Switzerland / German-Speaking Switzerland

Bern

Synagogue and Community Center of Bern

Kapellenstrasse 2, 3011 Berne, Switzerland

Synagogue of Bern. Photo by Janz – Wikipedia

The Jewish presence in Bern probably dates from the 6th century. Jews are mentioned in the legal texts. During the Middle Ages, as in many other cities in the region, the situation of the Jews varied between reception, persecution (which began in Bern in 1294) and expulsion, depending on the power in place. In the wave of great expulsions that took place between the end of the 14th and the end of the 15th century, the Bernese Jews were expelled in 1427.

In the fourteenth century, the Jewish ghetto extended into the federal government’s current site: the Inselgasse, seat of the Department of the Interior, was called the Judengasse; the Federal Palace took over the spot of the Jewish cemetery.  The current Community Center and its Moorish synagogue are not far away, on the Kapellenstrasse.

An unusual feature of the Kornhausplatz is Ogre Fountain, which dates from 1544. For some, the statue of the ogre in the act of devouring children represents merely a carnival image. For others, it is a Middle Age representation of the Jew accused of killing Christian children. The ogre is waring a pointed yellow hat, identical to the one imposed on the Jews to make them easily distinguishable.

In 2017, the Museum of Fine Arts in Bern presented the exhibition “Degenerate, Confiscated and Sold Art”. Among the 200 works were paintings by Franz Marc, Otto Dix and Otto Mueller. They are part of a legacy of the collector Cornelius Gurlitt, who also gave the museum paintings by Cézanne, Delacroix and Munch that he had hidden in his Munich flat for decades. His father was commissioned by the Nazis to sell art stolen from Jews by the regime, art labelled “degenerate”. The recovery of the works by the families was at the heart of a long legal process. The works shown in the exhibition do not concern the stolen paintings.