Jewish history is constantly present here. Is it not said that the rue de la Nuée-Bleue owes its name to the cloud that preceded the Jews expelled from the city in 1349, and that the rue Brûlée evokes the 2000 Jews burned alive that same year for refusing baptism?
The Jewish presence in Strasbourg has been attested to since the 12th century and, according to some researchers, is even older. The community had a synagogue, a mikveh and a cemetery. On Valentine’s Day, February 14, 1349, the Jewish population of Strasbourg was massacred. The few Jews who had fled in time were gradually allowed to return to Strasbourg, mainly as a result of an ordinance of 1375. But their banishment was promulgated in 1389. It remained in force until the French Revolution. During all these centuries, they had the right to stay for work, but had to pay an entrance tax. They lived in villages in the region that were more welcoming.
On the eve of the Revolution, some Jews managed to make timid progress towards the emancipation of their people. But the one who made the greatest impression was undoubtedly Hirtz de Mendelsheim, better known as Cerf-Berr. A contractor for the King’s armies, he succeeded, not without difficulty, in obtaining the right to settle in Strasbourg in the 1770s. He fought hard for the emancipation of the Jews, succeeding in abolishing in 1784 the corporal toll imposed on the Jews. He also helped the city of Strasbourg to fight against famine.
Nevertheless, it was not until after the Revolution, in 1791, that Jews were officially allowed to settle in Strasbourg. The community began to form, with David Sinzheim, Cerf-Berr’s brother-in-law, as its first rabbi. A synagogue was opened on Rue des Drapiers. The rapid growth of the community necessitated the opening of a new synagogue on rue Sainte-Hélène. This was replaced in 1899 by the synagogue on Quai Kléber.
On the eve of the Second World War, the city had 10,000 Jews in Strasbourg. Following the capitulation of France, they escaped to other regions, reconstituting their community, mainly in Périgueux and Limoges. René Hirschler, the Chief Rabbi of Strasbourg, ensured the link with the dispersed Jews of Strasbourg and undertook courageous work to save the prisoners who might be deported. Mobilization in the Resistance and to help the population was also done through associations such as the EEIF and the OSE. Many of these resistance fighters from Strasbourg died with their weapons in their hands.
The monumental synagogue on the quai Kléber was burned down by the Nazis in 1940. One thousand Jews from Strasbourg were murdered during the Shoah. After the war, eight thousand Jews resettled in the city. In 1958, the Strasbourg community inaugurated its new large place of worship, the Synagogue de la Paix. Inside, you will admire the holy arch, whose bold shapes highlight a tapestry by the artist Jean Lurçat. Unearthed in 1984 during work in the Rue des Juifs, a mikveh was built in the 1200s. The central element consists of a square room of 3 meters on each side made of gray sandstone topped with red bricks. In each corner, Romanesque corbels remain.
As confirmed by Alain Fontanel, the deputy mayor of Strasbourg, in 2018 to the Akadem site, following the death of Simone Veil, the city had wished to pay tribute to her. Thus, the Avenue de la Paix, was renamed Avenue de la Paix – Simone Veil. In order to honor her fights for women’s rights, European unity and the memory of the Shoah. A very strong nomination symbolically since this avenue was previously named the German street, then the Daladier street and during the occupation, the Hermann Goering street!
In 2019 was inaugurated the place Jean Kahn, located opposite the synagogue. This, in tribute to this great figure of French Judaism. A year earlier, the mikveh on rue des Charpentiers was reopened. A rare occurrence in France, the Jewish population of Strasbourg has increased in recent years, with the development of institutions and the diversification of currents, both Orthodox and liberal.
In the Alsatian Museum a small country oratory is reconstituted with its library, its Torah scroll and its Shabbat lamp. Two other rooms are dedicated to Judaism. There are some curious pieces, such as a carved wooden Star of David with a double-headed imperial eagle from 1770.
But also panels in Hebrew and French from the synagogue of Jungholtz calling for divine blessings on Emperor Napoleon III, and a painting commemorating the “Inauguration of a Pentateuch in Reichshoffen on November 7, 1857”, a moving evocation of fervor and patriotism.
In the courtyard of the Musée de l’Œuvre Notre Dame dedicated to the arts of the Strasbourg region between the eleventh and seventeenth centuries, one can see Jewish funerary steles from the medieval cemetery that was located on the site of the current Place de la République.
Sources, Encyclopedia Judaica, judaisme.sdv.fr, Akadem