General information: First Jewish presence: 13th century; peak Jewish population: 549 in 1885; Jewish population in 1933: 421
Summary: Jews were persecuted in Eschwege in 1295 and, records indicate, during the Black Death pogroms of 1348/49. The re-established Jewish community, home to a district rabbinate, founded the following institutions: a synagogue and mikveh in 1692 (at 20 Unter dem Berge); a yeshiva in 1727; an elementary school in 1827; a new synagogue—134 seats for men, 74 for women—in 1838 (at 4 Vor dem Berge); a new school in 1839 (at 3 Schulstrasse); and, finally, a cemetery in 1853 (consecrated near Elsa Brandstroem Strasse). We also know that Eschwege’s Orthodox Jews formed their own minyan in 1858, and that the synagogue was renovated in 1925. Forty pupils received religious instruction in 1932; in 1933, 28 children attended the Jewish school. Dr. Heinrich Bassfreund was rabbi, and several Jewish associations and branches of nation-wide organizations were active in the community. Windows in a Jewish-owned business were smashed in 1936, Jewish children were assaulted in 1937 and a Jewish teacher was arrested in 1938. Eschwege’s Jewish school closed in 1939. On Pogrom Night, the synagogue’s interior was destroyed, Jewish homes were ransacked and Jewish men were paraded through the streets before being deported to Buchenwald, where four died. After the pogrom, the municipality used the synagogue building as a depot. In 1939, the remaining Jews (including those who were sent to Eschwege from other communities) were moved to so-called “Jews’ Houses.” Two hundred and twenty-two Eschwege Jews emigrated, approximately 190 moved to other German cities, 36 passed away in Eschwege and two committed suicide. In 1941/42, 109 Jews were deported. At least 190 Eschwege Jews perished in the Shoah. After World War II, Displaced Persons (they were housed in a local DP camp) and Jewish returnees from the camps conducted services in the synagogue. Closed down after the last of these left the area in 1948, the synagogue was converted into a New Apostolic Church in 1954. Several memorial plaques to the former Jewish community have been unveiled in Eschwege. The cemetery was desecrated in 1980.
Photo: The synagogue of Eschwege. Courtesy of: Unknown.
Author / Sources: Heidemarie Wawrzyn
Located in: hesse