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Translation from Pinkas ha-kehilot Germanyah
Translation from Pinkas ha-kehilot Germanyah
Published by Yad Vashem
Published in Jerusalem, 1992
Published in Jerusalem, 1992
Project Coordinator and Translator
Our sincere appreciation to Yad Vashem for permission
This is a translation from: Pinkas Hakehillot: Encyclopaedia of Jewish Communities, Germany
Volume 3, pages 72-76, published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, 1992
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(And in Jewish sources: Alza, Alziya, Alz)
From the history of the town
Alzey on the river Selz became officially a town in 1277. Its rulers were the counts of Pfalz. In 1816 Alzey was added to the large Duchy of Hessen.
From the history of the community
In the Middle Ages. In the 13th Century Jews lived in Alzey, earning a living mainly from money lending. In 1260 they participated, as the rest of the citizens, in the payment of war compensation to the city of Worms. In 1305 the counts of Pfalz leased the future taxes they were going to get from the Jews of the town.
In the time of the Decrees of the black plague (1348/9) most of the Jews of the place were murdered, and the rest expelled. After a few years the Jewish community in Alzey was renewed. In 1377 Yitzchak of Alzey sued the city of Worms, that did not pay its debt to him, and in 1383 the town court sentenced the Jew Bonifat to imprisonment following a financial dispute he had with the Jew Lassaros. In Documents from 1389 the Jews Aley is first mentioned- a kind of ghetto with a gate that closes at night.
In 1391 Ruprecht the Second (1390-1398) expelled all Jews of the Duchy and confiscated their properties, and immediately afterwards sold the house of the Jew Gottschalk in Alzey. Since then, and for the next 250 years, no Jews settled in the town, although they were allowed to return to the Alzey district in 1491.
In the 18th and 19th centuries
The renewal of the Jewish community. After the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) Jews settled again in Alzey and community life resumed. In 1710 the ruler granted Letters of Protection valid for 12 years to 9 Jewish families in Alzey.
In the Yizkor Book from the 17-19 centuries (that was discovered after the Second World War and is kept today in the National Library in Jerusalem), appears the name of the person who was probably the first community leader, Simcha (Jessel Shimon) son of Ephraim Hacohen (deceased in 1684) from Waldboeckelheim near Kreuznach, the founding father of the distinguished Belmont family. His son, Joseph Shimon Jessel, Or Jessel in Short, sued a Christian who sold him a house, received the payment but refused to evacuate it, and during the intense dispute even hit the seller. The verdict fined both sides, Jessel- because it is unthinkable that a Jew will hit a Christian. Jessel was also involved in a dispute with the town's butchers, who wanted to prevent him from working as a butcher, and almost succeeded in expelling him from town. It was probably not the only event, as the municipal guilds did all they could to restrict the activity of their Jewish competitors; but the Counts of Pfalz actually supported the Jews, whose high taxes were a dominant factor of their income.
In 1748 the Elector- Prince Karl-Theodor wanted to reduce the number of Jewish families in Alzey to three, but his plan did not succeed, and the number of Jews in the town kept growing; in 1789 there were 21 Jewish households in town.
It seems that already at the beginning of the 18th century the majority of the Jews of Alzey were well established and some of them rich, at the foremost the Jessel family. Eliyahu Shimon, the nephew of Yossel Jessel (see hereinafter), funded with his own money some of the community's institutions. In 1710 Simcha Deidesheimer founded a large matzoth bakery that existed until 1925 and exported even to Italy and Paris; The brothers Meir and Yitzchak Levy founded a porcelain factory in 1770. The rest of the Jews of Alzey made a living from various sorts of trade, from wholesale to cattle trading, used stuff trading and peddling. Among the veteran and respected families one counts also Moshe Gensinger (from Gensingen) and his sons Jacob Moshe (born in Kreuznach in 1660) and Aaron Moshe, who came to Alzey at the end of the 17th century, and Nathan Lassarus and Raphael- the fathers of the widespread Baum family.
Life in the community. The community had a cemetery (about 1,700 square meters), that was named Judengraben (the grave of the Jews) by the Christians. In 1738 Yossel Jessel, the head of the community, died, and his nephew Eliyahu Shimon was elected to replace him. He was a wealthy but childless person, who built a Jewish school with his own money on a lot owned by himself, and in 1791 donated a house that was used as a synagogue. In the years 1792- 1800 the teacher in the community school was Yitzchak Mayer (1750-1800), a scholar who also excelled in his general knowledge. When he died (1795), Eliyahu Shimon left the community a fund paying the salary of the Rabbi and the rent of the first Rabbi, Joseph Mangenburg, who served in Alzey for 20 years (1804-1824). Hayom (Haim) Abraham (1751-1809) served at the beginning of the 19th century as cantor and shochet (kosher slaughterer).
The position of the Jews in the general society. At the end of the 18th century, facing the danger of French occupation, citizens of Alzey changed their attitude towards the Jews, in an attempt of unification. The Jews on their part, especially the wealthy and educated among them, insisted firmly on their right to be considered citizens. A 1798 certificate is signed the Jew Shimon Yitzchak; after only two years the title Jew was replaced with citizen. In 1800, 8 of the new citizens protested against the distribution of heating wood only to the old citizens, claiming that their right according to the law is not less than the right of others.
Along the 19th century the Jews of Alzey became active in the public and social life, in local associations and municipal institutions, some of them in leading positions. In 1844 Shimon Belmont was elected first president of the 'Narhalle'- a popular carnival in the winter months which he initiated- and was regularly invited to the parties of the upper classes. Theodore Wolf was elected several times as member of the town council, and was also nominated first deputy to the mayor (1890, 1896).A private non-religious school existed in Alzey for years, managed by the teacher and cantor Heimbach, and a Jewish-Christian association was active, among which activities a joint fundraising campaign is mentioned (1882).
In the eighties and nineties of the 19th century anti Semitic activity was noted also in Alzey, in light of the spreading of anti-Semitism all over Hessen.
The community and its institutions. The Alzey community reached its record size in the mid 19th century- 364 persons. During the second half of the century many immigrated to the United States, and the exit to large cities in Germany grew, but this process was somewhat balanced by the settling down of Jews from other places in Alzey.
In 1810 the municipality of Alzey allocated a grave yard to the community within the municipal cemetery. The old cemetery was closed and its tombstones moved to the new burial site.
The Jews of Alzey were among the first to introduce religious reforms. Also the decision of most Jews to send their children to the Protestant school was one of the main reasons for the merger of the confessional schools in town into one general all-religion school (1831) and caused the closure of the Jewish school. After the death of Rabbi Joseph Mengenburg (1824) the Rabbi position stayed vacant for 18 years, probably because no suitable liberal Rabbi was found.
The liberal moods were also mirrored in a new synagogue's constitution that was agreed upon in 1832, signed by the community leaders Shimon Belmont and Shimon Mayer and approved by the Hessen Government.
In 1842 Dr. Samuel Adler from Worms (see entry), who was an active participant in the three reform Rabbis conventions in the years 1844-1846, was appointed as Rabbi in Alzey. The Alzey community donated funds to enable these conventions, and its members loyally fulfilled its decisions, opened their stores on the second day of Passover and Sukkoth and cancelled the eights day of Passover. Under the initiative of Rabbi Adler a new fancy 220 seat synagogue in Maori style was built, inaugurated on October 1854. In 1856 Rabbi Adler was appointed district Rabbi for the Alzey district communities, but after one year he immigrated to New York, where he became one of the reform pioneers and the Rabbi of the Emanu-El synagogue- a congregation of native German Jews. In 1860 also the cantor Heimbach joined him, became an energetic reform activist and published an essay named American Custom (Minhag America). Six years the Rabbi post remained vacant, until Dr. David Rothschild (1816-1892) was appointed district Rabbi in 1862, retiring a year before his death. This Rabbi served also as religion teacher for the Jewish pupils of the science oriented high school. Following him Dr. Joseph Levy (in the years 1891-1904) and Dr. Julius Levit (until 1933) served as Rabbis in Alzey.
During the 19th century several new organizations and societies were formed, like the women society (1843), men society and women for charity (1850) and in the seventies- a branch of the 'Society for Jewish History and Literature'. In 1880 a teacher seminar with a Jewish department opened in Alzey, existing until 1925, and in 1894 a Jewish seminar for elementary school teachers was opened. The community had several funds for general public needs and for the support of needy persons at its disposal, donated by the Belmont and Koch families.
Jewish personalities born in Alzey. August Belmont (1813-1890), of the well known Belmont family, immigrated to the United States and became a well known banker and representative of the Rothschild House, Consul General of Austria, in charge of the US representation in Holland and a representative there. Another family member, Marie (Maidi) Liebermann vonWahlendorf (1884-1917), was a well known figure in top artists and intellectuals circles and a most close friend of the poet Ludwig Thoma. One of Rabbi Adler's sons, Isaac, was known in the US as pathologist and lecturer of medicine, and his brother Felix (1851-1933) was a philosophy professor, well known philosopher and proletarian rights activist. Among others he established the Global Society for Ethical Culture and a number of educational institutions for working class youth.
In the 20th century
Eight members of the community fell In the First World War. In 1921 the community perpetuated their memory on two memory plaques in the synagogue. In 1923 12 shekalim for the Zionist Congress were sold in Alzey, and a year later an active Zionist branch was opened. Also branches of the 'central association' and the 'Union of War Veterans' were established. Albert Levy (born in 1847) headed the community for many years, and was also elected chairman of the local judges association.
Anti Semitism. In 1920 Jews and non-Jews together caused the discontinuation of an anti Semitic election gathering, addressed by Dr. Ferdinand Werner. The speaker complained that he was hit by some of the present people, and the police started an investigation against a local Jew. On December 1929 a 25 year old Jewish merchant, Richard Kahn, was shot dead following a quarrel in a local pub with a Nazi from Darmstadt, who used racist insults against him. The murderer was sentenced to only 4 months in prison. On Christmas Eve of 1932 Nazis distributed leaflets against buying in Jewish stores, and the municipal merchant union filed a complaint against the initiator of this action, the Nazi representative of the Alzey district at the Landtag.
On the Reichstag elections of 14.9.1930 the Nazis got 13.6% of the votes in Alzey- less than the Catholic 'zentrum' party (14.4%) and the Social- Democrats (31.5%) and less than the Hessen average (18.5%); On the Landtag elections of 19.6.1932 the Nazis tripled their power (36.8%, in Hessen- 44%) whereas the Social-Democrats and the 'Zentrum' kept their power (30.5%, 15.3%).
Under Nazi Regime
On the eve of the Nazis gaining control Dr. Julius Levit served as community and district Rabbi. Head of the community was Jacob Kichler, and Abraham (Alfred) Stern served as religion teacher and cantor (since 1889), 25 children still attending his classes. As Shamash (synagogue janitor) and shochet (kosher slaughterer) served Hermann Schwartz for 47 years, until his death (1928). The community owned a synagogue and cemetery, and its annual budget (in 1930) was 19,852 marks. Branches of the Zionist Organization,' the Central Society', 'Union of War Veterans' and the ' Society for Jewish History and Literature' alongside local societies- charity society, women society, the synagogue choir and the association for help to the poor were all active in Alzey. The community had three funds available for assisting the needy and merchants who start their business. They also owned an ancient Yizkor book (see above).
In 1933 Rabbi Levit retired, and the Alzey Rabbinate was cancelled. Also the veteran religion teacher and cantor Abraham Stern ( 1865- 1935), who also served as chairman of the Jewish teachers union of Hessen and the 'central Society' in Alzey, taught at the local teachers seminar, conducted the synagogue choir and played the organ, retired at the autumn of that year, after serving the community for 43 years. His substitute, the teacher Sachs, moved to Karlsruhe in 1935.
|Alzey. Jews are forced to clean election propaganda, May 1933|
|Year||Immigrated||Moved to other places in Germany||Died in Germany||Expelled||Left and fate unknown|
In the spring of 1933 economic boycott was initiated against local Jews, and got worse over time. On September 1935 local barbers placed signs on their shops forbidding Jews from entering. In October of that year three Jews who owned large shops sold their business. At the end of 1937 Jews were not allowed to enter all 'Aryan' food stores in town, deficiencies of electricity and water systems in their homes were not fixed, and they were prevented from using the municipal funeral wagon. In response the Jews made arrangements for self supply of some vital services.
During the years 1933-1938, 43 Jews immigrated from Alzey and 46 Jews moved to other cities in Germany (part of them also immigrated later).
Kristalnacht (Crystal Night). In the autumn of 1938 less than 100 Jews remained in Alzey. On the night of 9.11.1938 the Alzey police received an advance notice from the Darmstadt headquarters not to interfere with what was happening. Foreign Gestapo men arrested the Jewish men. One of those arrested probably perished in Buchenwald. On the morning of 10.11.1938 civilian dressed SA men broke into the synagogue that was already not in use, and caused massive damage. Also the prayer hall in the house of the Strauss family- a Jew who was married to a German- was severely damaged. Synagogue and prayer hall furniture, Torah scrolls and ritual articles were set on fire on the synagogue square. From there the rioters moved to the houses of the local Jews and there as well destroyed and looted as much as they could, with the help of the stand owners of the seasonal fair that took place in Alzey at that time and a large crowd, including youth, of curious onlookers.
A Jewish woman who sold her house to a local tinsmith was requested to compensate the buyer for the pogrom damage. A month later the mayor of Alzey showed interest in purchasing the Jewish cemetery, but refused to pay the required price.
On March 1941 the municipality expropriated a house of Jews, but compensated the owners only partly.
After Kristalnacht 17 additional Jews immigrated from Alzey and 24 persons moved to other cities in Germany. The main immigration destination of the Alzey Jews was the United States, but some also immigrated to Israel, Western European countries and South America. 23 Jews died in Alzey and other places in Germany.
Expulsion. On 16.8.1942 three family members were sent to the Weimar concentration camp near Buchenwald, on 27.9.1942 25 Jews were expelled to Theresienstadt and 12 more were expelled on 30.9.1942 to camps in Poland. The two last Jews were expelled in 1943. According to the Alzey municipality records the total number of Alzey Jews that were expelled to camps was 76.This figure probably includes also Jews that moved to other cities in Germany prior to their expulsion.
After the war
In 1952 9 of the Kristalnacht rioters were brought to trial before the district court in Mainz. Five of them were found not guilty due to lack of evidences, and four convicted but released due to the statute of limitation.
In 1954 one Jew returned to Alzey. In 1952 the municipality bought the Jewish cemetery. Local youth renovated the site and a memorial plaque was placed there. In 1958 a Thora scroll which was saved by the town's archivist Ernst Morneweg on Kristalnacht was given to the community of Mainz. In 1966 a memorial plaque was placed also on site of the former synagogue.
Berlet, E.: Aus der Geschichte der juedischen Gemeinde zu Alzey, Alzeyer Geschichtsblaetter, no. 8 (1971) pp 19-34.-
--: Zwischen Wiener Kongress und Paulskirche, ibid, no. 11/12 (1976) pp. 36-58.-
--: Die Belmontfamilie: August Belmont, Maidi Liebermann von Wahlendorf, Festschrift 700 Jahre Stadt Alzey, pp. 315-319.-
Boecher, Otto: Juden in Alzey, Alzeyer geschichtsblaetter, no. 5 (1968) pp. 130-145.-
--: Die Geschichte der Alzeyer Juden, ibid, no.10 (1974) pp. 37-43.-
--: Zur Einfuehrung in Samuel Adlers Worte der Weihe (1854), ibid, no. 14 (1979) pp. 58-73.-
--: Zur Geschichte der Alzeyer Juden, Festschrift 700 Jahre stadt Alzey, pp. 196-206.-
--: Felix Adler (1851-1933), ibid, pp. 313-314.-
Kuenzl, H.: Judaica im Museum zu Alzey, Alzeyer Geschichtsblaetter, no.13 (1978) pp. 85-106.-
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