Hohenems (Vorarlberg) - Area of Competence: Voralberg and Tyrol (until 1914)

Synagogue built in: 1770-1772
Earliest record of community: 1632
Last rabbi: Dr. Josef Link
Community members: 1632-30 families; 1773-277; 1816-500; 1867-271; 1891-ca. 135; 1910-66; 1935-16; 1937-48; 1938-27
Pogrom Night: Desecrated
After 1945: 1953-2001 Fire Brigade Building
Today: Community and event centre
Summary: In 1617 the Earl of Hohenems (a town in Voralberg, Austria’s westernmost state province) allowed Jews to settle in his principality for the first time. Several Jewish families took advantage of this opportunity and made the town their home. A Jewish community was founded in 1632, and in 1642 a synagogue, probably in the form of a prayer hall, was established in the house of a wealthy local Jew.

In 1663 and again in 1676, Jewish residents were expelled from Hohenems, only to be readmitted later. Despite this, and in contrast to the situation in other Austrian provinces, a Jewish community existed almost continuously in Vorarlberg from 1632 to 1938. From time to time the community was subjected to oppressive measures. For example, in the 18th century, restrictions were placed on Jewish settlement, allowing Jews to live only in the “am Bach” (“by the creek”) district between Emsbach and Christengasse. A large and impressive synagogue, with 76 seats for men in its central hall, was built in 1770-1772 on Schweizer Strasse. The synagogue was inaugurated by Rabbi Löb Ullmann, and probably contained a mikvah. Hohenems also had a Jewish cemetery, located in the southern part of the town. Renovations and other alterations to the synagogue were carried out in 1867.

In 1833 Abraham Kohn was appointed rabbi. He officiated in Hohenems until he received a call to serve in Lemberg in 1844.

The most famous son of Hohenems’ Jewish community was the composer Salomon Sulzer, born in 1804. He was a cantor in Hohenems and later in Vienna. His song book “Shir Zion” (“Song of Zion”) achieved international acclaim.

From the mid-19th century onwards, more and more Jews left Hohenems. They were attracted to the Kultusgemeinde (religious congregation) founded in 1866 in nearby St. Gallen, and to other developing cities. A national law was passed in 1867 granting the Jewish population the right to settle in all territory within the monarchy’s control – this encouraged many Jews to move to the cities.

In the early 1850s the Jewish community of Hohenems became politically autonomous; it even had its own mayor, Philipp Rosenthal. In the 1870s the town’s Jews hoped to be incorporated into the wider community of Hohenems. Despite deep concern and even hostility on the part of politicians and the non-Jewish citizens of the town, the Jewish population was integrated into the general community by a judicial decree passed in the 1870s. Thus from 1878 onwards, Hohenems’ Jewish community was recognized only as Kultusgemeinde – a religious congregation, not a political community. After 1890 Hohenems administered the Jewish congregation in Innsbruck. Aron Tänzer was rabbi of Hohenems from 1896 until 1905. Dr. Josef Link became rabbi in 1908, but when the rabbinate for Vorarlberg and Tyrol was transferred to Innsbruck, Rabbi Link moved with it.

On Pogrom Night, November 9-10, 1938, the windows of the synagogue were smashed and the Holy Ark and Torah scrolls were stolen. Nazis had planned to burn down the building but did not – presumably to avoid endangering surrounding structures, or to preserve the building so it could be used for other purposes. The synagogue was later expropriated and the congregation forcibly dissolved in 1940. Its members were deported to Vienna and from there to the camps. All valuables were removed from the synagogue. The building is thought to have remained vacant for the duration of the Second World War.

After they were liberated from the concentration camps, thousands of Jews arrived in Vorarlberg and were accommodated in displaced persons (DP) camps. An active Jewish community life developed in these camps, in which temporary synagogues and yeshivas (religious schools) were established. When the inmates left the camps, this Jewish revival came to an end. Hohenems’ former synagogue was given back to the Jewish congregation of Innsbruck as part of the post-war restitution process. The Hohenems municipality acquired the building in 1953 and converted it into storage house for fire-fighting equipment. A memorial plaque to remind the public of the building’s original function was erected in 1991. The building became vacant again in 2001. In October 2004, it reopened as a cultural center and the premises of the regional school of music.

The last Jewish burial in Hohenems’ picturesque forest cemetery took place in the 1970s. Today, the Hohenems Jewish community is managed by the Jewish congregation for Tyrol and Vorarlberg, which has its headquarters in Innsbruck.
Sources: - Genée, Pierre, Synagogen in Österreich, Wien 1992
- Inama, Johannes (Hg.), Ein Viertel Stadt, Schriften des Instituts für Zeitgeschichte der Universität Innsbruck und des Jüdischen Museums Hohenems, Innsbruck 1997
- Grabherr, Eva (Hg.), Juden in Hohenems, Hohenems 1996
- Sella, Gad Hugo, Die Juden Tirols, Tel Aviv 1979
- Webseite des Jüdischen Museums Hohenems: www.jm-hohenems.at
Located in: Bundeslaender