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History of Jews in Alsace: Wikis


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Synagogue du Quai Kléber, Strasbourg, inaugurated in 1898, burnt and razed by the Nazis in 1940[1]
Synagogue de la Paix, Strasbourg, inaugurated in 1958

The Jewish community of Alsace is one of the oldest Jewish communities in Europe. It was first attested in 1165 by Benjamin of Tudela, who wrote about a "large number of learned men" in "Astransbourg"[2], and it is assumed that it dates back until around the year 1000 CE.[3] Although Jewish life in Alsace was often disrupted by outbreaks of pogroms, at least during the Middle Ages, and reined in by harsh restrictions on business and movement, it has had a continuous existence ever since it was first recorded. At its peak, in 1870, the Jewish community of Alsace numbered 35,000 people.[4]


Language and Origins

The language traditionally spoken by the Jews of Alsace is Yédisch-Daïtsch or Judeo-Alsatian[5], originally a mixture of German, Hebrew and Aramaic idioms and virtually indistinguishable from genuine Yiddish. From the 12th century onwards, due among other things to the influence of the nearby Rashi school, French linguistic elements aggregated as well, and from the 18th century onwards, some Polish elements due to immigrants blended into Yédisch-Daïtsch too.[6]

Medieval anti-semitism and massacre of 1349

A kettle full of Jews (with white hats) burning in hell, an illustration from the Hortus deliciarum

Several disparaging representations of Jews in medieval Alsatian art, usually showing them with the characteristic three-pointed hat, have survived and can still be seen in situ, notably on the tympanum of the romanesque Église Saints-Pierre-et-Paul in Sigolsheim, on the roof of the Église Saints-Pierre-et-Paul in Rosheim and the Église Saint-Léger in Guebwiller (both romanesque as well and showing a seated Jew holding a money purse), on Strasbourg Cathedral and on the gothic Collégiale Saint-Martin in Colmar, which shows no less than two different representations of a Judensau. Other medieval representations have survived through copies of the Hortus deliciarum and as architectural fragments in the Musée de l’Œuvre Notre-Dame.[7] Frescoes in the Église Saint-Michel of Weiterswiller and a tapestry in the Église Saints-Pierre-et-Paul of Neuwiller-lès-Saverne also show disparaging representations of Jews in traditional attire.[8]

In 1286, rabbi Meir of Rothenburg, one of the leading Jewish figures of his day, was imprisoned by the German king in a fortress near Ensisheim.

In 1349, Jews of Alsace were accused of poisoning the wells with Plague (disease). On February 14th, Saint Valentine's day, thousands of Jews were massacred during the Strasbourg pogrom. Jews were subsequently forbidden to settle in the town and were reminded every evening at 10 o'clock by a Cathedral bell and a municipal herald blowing the "Grüselhorn" to leave. Alsatian Jews then settled in the neighbouring villages and small towns, where many of them became cloth merchants ("Schmatteshendler") or cattle merchants ("Behemeshendler").

Early modern times

Am important political figure for the Jews of Alsace and beyond appeared with the long-serving "shtadlan" Josel of Rosheim. In 1510 he was made the parnas u-manhig (sworn guide and leader) of the Jewish communities of Lower Alsace, before becoming the German Emperor's favourite interlocutor on Jewish matters and the most influential intercessor on the Jew's behalf.

French rule until the French Revolution

With the annexation of Alsace to France in 1681, Catholicism was restored as the principal Christian current. However, the prohibition laid on Jews to settle in Strasbourg, and the special taxes they were submitted to, were not lifted. In the 18th century, Herz Cerfbeer of Medelsheim, the influential merchant and philanthropist, became the first Jew to be allowed to settle in the Alsatian capital again. The French Revolution then admitted Jews back into the town.

Napoleonic times

When Napoleon Bonaparte created the "Grand Sanhedrin" in 1806, he appointed the Chief Rabbi of Strasbourg, Joseph David Sinzheim, as its first President.

Dreyfus affair

Degradation of Alfred Dreyfus

While the Dreyfus affair by and large played in the capital Paris alone, it had immediate repercussions on the Jews in Alsace, Alfred Dreyfus being by birth a citizen of Mulhouse and thus suspected of innate sympathy with the German enemy by virtue of his being Alsatian and Jewish, thus doubly disloyal. One of the alleged traitor's most stubborn advocates was the fellow Mulhousian Auguste Scheurer-Kestner, a (non-Jewish) chemist, industrialist, politician and philanthropist.[9] Another main player of the Affair and advocate of Dreyfus' cause was the Strasbourg-born army general Georges Picquart.


In 1940, Alsace was annexed to Nazi Germany. The evacuation of the Jews of Alsace had started already on 3 September 1939, mostly to Périgueux and Limoges.[10] On 15 July 1940, the last expulsion of Jews from Alsace took place.[11] 2,605 Jews from Bas-Rhin[12] and 1,100 from Haut-Rhin[13] were murdered during the Holocaust. Some were victims of the experiments of August Hirt at the Reichsuniversität Straßburg.

Jews in Alsace Today

After the Algerian war, Sephardi Jews came to Alsace in 1962 from North Africa. In the year 2000, roughly 4,000 Jews in Strasbourg were sephardic, making up for a little over 25% of the total Jewish population.[14] In the year 2001, roughly 25% of the 500 Jewish families of Mulhouse were sephardic.[15]

Presentation of Alsatian Jewish history and heritage

Ingwiller's now abandoned synagogue was built in 1822 over the ruins of a medieval castle, and enlarged in 1891.[16]

A presentation of the Alsatian Jews's history and culture through collections of artifacts and architectural elements can be found in the Musée Judéo-Alsacien of Bouxwiller, Bas-Rhin, in the Musée du bain rituel juif (Mikvah museum) of Bischheim, in the Musée alsacien and the Musée historique of Strasbourg, in the Musée historique of Haguenau, in the Musée d'Arts et Traditions Populaires of Marmoutier, in the Musée du vieux Soultz of Soultz-Haut-Rhin, in the Musée du pays de la Zorn of Hochfelden, in the Musée de l'image populaire of Pfaffenhoffen and in the Musée Bartholdi of Colmar.[17]

The annual European Day of Jewish Culture had been initiated in 1996 by the B'nai Brith of Bas-Rhin together with the local Agency for developpement of tourism.[18] It now implicates 27 European countries including Turkey and Ukraine.[19] The original aim of the day was to permit access to, and ultimately restoration of, long abandoned synagogues of architectural value like those of Wolfisheim, Westhoffen, Pfaffenhoffen, Struth, Diemeringen, Ingwiller or Mackenheim.

Notable Jews from Alsace


See also


External links

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