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Jews in the Kraichgau
The most ancient documents mentioning Jews for the current territory of the Federal Land of Baden-Wuerttemberg date back to the first half of the 13th century. With regard to the Kraichgau, the first reference to a Jewish inhabitant occurred in 1288 in Bruchsal. In the 14th century, reports on Jewish inhabitants of the Kraichgau came about more frequently - among other places in Bretten, Sinsheim, Waibstadt, Neckarbischofsheim, Wiesloch and Eppingen. At that time, many towns and villages were promoted to the rank of chartered cities, and they appreciated the services of Jews as specialists in trade and monetary dealings.
First Persecutions and Expulsions in the Kraichgau
The first huge persecution wave which also affected the Jews in the Kraichgau occurred during the 1348-50 plague years. On the absurd accusation of having poisoned wells and springs, they were accused of being the authors of the plague. For the Kraichgau, first persecution campaigns are evidenced in this context in Bretten, Bruchsal, Waibstadt, Wiesloch and Eppingen. Thereafter, it was only towards the end of the 14th century that Jews are mentioned for the Kraichgau again, but as early as in 1390 they were driven out of all communities belonging to the Electoral Palatinate (Kurpfalz).
The period following the Thirty Years' War
Prior to the time after the Thirty Years' War, it was hardly possible for Jewish communities to establish in the Kraichgau any community which would have been likely to exist over any periods of time worth mentioning. Temporary admission of Jews was always followed by expulsion. Frequently, only solitary Jews were admitted, with their number being too small to develop any intact community structures at all. It was only after the Thirty Years' War that this situation changed gradually. The war led to an enormous decrease of the population so that labour was scarce. To re-enliven economy and trade, there was a general interest in having labour force settled, including Jews. And this is the reason why the immigration of Jews can be observed in many places of the Kraichgau during this period of time, with their number increasing stepwise.
The 19th Century
In the 19th century, clear changes in the legal situation of the Jews took place all over Germany, finally turning them into citizens with equal rights. In 1862 in the Grand Duchy of Baden, and in 1871 on a Germany-wide basis, an Emancipation Act was passed which removed all existing legal disadvantages. In the meantime the number of the Baden Jews had increased significantly. In 1808, the count was approximately 14,200. This figure corresponds to a population share of 1.5%. The Grand Duchy of Baden had anyway been a focus of Jewish settlement. In 1808, 8% of all German Jews were living in this dominion. Within Baden, an above-average number of Jews were living in the Kraichgau, in particular in the administrative district of Sinsheim where almost every town and village had a Jewish community of its own. The largest Jewish communities of the Kraichgau were found in Hoffenheim were 272 Jewish people lived in 1839, and in Neidenstein where the Jewish portion temporarily accounted for one third of the population.
The National Socialist Regime
Gurs: Tombstone of a Jew from Neidenstein
Gurs: Tombstone of a Jew from Neidenstein
The crimes committed by the National Socialists put an end to the Jewish life everywhere in Germany. As a result of the relatively high number of Jews living in the Kraichgau, the number of atrocities was comparably high, too. In the "Reichspogromnacht", "The Night of Broken Glass", riots and acts of violence occurred in every village and town. Numerous synagogues were destroyed or seriously damaged. The only houses of worship spared were those which had been sold to non-Jewish owners before.
On 20th October 1940 the 6500 Jews who were still living in Baden, Palatinate and in the Saarland were deported to the Gurs concentration camp in southern France. About 2000 of them died in the camp. In 1942, Gurs became the starting point for deportation to the extermination camps, in particular to Auschwitz.
The Time after World War II
Like everywhere else in Germany, the crimes of the National Socialists put an abrupt end to the Jewish life in the Kraichgau. In general, the surviving Jewish citizens did not return to their places in the Kraichgau. No Jewish community was created in any municipality of the Kraichgau. In this way, many centuries of development and tradition had irreversibly ended.
What has remained in the Kraichgau are cultural items, witnesses to the formerly blooming Jewish culture in his region and worth being protected and safeguarded out of a responsible and sensible dealing with history.
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