined the newly founded clubs, i.e. the men’s choir, a sports’ club and the football club (founded 1931). Witnesses report that in the 1920s Jews and Christians lived comfortably as neighbors, children became friends and played together in the afternoons.

After Hitler came to power these relationships were gradually destroyed. Children were heavily discriminated against at school, encounters with former friends and neighbors were avoided, men were not allowed to run their businesses and thus the livelihoods of the Jewish families were destroyed. They had no future in the country and soon their lives became seriously endangered. Some of them managed to emigrate to South Africa, England or the United States: Erwin and Trude Höchster, Hilda, Klara, Julius and Otto Stern, Markus, Toni, Herbert, Irene and Walter Roth. The others perished in concentration camps: Joseph, Klara, Heinz and Kurt Bergenstein, Hermann, Bertha, Ilse and Helmuth Höchster, Gertrude, Pauline and Zilly Nathan, Bertha, Louis and Hugo Stern and Herz Stern.

Annegret Wenz-Haubfleisch, May 2011