General information: First Jewish presence: 1646; peak Jewish population: 89 in 1895 (10.9% of total population); Jewish population in 1933: 46
Summary: The Jewish community of Zwesten was established in the 17th or in the 18th century. Jews from nearby Niederuff (whose Jewish population in 1835 was 76), Oberuff (18 Jews in 1835) and Kerstenhausen eventually joined the Zwesten community. Zwesten’s synagogue on Schulstrasse, first mentioned in records from 1769, burned down in 1912, soon after which, in 1913, it was rebuilt; according to Paul Arnsberg and A. Frank, the synagogue was rebuilt in 1914-18. Other communal institutions included the following: a Jewish cemetery on Wildunger Strasse (established in 1730 and enlarged in 1820); a mikveh (1841); classrooms for religious instruction; and, finally, an elementary school (1876-1930). We also know that classes in religion were conducted in private homes and, later, on the upper floor of the synagogue building. In 1933, 46 Jews lived in Zwesten (19 in Niederuff). A teacher from Borken instructed six Jewish schoolchildren in religion, and several welfare organizations—a Gemilut Chessed charitable association, a chevra kadisha (established in 1859) and a ladies’ aid society (founded in 1876)—were active in the community. In 1933, a local Jew was arrested for engaging in ritual slaughter; later, in 1935, anti-Semites damaged Jewish homes in Zwesten and in Niederuff. On Pogrom Night (November 1938), SA and SS men destroyed the synagogue’s interior. Jewish homes were ransacked, Jews were assaulted, an elderly couple was forced to stand in an ice-cold brook for hours and Jewish men were sent to concentration camps. The synagogue was later converted into a barn. By 1939, many Jewish residents had emigrated; others relocated within Germany. In 1941, Zwesten’s remaining Jews, a family, were deported to Riga. At least 25 Zwesten Jews perished in the Shoah, as did 11 from Niederuff and two from Kerstenhausen. The former synagogue building was torn down in 1968, and the site is now the location of a supermarket and some apartments. A memorial plaque was unveiled there in 1989.
Photo: The synagogue of Zwesten before Pogrom Night. Courtesy of: Reinhard Theis, Zwesten.
Author / Sources: Heidemarie Wawrzyn
Sources: AJ, DJGH, EJL, FGW, SFZ
Located in: hesse