The Jewish community in Gunzenhausen by Wilhelm Lux

Taken from the "Home Register Book of the town of Gunzenhausen 1982" on the recommendation of Menachem Katten

Translated by Lesley Loy

The oldest report of Jews in Gunzenhausen dates from 1343. That year, Emperor Ludwig the Bavarian (1314 - 1347) freed the Burgrave Johann II of Nuremberg from all guilt against the Jews in a document. Among the Israelites mentioned there is also a Jew “Kewen von Guntzenhausen ll (Mon. Zoll Vi 109 and 110). In his "History of the Jews in the Principality of Ansbach" Hänle also lists a Jew Moises (Moses) von Gunzenhausen, who, however, lived in Baldern. He is said to have voluntarily waived a claim against the margrave in 1344. On January 13, 1375, a protection letter was issued by the margrave to the JewHeilmann von Gunzenhausen, for which he had to pay six guilders 'good of money and heavy of weight /'.

Various Jewish names are mentioned in the Gunzenhausen town accounts book (Alt-Gunzenhausen, Issue 6) edited by the well-known local historian Pastor D. Hermann Clauß. So on October 16, 1459 it says: "Gilg Hefelein received six and a half guilders from the Jew Senderlein today." On December 28, 1462 the Jew Schmol acknowledged the repayment of a debt of 50 guilders; on May 19, 1478 the Jew Moses was mentioned in a matter of guarantee, on October 29, 1484 the Jew Joachin, who owed the blind Thoma, citizen of Gunzenhausen, 17 guilders that came from buying a house, and on January 28, 1488 Hans Hofmaister sold his stepfather's house for 46 guilders to  the Jew Abraham.

The business transactions mentioned indicate that a Jewish community must have existed here as early as the middle of the 15th century. The main occupations of the Jewish inhabitants are money handling and the cattle trade. It was no accident that these types of professions dominated. To understand, the following circumstances must be pointed out: In those times, the Jews suffered from many restrictions both in religious and social relationships. They were not allowed to hold public office, were not allowed to do military service, and were not involved in city administration. The exclusion from the commercial cooperatives and the guilds forced them to trade in small animals and cattle and to carry out money transactions, which they often carried out in a profiteering manner. Usury was officially forbidden to them by their religion, but from about the 13th century onwards, disregardingthe rules of their religion, it gradually found its way into Jewish moneylending practices.
The Reich Police Order of 1530 tried to remedy these abuses in the interest of the Jews by also demanding manual labor from them, which, on the other hand, was impossible due to the existingrestrictions. Since the middle of the 14th century the principle had been applied that the life and wealth belonged to the Jews only "precario" (on request) and that the emperor was authorized at any time to take them away.

At the end of the 15th century, the first expulsions began in southern Germany. Emperor Maximilian I gave the order to expel the Jews from the imperial city of Nuremberg on July 5, 1498. On March 10, 1499 the Jews had to leave the city. The imperial city of Nördlingen expelled the Jews in 1506.

In the Margraviate of Ansbach, the expulsion of the Jews was said to have been ordered only in 1539, according to other sources, only in 1560, at the request of the provinces. However, the territory of the principality was spared from the bloody persecution of the Jews as in 1298 and 1319, 1350 and 1397.

The Salbuch (This is a list of the property rights of a landlord and the services to be rendered by their landlords) of the town of Gunzenhausen from 1592 does not have Jewish names. The first Jewish citizens appeared in the town's civil register from 1593, and were entered on June 15 of that year: Isaac Jud (the name Jud is used to identify religious affiliation) and Hain Jud, both from Bechhofen. Isaac “brought along his wife, two unmarried sons, Joel and Nathan, two married sons, Oscher and Mair, his son-in-law Hain, a schoolmaster and his house servant / '(Hänle). On October 5, 1593 Mayer Judt, Joel Judt followed; October 4, 1617 Löw Judt; May 28, 1619 Schamair Judt, Berla Judt, Hain Jüdtin. The entries continue into the 19th century.

The expulsion orders seem to have been handled very casually, although Margrave Georg Friedrich issued renewed expulsion mandates in 1568, 1580 and 1583. Nevertheless, the named Isaac was accepted by the town of Gunzenhausen in 1593. In 1585 the town of Gunzenhausen had made an application to the margravial administration „to no longer tolerate Jews, blasphemous people and criminal usurers, in this region and to remove those who in the meantime have crept in Further complaints followed in 1603 and 1608. Despite this opposition, however, in the year 1609 nine Jewish families were resident as homeowners in the town. Together they had a tax amount of over 49 guilders, a considerable sum at that time.

During the Thirty Years' War, almost all Jews moved away or fell victim to the events of the war and the epidemics and diseases that followed. It was only after the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 that some Jews settled in Gunzenhausen again. So in 1649 “a HirschJudt von Sulzberg; 1652 Marx Judt von Nördlingen and Lazar Judt von Weißenburg; 1657 Zoderrs Judt, Jacob Judten'sson-in-law; Hirsch Judt, Jacob Judtens son; 1658 Marx Judt von Arelfing near Mergentheim; 1662 Hirsch Judt the Young, the Rabbi 's son ". n 1724 28 Jewish families were again counted in Gunzenhausen, in 1757 this number had risen to 55 and in 1808 there were 54 families with 235 people. The yearbook and house book of Archdeacon Paul counts  a total of 29 Jewish families lliving in 1731, 20 of whom had civil rights, and Johann Georg Vetter's description of the locality

shows that 16 Jewish house owners were based in Gunzenhausen in 1731. A Jewish school is also mentioned.

In 1715 there was talk of an alleged ritual murder. The Gunzenhausen Jews received an “innocence Prison, "which means that they were arrested by the authorities, because they were accused of murdering a child  which had been found dead and using the blood for religious purposes. However, the investigation revealed the complete innocence of the members of the Jewish community, so the detainees were released immediately.

In 1737, under Margrave Carl Wilhelm Friedrich, a new Jewish ordinance was issued, which bore the name “Order and privileges of an entire protective Jewry in the Margraviate of Onolzbachll. Even if the lack of rights of the Jews was still evident, it did bring some improvement. This decree was renewed by Margrave Carl Alexander in 1759 and contained the stipuation that Jews who had beengranted permission through a letter of protection fromthe Margrave government to move to a place within the Margraviate were allowed to settle there and the community in question could no longer raise any objections. However, the municipalities had the right to charge appropriate fees for citizen admissions, some of which were very substantial. However, no subject was allowed to attack the protected  Jews in word or deed.

However relations between the Christians and the Jews remained strained, as shown by  a petition that the mayor and council of the town of Gunzenhausen addressed to their rulers around the middle of the 18th century and in which complaints about the behavior of local Jews were made (printed in the "Chronicle of the town of Gunzenhausen" by Pastor Karl Stark in 1899). The petition states, among other things: „…the overwhelming growth ofthe Jewish population, which has increased from 14 to 50 families over 50 years, more than a quarter of the local population and sucking out the remnant of the poor like leeches, forcing the unfortunates  to move to other areas , and leaving the remaining citizens with no privileges over Christian citizens: a) that they maycharge 18 percent interest from Christians, b ) are exempt from military obligations c) get their pound of meat from the butchers two pfennigs cheaper than the Christians pay, and d) get all the business but not pay any taxes.

The end of the lack of rights

The beginning of the intellectual and political liberation of Judaism falls in the last quarter of the 18th century. Through his literary work, Moses Mendelssohn contributed immensely to the spiritual uplifting of Judaism. He worked tirelessly with like-minded friends such as Christian Wilhelm von Dohm and Gottfried Ephraim Lessing for the liberation of his people and through this work stimulated emancipation efforts throughout Europe. The edict on the conditions of the Jewish fellow believers in the Kingdom of Bavaria (Reg.-Blatt 1813, page 922) gave the Jews in Bavaria "a uniform constitution appropriate to the welfare of the state".

The Synagogue

The room in which the Jews hold their services is called the Synagogue - Beth Hackneseth - the House of Union. The Gunzenhausen Jewish Community held its worship in a private house when it grew to ten families. But already in 1583 a mayor's office bill mentioned a synagogue inthe town. The same was reported in 1604. The synagogue or Jewish school was at that time in Waagstrasse 3a, which belonged to an Israelite and has since been demolished According to the council minutes of April 13, 1714, the owner was obliged to allow the services to be held. However, the congregation had to maintain the roof structure at its own expense. Above the entrance to    the property, an arched portal,there was a Hebrew inscription, , which was removed around the turn of the century.

In 1708, the Jewish community asked the margravial government for permission to build a new synagogue, due to the growth of its members. A municipal delegation led by Mayor Steinhäuser objected to this. But one seems to havecome to an agreement, because in the Mayor's Office report from 1719 there is talk of a new Jewish school. It was built on the site of today's Auergasse 3 (formerly Judengasse), but neither a floor plan nor a picture of it have survived. Significant repair work was necessary in 1838 and 1844. A major renovation was carried out in 1849, but the condition of the building deteriorated, so that in 1880 it was decided to demolish it. Until the completion of the new building on Mariusstrasse (Hafnermarkt) in the Moorish style, the services were held in the apartment of the Blumenstein family, Marktplatz 5.

There was considerable disagreement within the municipality about the question of location for a new building. Finally, the majority settled on the acquisition of Dreßler's property and garden on Mariusstrasse / Brechgraben (Bühringerstrasse). The new house of God was built there according to plans by the Nuremberg architect Evora. The massive and large building with two domed towers became one of Gunzenhausen's landmarks. The inauguration took place on October 13, 1883, with great celebrations, in which numerous non-Jewish residents also took part.

The new synagogue had space for around 400 men and 100 women. In 1908 the 25th anniversary of the building was celebrated. The 50th anniversary in 1933 - previously an interior renovation had been carried out - was already overshadowed by the beginning of persecution by the Nazis. Before the so-called "Kristallnacht ", the town of Gunzenhausen acquired the synagogue at the urging of the community. The religious objects were placed in the Heimatmuseum, where they wereexhibited in their own room, but were taken away in 1945 by unauthorized persons (as it later turned out).

During the so-called "Kristallnacht", when many synagogues burned in Germany, the Gunzenhausen synagogue was spared from destruction, primarily because the then commander of the Gunzenhausen volunteer fire service, who was responsible for laying the fire, refused to carry out the order.

The former synagogue served as a prison camp during World War II. After the war, a "department store" was set up there, but it was not used for long. Later, the Loos ironworks acquired the vacant building and built Plant II of the company there. An earlier plan by the city to convert the former synagogue into a fire extinguisher equipment store  had fallen through. As part of the renovation of the old town, the synagogue and other buildings were demolished in 1981. An underground car park with peripheral buildings is built on this site.

The Israelite elementary school

The Jewish elementary school Gunzenhausen was only founded due to the Bavarian school reform of 1824. Until then, the Jewish children attended the German school (so-called in contrast to the Latin school). Hebrew and religion classes were given by a private tutor named Epstein. On March 13, 1828, the regional government recognized Simon Epstein as an elementary teacher according to a choice by the Israelite religious community of Gunzenhausen. The previous Jewish teacher Gumper Lazarus Bachmann (since 1788) asked for his retirement.

As a schoolroom and apartment for Epstein, the cultural community allocated  a half house which they owned in a town suburb, the former Jewish hostel. However, the teacher Hermann Frank, who was transferred to Gunzenhausen in 1878, refused to move into this apartment. Epstein had already complained about the poor living conditions and rented an apartment in Ansbach for which the congregationhad to subsidise the rent. After the school was relocated to Mariusstrasse 13 in the middle of the 19th century, where the ritual bath was also located, and where the prayer leader and the kosher butcher had his apartment, the accommodation was found to be inadequate, and it was decided in connection with the new synagogue to build a new school house. This building, a massive brick building, also disappeared as part of the renovation of the old town.

After Epstein, Jewish primary school teachers from 1848 were the school assistant Bernhard Kohn von Kleinerdlingen, 1851/52 Simon Ottenstein, then Hermann Frank and Moses Marx (until 1922) and Max Levite (until 1938).

The Jewish Cemetery

After the Jewish privilege of 1473, the Jewish cemetery for the Principality of Ansbach was located in Gunzenhausen, outside the city on the northern side of Nürnberger Straße. However, towards the end of the 16th century, this cemetery seems no longer to have been used. The burials had to take place elsewhere, primarily in Bechhofen. In 1875, the Gunzenhausen congregation, along with fellow believers from Altenmuhr, Markt Berolzheim, Heidenheim and Cronheim, acquired a plot of land on the edge of the Burgstallwald (on what is now Leonhardsruhstraße) in order to create its own cemetery there, which was inaugurated on August 26, 1875 and used until 1938. In connection with the so-called "Kristallnacht" in 1938, the cemetery was demolished and tombstones were overturned and removed. After 1945, the previous cemetery was given the character of a complex. The few remaining gravestones have been renovated.

After the new synagogue and school house were built, the Israelite cultural community continued to adapt to the general conditions of time until after the First World War. The bond that united the Jewish citizens with the members of the other denominations can be described as very harmonious. The Jewish residents took part in social and community life, participated in the clubs and also tried to fit into the existing social order. They were considered liberal and democratic and were also supporters and representatives of such associations. On November 25, 1884, the merchant Siegfried Wertheimer was elected to the city magistrate as the first Israelite. After the First World War, the Gunzenhausen  townCouncil included the merchant Rudolf Seeberger as a member of the fraction of the German Democratic Party, the merchant Albert Hellmann as a member of the SPD fraction, and the merchant Heinrich Neumann as a member of the civil order block. The names of the Jewish doctors Dr. Wilhermsdörfer, Dr. Rueck and Dr. Karl Rothschild are well remembered, also of the well-known athlete, former fast left wing of 1. FC 1910 and excellent 100-meter runner of TV 1860, Bruno Waldmann.

During the First World War, the three brothers Ludwig, Max and Oskar Seller died as officers and soldiers. Viktor Bermann also died as well assenior medical officer Dr. Rück. The plaque dedicated to them in the synagogue is unfortunately no longerto be found..

Until after the Great War there were hardly any cases of anti-Semitism in town and country, but such tendencies increased in the first years after the collapse of 1918. Soon after 1933 and especially after the first pogrom on Palm Sunday in 1934 (March 25th), which led to the still not completely solved deaths of merchant Max Rosenau and Jakob Rosenfelder and the incidents that resulted in the murder of innkeeper and master butcher Simon Strauß on July 15, 1934, many Jewish families preferred to leave the town to look for a new home in large cities where people believed they were lessat risk, or in Palestine (now Israel) and even overseas. Nevertheless, the "Kristallnacht" in November 1938 hit a numerically strong Jewish community in its severity and mercilessness. These days brought the end of the ancient community.

Despite the outrageous events of those years, many members of Gunzenhausen's Jewish religious community, who today live scattered all over the world, and even their descendants, have maintained their attachment to their old homeland and have expressed this through word, writing and visits. However, it is not yet certain how many of the formerresidents met their death in Dachau, Auschwitz etc . It is up to the future whether Jewish life will once again stir in our town.