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The Jewish Community of Westhouse

Westhouse

In German: Westhausen 

A commune in the Bas-Rhin department in the historical region of Alsace, France. Westhouse was annexed by Germany between 1871-1918.

Jews started to settle in Westhouse during the 18th century. The 1784 general census of the Jewish population in Alsace recorded in Westhouse 25 Jewish families with a total of about 140 people. In 1807 there were 160 Jewish inhabitants in Westhouse. Their number reached a peak of 236 in 1846. After mid-19th century the Jewish population of Westhouse decreased continuously with 214 Jews recorded in 1861, 201 in 1870, 93 in 1900, and 80 in 1910. In 1936 there only 40 Jews in Westhouse.

The Jewish community in Westhouse belonged to the Rabbinate of Niedernai, and after 1910 to that of Obernai. A synagogue established in 1808 was replaced by a new building in 1858. The community also operated a school that was open from 1858 to 1896, and a mikveh. A teacher employed by the community served also as prayer leader and shochet.  

After the German occupation of Alsace in 1940, the remaining Jews of Westhouse were deported to southern France, of them 20 perished in the Holocaust.

In 1953 there were 5 Jewish inhabitants in Westhouse. The synagogue building was destroyed during the Second World War.

Place Type:
Village
ID Number:
21374373
Written by researchers of ANU Museum of the Jewish People
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Moise Schuhl (1845-1911), rabbi, born in Westhouse, France. He graduated from high school in 1865 and then studied at the Séminaire israélite de France from 1863 to 1865. At the age of 26 he was appointed rabbi of Saint-Étienne, France, where he served also as secretary and accountant of the Jewish community. Schuhl was instrumental in the building of the synagogue of Saint-Étienne in 1880. Schuhl was offered the position of chief rabbi of Oran in Algeria, but declined the offer because of his wife’s poor health. In 1888 he became rabbi of Vesoul, France, serving there until 1896, when he was named Chief Rabbi in Epinal in charge of the Consistoire of Eastern France. He held this post until his retirement in 1908, when he moved to Rouen in Normandy, France. As Chief Rabbi he organized a Jewish charity society, advanced the establishment of an orphanage and of community libraries and supported the Alliance israélite universelle network of Jewish schools. Schuhl is the author of a bilingual edition (Hebrew and French translation) of Pirkey Aboth - Les Maximes des pères, published in 1983. Moise Schuhl died in Rouen. He was the brother of Rabbi Justin Schuhl (1870-1965). 

Justin Schuhl (1870-1965), rabbi, rabbi, born in Westhouse, France. he entered the rabbinical school in rue Vauquelin, France. He did his military service in Algeria, and then he served as rabbi and teacher at the Alliance israélite universelle school in Algiers, Algeria, from 1901 to 1903. In 1903 he became rabbi of Vesoul holding that position until 1908. During WW I he served in the French army as a military rabbi. He distinguished himself during WW I and received the Croix de Guerre in June 1918, and was named Knight of the Legion of Honor in 1920, and then officer in 1950. After WW I, he was stationed with the French occupation army in the Mainz, Germany, until the 1930s. In 1934 he was appointed military rabbi for the three departments in northeastern France. As such he frequently visited the forts of the Maginot Line. In 1939, he actively participated in the safekeeping of Torah scrolls from synagogues in Alsace, in the face of the invasion of the Nazi forces. During the German occupation of France in WW II, he took refuge in the suburbs of Toulouse in southern France. After WW II he settled in Strasbourg, where he was one of the participants to the inauguration of Synagogue de la Paix in 1958. During his retirement he dedicated himself to genealogical research. Justin Schuhl was the brother of Rabbi Moise Schuhl (1845-1911).

France

République française

A country in Western Europe, member of the European Union (EU).

21st Century

Estimated Jewish population in 2018: 450,000 out of 65,000,000 (0.6%). France is the home of the third largest Jewish population in the world and the largest Jewish community in Europe. 

Conseil Représentatif des Institutions Juives de France - Representative Council of Jews of France
Phone: 33 1 42 17 11 11
Fax: 33 1 42 17 11 13
Email: infocrif@crif.org
Website: www.crif.org

Consistoire Central de France – Union des Communautés Juives de France
19, rue St Georges
75009 Paris
France
Phone: 01 49 70 88 00
Fax: 01 42 81 03 66
Website: https://france.consistoire.org/consistoire-central/
e-mail : administration@consistoirecentral.fr

 

HISTORY

The Jews of France

1040 | In Rashi Veritas

Brain drain is not a new phenomenon. Between the eighth and tenth centuries a mass movement began of Jewish merchants from Babylon – then the largest Jewish population center in the world – migrating to Western Europe, where international trade centers began to emerge. These Jews joined a larger and older group of fellow Jews, who had migrated back in 2nd Temple times, through the Mediterranean to Gaul, the land that we know as France.
As befits a goose laying golden eggs, the Jews received special rights and sheltered under the protection of French nobles, who shielded them from the maws of the Catholic Church. The economic prosperity allowed them to establish yeshivas and Torah centers which produced many scholars. One of these, a genius who made his living as a vintner, was born in 1040 in the province of Champagne in France, and bequeathed to posterity a comprehensive commentary on the Torah. Legend has it that the incomparable Rashi script was invented by his daughters, who were scholars themselves, but the truth is that it's the font of a Sephardi cursive script that was used in the Jewish printing presses in 16th century Italy to distinguish it from the biblical text itself. His name was Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (Rashi), and his monumental work is still the authoritative commentary on Holy Scripture in the rabbinical world.

1240 | Where They Burn Books...

The crusades, which spread from Europe beginning in 1096, ended the idyll of Jewish existence in the lands of Ashkenaz in the early second millennium. Blood libels, persecutions and expulsions were the lot of the Jews for hundreds of years afterward.
One of the low points was reached in the year 1240 and is known as “The Trial of Paris”. At this trial, initiated by King Louis IX and Pope Gregory IX, the defendant was not a person, but a work of literature - The Talmud, to be precise, which according to the Catholic Church holds messages of hatred towards all gentiles and disparagement of Jesus.
One fine day an incited mob gathered in front of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, to watch the condemned criminal – 12,000 hand-written copies of the Talmud – burned at the stake. 600 years later Jewish-German poet Heinrich Heine would comment on this event: “Where they burn books, they will eventually burn people.”

1481 | The Provenance of Provence

When speaking of the Jews of France, one cannot help but pay special attention to a singular group of Jews who lived in what is now the south of France and was called “The Sages of Provence”.
These sages were the advanced placement class of the Jewish world. They created a unique brand of thought and Bible exegesis and also engaged in philosophy and Kabbalah. The teachings of these sages was spread throughout Europe, Spain and North Africa, and their genius was a byword among Jewish intellectuals of Western Europe.
Among the main writers of this group are Hameiri, Rabbi David Kimchi (aka Rada”k), Rabbi Zarhia HaLevi (aka Raza”h), Abraham Ben David (aka Raba”d) and his son, Rabbi Isaac the Blind, and of course the great translator Judah ibn Tibbon, the man who disseminated the thought of Maimonides after translating it from Arabic into Hebrew.
The Jews of Provence as a cultural phenomenon came to an end in the year 1481, when King Louis XI of France annexed Provence to his realm.

1498 | The Odyssey of Expulsions

To the Jews of France, the late Middle Ages were an agonizing ping-pong affair of expulsions and recalls. In 1306 King Phillip IV issued an edict banning the Jews from residence in French territory. 11 years later his son, Louis X, recalled the Jews – provided they wear an identifying patch on their clothes. A mere seven years went by and the Jews were expelled again. This time it was King Charles IV, who claimed that the Jews, in their temerity, failed to pay their full amount of taxes to him.
In 1357, under Jean II and later under Charles V, the Jews returned to France, but once again suffered persecution, restriction of their freedom of occupation to the sole field of money-lending, and finally – abduction of their children.
The odyssey of expulsions ended on September 17th, 1394, when Charles VI succumbed to the pressure of the masses and issues an edict of expulsion for all Jews in his domains. To his credit, it must be noted that he gave the expelled Jews ample time to sell their property and decreed that any Christian who borrowed money from them must repay it. By 1498 there was not a Jew left anywhere in France, save for a smattering of small communities that lived in Avignon and its environs in the south of France, which was then under Papal control.

1791 | No Bread? Eat Challa

The French Revolution, which broke out in 1789, costing many their lives through the services of “Madame Guillotine”, heralded the idea of the liberal democratic state as we know it today. From a tyrannical class-based society France transformed (albeit through much bloodshed), to a democratic regime in which each person can be master of their own fate.
The first to enjoy the fruits of emancipation were the Jews of Alsace-Lorraine, an area conquered by France back in 1630. The Jews of France, then numbering some 40,000 people, were as mentioned above the first in Europe to enjoy the fruits of the revolution, but their release from the burden of being the “other” and “alien” was not easy. At first the leaders of the revolution claimed that the Jews were “a nation within a nation” and as such not eligible for treatment as equal citizens. But in 1791 the General Law Relating to the Jews was issued, granting the Jews full equality, and there was much rejoicing in the Jewish quarter of Paris.

1806 | The Twelve Question Program

It would not be off the mark to characterize the history of Europe's Jews in general and those of France in particular as a series of “almosts”. Almost equality. Almost Emancipation. Almost liberty.
As though the Law Relating to the Jews had not been passed 15 years prior, in 1806 the question of Jewish status was raised once again, this time under Napoleon, the legendary general known for his unlimited ambition.
Napoleon took a creative approach. In 1806 he gathered an assembly of leading Jews and presented them with the “12 Question Test”, designed to assess their loyalty to France. Among other things the Jews were asked how Jewish halacha views mixed marriages, whether a Jew may charge interest from a gentile, how the Jews view France and more.
The answers the Jews gave, declaring France their motherland and non-Jewish Frenchmen their brothers, did not satisfy Napoleon, and a year later he issued the “Shameful Edict”, limiting the Jews' freedoms of occupation and movement, yet forced them to enlist in the army. Shameful indeed.

1860 | All Israel Are Friends

The story of the first global Jewish organization, Alliance Israelite Universelle, established in Paris in 1860, begins with a Jewish 3 year-old from Bologna named Edgardo Levi Mortara, who one day was kidnapped from his parents and taken to the Vatican, where he was “reeducated” in Catholic institutions.
The Mortara affair created great furor throughout liberal circles in Europe and was the main impetus for the founding of “Alliance”, a Jewish cultural organization meant to protect Jewish rights, which was active mainly in education.
During this period, 12 years after the “Spring of Nations” revolution, a wave of nationalism broke out and swept over France. As though through Pavlovian conditioning, the Jews were once again blamed for all the ills that had befallen the land of good taste. 12 years later, one of the main accusations hurled at the Jews was that they had gotten rich lending money to the French government for the disastrous war against the hated enemy of Prussia.

1894 | A Legendary Story

It was a winter he would never forget, and it seems that neither shall we. He was the Paris correspondent for the Austrian newspaper Neue Freie Presse, a handsome man with a thick black beard and burning eyes. He would not forget the toxic hatred, the obvious lie; he would not forget the shouts of “Death to the Jews” and the pleas of the accused, a Jewish-French military officer named Alfred Dreyfus, reprimanding those who were his subordinates but a moment ago, in a cracked voice: “I forbid you to curse me”, to no avail of course. To this day, the ripped-off ranks of Dreyfus appear in the all-Jewish nightmares.
Many historians believe that it was the Dreyfus trial that pushed the “Visionary of the Jewish State,” Binyamin Zeev (Theodore) Herzl, to dedicate his life to establishing a state for the Jews. For if in France, the country that had committed itself more than any to the ideals of equality, liberty, and fraternity, such anti-Semitism raged – what would become of the Jews huddled in the Pale of Settlement in Eastern Europe?
"If you will it", the young journalist thought to himself, "it is no legend".

1914 | Bloom of Life

On July 31st, 1914, Jean Jaures, leader of the Social-Democrat camp in French politics, sat and ate dinner at the famous Cafe du Croissant in the ninth arrondissement of Paris. All around the tempest was raging. The winds of WW1 began to blow, and Jaures, who had done everything in his power to stop the war, but in vain, was bitterly disappointed. This did not last long. During the meal an assassin appeared behind him and put two bullets in his head.
The murder of Jaures made a deep impact on his pupil and friend, Leon Blum, a socialist Jewish intellectual who would make history 22 years later by becoming the first Jewish Prime Minister of France. Blum, an attorney with a well-developed social conscience, who was defined by his biographer as a “man of words”, embodied the spirit of French Jews between the world wars. He was a man of French culture through and through, and at the same time deeply aware of his Jewish identity, an avowed Zionist, and was admired by the leaders of the Hebrew population in mandatory Palestine, who often sought his advice.

1942 | Vichy-ing The Jews Away

During WW2 France showed its ugly side. The Vichy government, a puppet regime under German protection, took part – and according to German testimony, with great zeal – in the deportation of the Jews of France (mostly Jews without French citizenship, including many who had fled from Nazi-controlled areas) to the extermination camps in the east.
One of the events that will live in infamy in French history was the deportation of 12,500 of the Jews of Paris, who were led in the dark of night, in the middle of July 1942, to the Velodrome d'hiver, where many of them died due to the harsh sanitary conditions and a severe shortage of food and water.
True, proud Francophiles will say – and rightly so – that there was a French resistance movement that abhorred the treatment of the Jews. To strengthen their argument for the republic, perhaps they will also offer the story of the nun Mother Maria Skobtsova, a Righteous Among the Nations, who managed to sneak into the velodrome along with her son disguised as waste removal workers, and hid several dozen Jewish children in the trash cans she took out. But these were the exceptions that did not indicate the rule. The numbers show that some 76,000 of the Jews of France (about a quarter of the Jews in the country) were sent to the death camps, of whom only 2,500 or so survived.

2000 | From Rothschild to Levinas

After the fall of the Iron Curtain and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Jews of France became the largest Jewish community in Europe: Some 600,000 Jews, most of whom migrated to France in the 1950s and 1960s from North Africa, as the French colonies there came to an end. The Six Day War represented a sort of messianic moment for the Jews of France as well. Their identification with Israel following the war was expressed in rallies and marches in the streets of Paris, financial support for Israel and the establishment of the “National Coordination Committee”, which united the vast majority of Jewish organizations in France.
In the 1980s the Jewish community in France was a hotbed of intellectual ferment, that included youngsters considered assimilated as well. Jewish radio stations were launched, departments of Jewish studies at universities received funding and resources, and research and publications on Jewish topics flourished. Among the celebrated Jews of France one may find intellectual Bernard Henri Levi, filmmaker Claude Lelouche, philosopher Emmanuel Levinas, thinker Jacques Derida, the famous Rothschild family and more.
But even in the 21st century France is not yet completely rid of anti-Jewish expressions and actions, this time led mostly by Muslim immigrants. These outbreaks, which included rock throwing, vandalism at synagogues and even murderous terror attacks, have led to another wave of aliyah to Israel.

Alsace

A historical region in northeastern France on the Rhine River plain, bordering Germany and Switzerland. 

Obernai

In German: Oberehnheim

A town in the department of Bas- Rhin, France.

The first evidence for the presence of Jews in Obernai dates from 1215. In 1349 a Jewish woman who had been sentenced to death for coin clipping accused the Jews of propagating the black death, whereupon all the Jews of Obernai were burned at the stake. Jews were recorded as living in Obernai again between 1437 and 1477 and from 1498 to 1507. Subsequently Jews were rarely even allowed to travel through Obernai or permitted to visit the local market. Only in 1647, when the town passed from French rule, were Jews again permitted to settle there. In 1784 the number of Jews in Obernai was 196. Many more were recorded as living there on the eve of World War II.

About 60 lived there in 1970.

Valff

In German: Walff

A commune in the Bas-Rhin department in Alsace, France

Valff was the home of a small Jewish community. The first Jewish presence in Valff is documented in 1614. Jews returned to Valf after the Thirty Year war and another Jews is mentioned in 1675. Fourteen years later, in 1689, there were 40 Jewish inhabitants in Valff. Already in 1721 a synagogue was opened on the first floor of a residential building. The house was rented to Isaac Weyl, a local Jew, by the Count of Andlau. During the French Revolution the counts of Andlau lost their properties and Jewish community took over the house, which gradually fell into disrepair. The community built a new synagogue in 1854.

In 1781 six members of Isaac Aron”s family converted to Christianity. They were baptized by the local priest and consequently adopted the family name Tauflieb (“lover of baptism”).  

In 1744 there were 44 Jews in Valff, their number was 101 in 1780 and at the 1784 census recorded 94 Jewish inhabitants. In 1808 the Jewish population numbered 120 individuals, but one hundred years later, in 1910, there were only 48 Jews in Valff. Following emigration to larger towns and cities, only 4 Jews still lived in Valff in 1936. In the same year the synagogue was decommissioned. Following a ceremony attended by all the Jews of Valff and many others from the neighboring communities as well as by non-Jewish notables, including the Mayor of Valff and the local priest, the Torah scrolls were transferred to the community of Barr.

Following the German occupation in 1940, the Jews of Alsace are expelled from the region. In Valff the name of the Rue des Juifs (Jews Street) is changed to Rue des Aryens. Four Jewish natives of Valff were murdered in the Holocaust: Ernest Lévy (b. 1912), Moïse Levy (b.1872), Marcel Moise Meyer (b. 1906), Albertine Simon née Weil (b. 1878). Félix Wolff, a travelling cantor who served in Valff since the end of the 19th century, was executed by the Nazis in 1944 at Savigny-en-Septaine, a commune in the Cher department, France.

The building of the synagogue that was sold to a farmer still serves as a barn today. It is located at 182, rue Principale, Valff.

Sélestat 

In German: Schlettstadt

A town in the department of Bas-Rhin, Alsace, France

21st Century

Jewish cemetery
rue du Cimetière-Israélite
67600 Sélestat
France

HISTORY

The presence of Jews in Selestat is confirmed from at least the beginning of the 14th century. While the town efficiently protected them from persecutions coming from outside, particularly from the Armleder bands, a number of its inhabitants attacked them in 1347 and more so in 1349, believing that they were responsible for spreading the black death. At this time some of the Jews were murdered and others fled; some accepted baptism and they too were then accused of spreading the black death. The synagogue was confiscated and converted into an indoor market; from the middle of the 16th century it was used as an arsenal. The Jews returned a short while later but they were again expelled at the beginning of the 16th century. The street which was known at first as "Judenschuel" and later as the rue des Juifs was inhabited by this second community. From then onward, Jews visited Selestat for trading
purposes but they were not allowed to settle there. During the 17th century Jews from neighboring localities acquired a plot of land for use as a cemetery, which still existed in 1971.

A new Jewish community was not established in Selestat until after the French revolution. It was soon the third largest in the whole of Alsace but this numerical importance was short- lived; between the two world wars there were only 250 Jews there. The synagogue, which was erected in 1890 and sacked by the Germans during World War II, was later rebuilt. The community was reconstituted and in 1971 numbered 180 persons.

LAHR

A city in the Black Forest region in Baden-Wuerttemberg, Germany.

First Jewish presence: unknown; peak Jewish population: 143 in 1905; Jewish population in 1933: 96

The Jewish community of Lahr was destroyed during the Black Death pogroms of 1348/49. It was not until 1862 that Jews were allowed to return to Lahr; in 1888, they established a community and inaugurated a prayer hall on Bismarckstrasse. Although local Jews were able to maintain a school—the teacher also served as the shochet and chazzan— they conducted burials in nearby Schmieheim. Prominent local Jews included the Weil family, whose steel plant was one of the largest in Europe. The prayer hall was sold in September 1938, after which prayers were conducted in a private residence. Later on Pogrom Night (Nov. 9, 1938), rioters ravaged Jewish-owned homes and businesses, demolished the former prayer hall and threw out its ritual objects. Jews were dragged from their homes, and the men were sent to Dachau. The following morning, the remaining Jews were marched through the town. In 1939, those Jews who still lived in Lahr were forcibly moved into so-called “Jews’ houses.” Thirty-nine Lahr Jews emigrated, 30 relocated within Germany, nine died in Lahr and 21 were deported to Gurs concentration camp in France in October 1940. Three Jews who were married to Christians managed to remain in Lahr, but a fourth was deported to Theresienstadt concentration camp in 1945. At least 61 local Jews perished in the Shoah. A memorial plaque was later affixed to the Bismarckstrasse building.

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This entry was originally published on Beit Ashkenaz - Destroyed German Synagogues and Communities website and contributed to the Database of the Museum of the Jewish People courtesy of Beit Ashkenaz.