The museums in Hohenems, Austria, focus on subjects that relate to the community. Most of those museums deal with classical music, ranging from the composer, Franz Schubert, for whom the annual Schubertiade Festival is named, to various opera singers. Others are about various professions such as shoemaking that were fixtures of everyday life. There is one museum, the Jewish Museum of Hohenems, that provides visitors with an in-depth look at local Jewish life over a period of hundreds of years.
The Jewish Museum is located within the Jewish Quarter, an area with buildings preserved from the 18th and 19th centuries reflecting the social, religious, and business culture of the Jewish community of that time. Its permanent exhibition outlines the history and significance of the Jewish Quarter from the legal protections dating back to the early 1600s, various types of employment and economic levels, the changing sentiment during pre-World War II, and the Holocaust. This history is enhanced by guided tours of the museum and the Jewish Quarter.
The Jewish settlement in Hohenems was under a “charter of protection” issued by Count Kaspar in 1617. This meant a portion of the area was designated for the Jewish population and they could construct buildings to live, work, worship, go to school, etc. The Jewish cemetery in Hohenems was also established at that time. In addition, the entire community would benefit from the economy stimulated by Jewish traders and businesses.
The Jewish population grew steadily and reached its peak during the mid-19th century. Professions included craftsmen, peddlers, industrialists, and merchants. Hohenems became a hub for Jews within the Alps and beyond. They branched out to open businesses in France, Germany, Italy, other cities throughout Austria, and the United States. The population dwindled considerably because of two new constitutions of two countries. Switzerland’s new constitution of 1866 allowed Jewish people to settle in Switzerland. That was followed by Austria’s new constitution of 1867 giving them the right to choose where they wanted to live. As a result, many of Hohenems’ Jewish population left for larger cities.
For those who did not leave, the long-time spirit of friendly cohabitation and acceptance was gradually being replaced by anti-Semitism. This came to a head when the remaining residents were eventually forcibly displaced by the Nazis. After World War II, Jewish survivors temporarily lived in Hohenems which was occupied by French troops. Today, the Jewish Quarter stands as a tribute to a rich history of peaceful co-existence between Christians and Jews in the same community with the Jewish Museum leading the way.
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