Last summer holiday I stayed with my family in the French Alsace.
Since my children don’t have yet a real interest in musea, I have attempted to squeeze in visits to musea and other (not only Jewish) Points of Interest, which I have mostly succeeded in doing so.
Places I have visited are:
Rosheim – We went there to hike between the vineyards the Alsace-valley is known for. I hoped to reach Rosenwiller, but since also France, like a big part of the rest of Europe, had to cope with an extremely hot summer, we gave up. We just walked a bit in the town of Rosheim. I knew that there was supposed to be a building in Rosheim, which stems from the middle ages and served as a synagogue. I did not manage to find it immediately. I did, however, find another synagogue, which was inaugurated in 1884 and reopened in 1959. That synagogue is on the rue du Général de Brauer which crosses one of the main streets in downtown Rosheim, the Rue du Général de Gaulle (another General). Another street as well crosses at the same crosspoint, namely the Rue des Déportés. According to the street sign, the original Alsatian name of the Rue des Déportés was Ã€lt Jude gÃ ss (Old Jewish Street), but in French, they have strikingly “translated” it to Rue des Déportés (street of deportees), interesting indeed. Or maybe not so interesting since that is what really happened with Jews (in many towns and villages in the Alsace, you can find the names of the streets in two languages, in French, and in Elsässisch, which is as Wikipedia puts it a “Low Alemannic German dialect spoken in most of Alsace”. The French translation is not always exactly a translation, such as is the case with the aforementioned Rue des Déportés).
Rosenwiller – I drove at another occasion to Rosenwiller. Rosenwiller did apparently not have a serious Jewish community, but it has the biggest Jewish cemetery in the Alsace (route de Grendelbruch). Jews from all over the Alsace were buried in the Alsace. There are about an estimated 5 to 6ooo interred people in Rosenwiller. The oldest gravestones were from wood and did not survive, but there are still many stone gravestones which can be seen. The currently oldest gravestone is from Rabbi Cerf. I could drive up until the entrance of the cemetery. Along the way to the cemetery, about halfway along the wall of the cemetery, there is a platform on which you can look into the cemetery from that point. There are also placards which explanation about the cemetery and some Jewish rituals.
Selestat – We went on an outing not far from Colmar, which is in the southern part of the Alsace, on our way back to where we were staying, we drove through Selestat, which is a big city. There is a Jewish cemetery. When I was there, it was already after 6 o’clock, which according to a placard, is when it closes. But I could peek over the wall of the cemetery. It looked quite a big cemetery but, with its 4000 tombs, not as big as Rosenwiller. The oldest identified gravestone is from Rav Moïse from Dambach who presided there over the rabbinical court.
Opening hours, according to a sign near the entrance are:
1 April to 30 September: 8am to 6pm
1 October to 31 March: 8am to 4pm
Obviously closed on Shabbos and Yom Tov
Mutzig – We were staying in nearby Heiligenberg. Mutzig is a city and has a synagogue which was built in 1787 when the Jewish Community of Mutzig had 307 members. The synagogue, one of the few synagogues from prior to the nineteenth century which has survived without any form of destruction, is based on the Rue Haute and is hidden behind a wall within a courtyard. I am not sure about the exact house number, but it is situated at about no 5, near the end of the street (48 °32’22.6″N 7 °27’10.4″E).
Strasbourg – Strasbourg has, of course, a very active Jewish community. There are a few kosher restaurants and kosher shops. We went there a few times to buy food and to visit Strasbourg. It took us about half an hour by car from Heiligenberg. Apart from the restaurants and shops, we went on a trip with one of the Batorama boats which offered us a view from the canals in the center of Strasbourg. With the headphones aboard, you can follow in one of the many languages. A few museums are located next to the Batorama strating point. One of these museums is the “Musée Historique de la Ville de Strasbourg” (https://www.musees.strasbourg.eu/musee-historique) which I visited in, probably, less than 30 minutes. I should have given it at least an hour if not more, but I was visiting Strasbourg with my family and while they were doing something else, I managed to squeeze in that visit, it is still better than nothing). I was mainly trying to find Jewish objects in the museum, and there was not a lot. Some of these objects in the museum were archaeological findings found in the area where the former Jewish Ghetto was situated, and also a huge maquette of Strasbourg in the middle ages which had the Jewish Ghetto in it.
There is also another museum nearby, which is said to have a collection of Jewish subjects. Namely the “Musée Alsacien” (https://www.musees.strasbourg.eu/musee-alsacien), which I believe would nice to visit once. Not only for the Jewish subjects but also to learn a bit more about the Alsatian culture. I did not manage to visit that museum, instead, I visited another time a museum in Marmoutier. What I did visit, or attempted to visit in Strasbourg, was the old Mikva (spelled mikvé in Strasbourg) on rue des Charpentiers no 20. Unfortunately, it was closed during my visit to the city. It is supposedly open on Sundays in July and August from 10 am to 12 am. Outside you see a regular building, but apparently, in the cellar, you can visit the medieval mikvah which looks interesting. The synagogue was based on nearby, around the corner rue des Juifs no 30 and on number 17 of the rue des Juifs there was a butchery. And on rue des Juifs no 20, there was another mikvah which was, probably, built between 1200 and 1260. There is on Rue des Juifs no 15 a plaque, which serves as a memorial to the medieval Jewish presence in Strasbourg. The Jews were driven out of Strasbourg after the black plague, of which the Jews were accused of having caused it. The Jews, according to my understanding, knew indeed of fewer victims, and thus were an easier prey to be accused by the general public with an easy excuse to murder and expel the Jews. But the real reason, if there were less Jewish victims, is that the Jews were known to have hygienic habits, take for example the Mikvé, or that they have the habit to wash hands before praying in the synagogue, or before eating etc. Also, a fact is that they lived secluded (by force of course) in the Ghetto. And indeed in 1349, the Jews were forced to leave Strasbourg. That is when they settled in the Alsace and which is why nowadays you’ll find many, according to the information I have gleaned during my stay, the most synagogue-dense rural area in the world.
Bouxwiller – I visited Musée Judéo-Alsacien de Bouxwiller (http://judaisme.sdv.fr/today/musee), which is a Jewish museum housed in a former synagogue and focuses on Alsatian Jewry, both the history of the Jews in the Alsace, and both the customs which is sometimes specific to Alsatian Jewry. I had to pay only 6 Euros and you get an audio guide. They offer multiple languages. If you want to learn more about Alsatian Jewry, I would highly recommend a visit.
Marmoutier – I visited the “Musée de Marmoutier – Le musée du patrimoine et du judaïsme alsacien”. Before I visited, I believed it to be a Jewish museum, and wondered indeed, why both Marmoutier and Bouwiller, which are only about 15 minutes drive from each other, would have separate museums about seemingly the same subject (Jewish Alsatian history). But now that I have visited, and reread the description on their website, I understand. The museum in Marmoutier, which is housed in the oldest building of Marmoutier, and probably built by the man who was in charge of the properties of the abbayé in Marmoutier, is focusing on the culture of the Alsace. I did not visit the “Musée Alsacien” in Strasbourg, so I cannot compare, but I believe that they both focus on the same subjects. The museum in Marmoutier is open only a few times per week and is run by, what looked to me, by volunteers. The advantage is of course that they gave me a private tour since the museum was almost empty of visitors. They have quite a big collection with objects from the Alsace. there is also a not-so-small collection with Jewish objects, but not specifically focussed on Alsatian Jewry. They do have quite a lot of drawings by Alphonse Lévy, who was born in Marmoutier. They also have a paroches (Wikpedia: the curtain that covers the Aron Kodesh (Torah Ark) containing the Sifrei Torah (Torah scrolls) in a synagogue). But if you really want to focus on the Jewish part of the Alsace per se, I’d visit the Bouxwiller museum. And for the Alsatian part, I would either visit the museum in Marmoutier or either the “Musée Alsacien” in Strasbourg.
Schirmeck – There I visited the “Mémorial de l’Alsace Moselle” (http://www.memorial-alsace-moselle.com/en) which serves both as a museum and a monument about the different stages from the Franco-Prussian war in 1870 after which the Alsace became part of the German empire, and even had some economic prosperity, to the treaty of Versailles after which the Alsace again became French, and WII during which the Nazi’s incorporated the Alsace as part of the Third Reich. After WWII it again became part of France which it still is today. The Alsatians had to cope in between the stages which were not always easy to cope with. The museum is very interesting. It is not specifically about Jewry, although the Alsace, of course, had Jewish inhabitants. The Jews stayed, per the information I have gleaned from my visit, mostly France minded, even during the German period between June 1971 and 1919. There is a small imitation of the Maginot Line in the museum, and a lot of other dynamic parts in the museum such as a reconstructed train wagon to give you an idea of hard it must have been to the Alsatian population to be forcibly evacuated, etc. There is also a big focus on the Nazi period with reconstructed offices of the Nazi commanders in the Alsace. About the specifically Jewish population, there is, if I recollect correctly, one big placard and a screen about the Alsatian Jews during WWII. But there is more, for example, the part of the Alsatian resistance fighters also had Jewish members, etc. but overall this is not a Jewish museum, but still very interesting and highly recommended. they also have an exposition about the EU which I skipped (I personally am skeptic somewhat of the EU, and if I really want to know more about the EU, I can also visit the “House of European History” in Brussels – http://www.europarl.europa.eu/visiting/en/brussels/house-of-european-history). When you arrive at the museum, you can see that the balcony looks out over the valley beneath, towards a specific point on the opposite side of the valley. I asked about it, and it seems indeed to be correct, as it points towards the Natzweiler-Struthof concentration camp on which is on the opposite side of the valley.
Struthof – I visited there the Natzweiler-Struthof concentration camp. It is a museum and memorial (“Centre européen du résistant déporté” – http://www.struthof.fr). The main victims were resistance fighters from the Alsace. About 6 percents of the victims were Jewish. They constructed the concentration camp on a former area which was a skiing area with a private villa. Nearby the Nazi’s found stones which they were interested in which was why the Nazi’s build there the concentration camp. You can visit there the exhibition which is in the main building (a new modern building). They explain in a hierarchical method the main points of what happened during WWII in Europe. It is different from the Kazerne Dossin, which is no far from where I live, where they focus a lot on the causes and reasons about people could possibly have been persuaded to taking part in a killing spree and other atrocities (https://www.kazernedossin.eu/EN/Museum-Memoriaal/Museum). It is indeed a different way of at looking at things, but I preferred the way they present it in Struthof.
When you leave the main building, you can continue towards the zone with the Barracks behind a barbed wire fence, which is where the main location of the Concentration Camp was located. The barbed wire fence is still there (I am not sure if it is the original one). The first barrack on your left contains another part of the exhibition. Next door to that barrack, you walk past the barrack where food was prepared during the war. That barrack was closed. Struthof was built on a steep hill, which made it much much harder to cope for the victims. The visitors can walk all the way down the hill where there are two barracks standing. between the barracks at the top of the hill, and those two barracks, there are plateaus with empty space, but where barracks once stood. One of the barracks downhill contained the prisons (within a prison, since the concentration camp was in itself a prison). There, prisoners were sometimes, before their execution, extra punished by means of being enclosed in a very small chamber in which they could not even stand, or where they received lashes, etc. Horrible. The other barrack contained the crematorium. The Germans in the Nazi University of Strasbourg were so cruel, that they even ordered some people to be transferred from Auschwitz to Struthof to be gassed in Struthof, in order to have their corpses for their so-called medical experiments. They also experimented at that university with different gasses, for that they also used Struthof. A horrible place indeed.
Marlenheim – This city we also visited. While we were there on the 14th of August, the yearly two-day festival took place (14 & 15 August). As part of the festivities, an Alsatian wedding (“Le mariage de l’Ami Fritz”) from the 19th century is being performed. It is not a real wedding of course and it is based on the book “L’Ami Fritz” by the authors Emile Erckmann and Alexandre Chatrian. It is very nice with music, orchestra’s, a market, etc. Part of the wedding has a rabbi with the name of David Sichel (not his real name and not a real rabbi), who performs part of the wedding. See http://www.mariage-ami-fritz.fr.
This was not meant to be a full description of the places I have visited, just a general overview. For more I’d recommend the following book:
- DALTROFF JEAN, ‘La Route du Judaïsme en Alsace’, Images et Découvertes, 2006, 128p.
And the following URL’s (apart from the URL’s mentioned in the main text):