Discover the rich Jewish heritage of Eastern France with this guide to historic spots in Alsace, Champagne-Ardenne, and Lorraine.
This storybook region in Eastern France with its hills, rolling fields, forests, vineyards, and towns with timbered buildings possesses a long and rich Jewish history. There is no other place in France where visitors can see so many 18th- and 19th-century synagogues. Nor is there anywhere else in France that has a Jewish community with such a long rural history.
Between 1791, just after emancipation, and the eve of the first World War in 1914, over 176 synagogues were built in Alsace – nearly every town and village had one. Even though many of those synagogue buildings survive today, most are closed or are no longer used as religious centers.
While the 19th century is well represented, earlier evidence of Jewish communal life is difficult to find. Almost nothing remains of medieval Jewish architecture because of the ban on synagogue construction from the 14th through late 18th centuries.
In their manners and customs, the Jews of Alsace are similar to Jews from Eastern and Central Europe. But there are a number of local characteristics that you will not find elsewhere. Some Alsatian synagogues still use the liturgy known as Minhag Elzos (Alsace tradition), and you may also be able to hear Judeo-Alsatian spoken. It is a German dialect, and is very much like Yiddish.
Contact the Bas-Rhin tourist office (www.tourisme67.com)for more information about local Jewish heritage tours: http://judaisme.sdv.fr.
9, rue du Dôme, BP 53, 67061 Strasbourg Cedex, tel. 03.88.15.45.88, or
Tourist Office 17, place de la Cathédrale, 67082 Strasbourg Cedex, tel. 03.88.52.28.28.
|The Jewish community of Strasbourg, which made a comeback from the devastation of occupation in World War II, retains its predominantly Alsatian character. Many of the city’s 17,000 Jews can be found living in the area around the main synagogue— a charming and fashionable neighborhoods near the Parc des Contades.|
The Synagogue de la Paix, 1a, rue du Grand-Rabbin-René-Hirschler, tel. 03.88.14.46.50,
was built in 1958 to replace the synagogue that was destroyed by the Nazis. The impressive interior contains a circular sanctuary nestled beneath a Star of David. Ashkenazi services are held in the Synagogue de la Paix, while those in the Sephardic tradition are held in the Synagogue Rambam, at the same address.
Musée de l’Oeuvre Notre-Dame, www.musees-strasbourg.org is adjacent to the Cathedral. The exhibits chronicle the development of arts in Strasbourg and the Upper Rhine from the 11th through 17th centuries. In the courtyard are Jewish tombstones from the 12th through 14th centuries. 3, Place du Château, tel. 03.88.52.50.00,
Musée Alsacien, www.musees-strasbourg.org, across the Ille river, the Alsatian Museum has a permanent exhibit of Alsatian Jewish ritual objects and a model shtiebel (prayer room).
23-25, Quai St-Nicholas, tel. 03.88.52.50.01,
Old Jewish Quarter
Strasbourg’s old Jewish quarter is on Rue des Juifs, one of the city’s oldest streets. It contains the site of a 12th century synagogue (at number 30), the site of a Jewish bakery (number 17). Number 15, constructed in 1290, is the only remaining building from this period that was inhabited by Jews. Around the corner at 20, rue des Charpentiers is a 13th century mikvah (ritual bath). Because of its age and fragility, the mikvah is open infrequently and only for group tours. Reservations can be made at the tourist office.
Autre Part 60, blvd. Clemenceau, tel. 03.88.37.10.02. Dairy
King 28, rue Sellénick, tel. 03.88.52.17.71. Meat
Librairie du Cédrat 19, rue du Maréchal Foch, tel. 03.88.36.38.39
Librairie du Cédrat 15, rue de Bitche, tel. 03.88.37.32.37
Driving through the countryside from town is a fun and relaxing way to see this region and take in the Jewish historic sites. Roads are well marked and, with a good map - such as Michelin #242—visiting the region in two or three days is easy.
From Strasbourg, head north on Route de Bischwiller/D468 to Bischheim (4 kilometers).
Once a village and now a Strasbourg suburb, Jews began settling here after they were expelled from Colmar in 1512. An important community established itself and remained one og the most significant Jewish communities in France up until the French Revolution.
This was the home of David Sintzheim (1745-1812), one of France's first chief rabbis. Here you can see a mikvah (ritual bath) that was used during that time, and the upper room contains depiction of Jewish life in Bischhein. Call the museum to arrange visits Cour des Boecklin, 17, rue Nationale, tel. 03.88.81.49.47.
From Bischheim, continue north on D468 to D37 (1km). Follow D37 north to D48 at Kurtzenhouse (16km). Turn left on D48 to Haguenau (9km).
Tourist Office Place de la Gare, 67500 Haguenau, tel. 03.88.93.70.00.
Haguenau’s Jewish community, which dates to the 13th century, is one of the oldest in Alsace.
The historic synagogue was built in 1821, and like most in the region, was damaged by the Nazis during World War II and later restored. 3, rue du Grand-Rabbin-Joseph-Bloch.
The cemetery was established in the 16th century, but the oldest tombstone is from 1654. Rue de l’Ivraie; information is available at the tourist office.
The Musée Historique , www.ville-haguenau.fr/?id=13, 1has a collection of Jewish objects. 9, rue du Maréchal Foch, tel. 03.88.93.79.22
From Haguenau, take D919 west to Pfaffenhoffen (14 km).
Tourist Office du Pays de Hanau 68, rue Général Goureau, 67340 Ingwiller, tel. 03.88.89.23.45. www.tourisme.pays-de-hanau.com
This non-functioning synagogue, now a national monument, was built in 1791. A synagigue this old is rare in Alsace. Restoration was begun in the late 1990's with a grant from the World Monuments Fund. In addition to the matzo oven, a mikvah, and Ark of the Covenant, permanent and temporary exhibits trace the history of the Jewish community.
From Pfaffenhoffen, continue on D919 to D324 (5 km). Bear left on D324/D24 to Bouxwiller (7 km).
The Musée Judéo-Alsacien, http://judaisme.sdv.fr/today/muse, lies within a building that was once a typical small-town synagogue. Permanent and temporary exhibits detail rural Jewish life in Alsace through the centuries, including how holidays, weddings, and rituals circumcisions were celebrated. 62 a Grand’ rue, tel. 03.88.70.97.17
From Bouxwiller, head southwest on D6 to N404 (12 km). Turn south on N404 to N4 (5 km). Continue south on N4 to Marmoutier (3 km).
Tourist Office 1 rue du Général Leclerc, 67441 Marmoutier. tel. 03.88.71.46.84. http://www.paysdemarmoutier.com/
The Musée d’Arts et Traditions Populaires de Marmoutier is housed in a 16th-century, half-timbered building and includes a collection of Jewish objects from rural Alsace, a 16th-century mikvah, and a hidden room used as a synagogue at a time when they were illegal in Alsace. http://judaisme.sdv.fr/synagog/basrhin/g-p/marmout/musee.htm Contact the tourist office for group visits during the week.
6, rue du Général Leclerc, tel : 03.88.71.46.84
From Marmoutier, continue south on N4 to Wasselonne (8 km).
Tourist Office 22, place du Général Leclerc, 67310 Wasselonne. tel. 03.88.59.12.00.
Ets René Neymann Visits by appointment.
46, rue du 23 novembre, tel. 03.88.87.03.57, www.neymann.com
From Wasselonne, continue south on N4 to D422 (3 km). Turn right on D422 to Obernai (22 km).
Tourist Office Place du Beffroi, 67210 Obernai, tel. 03.88.95.64.13.
A pleasant walk around this quaint old town—to take in the juxtaposition of German architecture with the French language—reveals how the forces of history have played such a pivotal role in the region.
The neo-Romanesque synagogue was dedicated in 1876 and rededicated in 1948. For visits contact the tourism office.
From Obernai, head west on D426 to Ottrott (4 km). Continue west on Route de Klingenthal and then Route du Mont Ste-Odile to D214 (4 km). Bear right on D214 to D130 (9 km). Turn right on D130 to Le Struthof (8.5 km).
From May 1941 until August 1944, le Struthof was used as a forced-labor camp mainly for political prisoners. More than 25,000 inmates were held here and made to work in large quarries nearby. Many thousands were executed on the orders of Josef Kramer (known as the Beast of Belsen), including some Jewish prisoners upon whom experiments involving infectious diseases were performed. The camp was liberated on November 23, 1944. A cemetery, barracks, the front gate, and some isolated buildings are all that remain, along with a Memorial to the Deported dedicated by President Charles de Gaulle in 1960. http://judaisme.sdv.fr/histoire/shh/struthof.htm
For more information contact the Direction Interdépartementale des Anciens Combattants et Victimes de Guerre, Service de Strasbourg. Cité Administrative, 67084 Strasbourg.
Return to Obernai. Head south on D422 to Goxwiller (4 km).
Christophe Koenig Winery Learn how kosher wine is made. Free tours, but there is a charge for tasting. Book in advance. 35, rue Principale. tel. 03.88.95.51.93
From Goxwiller, continue south on N422 to N83 (15 km). Turn right (south) on N83 to D4 (20 km). Turn right on D4 to Sigolsheim (6 km).
La Cave de Sigolsheim Kosher Alsatian wines available for tasting and purchase.
Advance booking required for groups. 11, rue St-Jacques. tel. 03.89.78.10.10, www.vinsigolsheim.com
Return to N83 (6 km) and turn right (south) to Colmar (5 km).
Tourist Office 4, rue des Unterlinden, 68000 Colmar, tel. 03.89.20.68.92. www.ot-colmar.fr
Part of Germany until 1681, Colmar has a Jewish community that probably dates to the mid-13th century. The medieval community, which owned a synagogue, mikvah, and a cemetery, settled between the present Rue Chauffour and Rue Berthe-Molly (then called Rue des Juifs).
Consistoire Israélite du Haut-Rhin Originally built in 1840, this neo-Romanesque synagogue typical of France during the period, was destroyed by the Nazis during World War II and then restored by the local community in 1959. 3, rue de la Cigogne, tel. 03.89.41.38.29
Within the Musée Bartholdi, the Katz Room contains a fine collection of Jewish ritual objects and synagogue furnishings. The museum is located in the house of Auguste Bartholdi, the sculptor of the Statue of Liberty. 30, rue des Marchands, tel. 03.89.41.90.60. www.musee-bartholdi.com/
From Colmar, turn south on N83 to Soultz-Haut-Rhin (28 km).
Tourist Office 14, place de la République, 68360 Soultz, tel. 03.89.76.83.60, www.florival.net
The Musée du Bucheneck includes a collection of Jewish objects from rural Alsace in the Moïse Ginsburger Room. Rue Kagenack, tel. 03.89.76.02.22
Tourist Office 34, rue des Forges, 21000 Dijon, tel. 03.80.44.11.44, www.dijon-tourism.com
|The Jewish community here dates back to the end of the 12th century, when the Jewish quarter consisted of Rue de la Petite Juiverie (site of the medieval synagogue, now Rue Piron), Rue de la Grande-Juiverie (now Rue Charrue), and the Rue des Juifs (now Rue Buffon). The cemetery was located on what is now Rue Berlier. It was destroyed after the Jews were expelled from France in 1306. A new community was established after the French Revolution.|
Musée Archéologique de Dijon The Dijon Archeology Museum holds an important collection of 12th- and 13th-century Jewish tombstones and tombstone fragments. 5, rue du Docteur-Maret, tel. 03.80.30.88.54
This lovely building was dedicated in 1879. During the occupation th Germans used the synagogue as a wharehouse, but it was spared the destruction that many other buildings suffered during the World War II and lost only its original pews. 5, ru de la Synagogue, tel. 03.80.66.46.47
Champagne was once site of a number of centers of Jewish scholarship—most notably in Troyes, the birthplace of Rabbi Solomon ben Isaac (RASHI). During the Middle Ages, Jews were prominent in viticulture and agriculture.
Tourist Office 2, rue Guillaume de Machault, 51100 Reims, tel. 03.26.77.45.00.
Historians are uncertain as to the location of Reims’s medieval synagogue, but it is believed to have been at 18, rue des Elus, a street whose name has changed over the centuries from the Vicus Judaeorum to the Rue de Gieu (a form of Juif) to the Rue des Elus.
Jews from Alsace and Lorraine established a community in Reims in 1870. However, in 1941, on the eve of World War II, the 200 families who lived here were all deported by the Germans on a single day.
Built in 1871, this synagogue contains a memorial plaque to those who were deported.
49, rue Clovis, tel. 03.26.47.68.47
An urn contains the ashes of concentration camp victims. Blvd. Général-Leclerc
Tourist Office Rue Mignard, 10000 Troyes, tel. 03.25.73.36.88, www.tourisme-troyes.com
|One of history’s greatest Torah and Talmud commentators, Rabbi Solomon ben Isaac, known by the acronym Rashi (1040–1105), was born, lived, and taught here. (During the first Crusade, Rashi was forced to flee anti-Jewish riots. He returned to Worms, Germany, where he had first studied. He remained there until his death.) Rashi’s grandson, the noted Jewish scholar known as Rabbenu Tam (1100–1171) also taught in Troyes and attracted students from all over Europe. Historians believe that the St-Frobert quarter was the Jewish quarter. Nothing remains of the medieval Jewish community that, although very small in size, made a huge contribution to Judaism.|
Located in an historic section of town, this synagogue is a replica of one from Rashi’s time. Begun in 1982, it was dedicated in 1987. 5, rue Brunneval, tel. 03.25.73.53.01
Institut Universitaire Rachi 2, rue Brunneval, tel. 03.25.73.22.98, www.institut-rachi-troyes.fr/
Jewish settlement in this former duchy is believed to go back to the fourth century. In the mid-15th century, Duke John II granted Jews the right to live in cities such as Nancy, Lunéville, and Sarreguemines, but only 20 years later his successor, Duke René II, appropriated their property and expelled them.
Life improved somewhat when Lorraine became part of France in 1766. On the eve of the French Revolution, about 500 Jewish families lived in the region.
|Following Jewish emancipation, the vast majority of Lorraine’s Jews (nearly 11,000 by 1808) lived in and around Nancy. They established synagogues, schools, and community organizations. In 1871, after France’s defeat in the Franco-Prussian War in 1871, Jewish refugees from Alsace and the parts of Lorraine annexed by Germany moved to French Lorraine. The Treaty of Versailles (1919), which returned Alsace and Lorraine to France, resulted in an increase in the Jewish populations through immigration from Eastern Europe. World War II took a great toll on Lorraine’s Jews.|
Tourist Office Place Stanislas, 54000 Nancy, tel. 03.83.35.22.41, www.ot-nancy.fr
The main synagogue, built in 1788, was restored and enlarged in 1841. It is one of the oldest in both Alsace and Lorraine, and listed as a French historical monument. During World War II, the Germans used it as a supply depot. 17, blvd. Joffre, tel. 03.83.32.10.67
The Cercle Juif Masorti de Nancy is a Conservative congregation.
9, rue Blondlot.
Musée Lorrain, www.nancy.fr/culturelle/musee/html/musee_lorrain.php, has the second-most-important collection in France of Torahs, prayer books, and other Jewish objects. 64, Grand’ rue, tel. 03.83.32.18.74
Tourist Office Château, 54300 Lunéville, tel. 03.83.74.06.55.
This historic synagogue, www.luneville.fr/decouverte/monuments/synagogue/ completed in 1786 and enlarged in 1860, was the first in France to have the authorization of the king. It was saved from Nazi destruction by American troops.
Tourist Office Place de la Nation, 55100 Verdun, tel. 03.29.84.18.85.
Jews have lived here since the ninth century and it was also a center for the Tosaphists (rabbinical scholars who wrote commentaries and analyses of the Torah and Talmud). Most notable among these were the followers of Rabbenu Tam, see Troyes and RASHI.
Built in 1805 on the site of a Dominican monastery, the synagogue was destroyed during the Franco-German war in October 1870, but reconstructed in 1872. Its Moorish architectural style reflects 10th-, 11th-, and 12th-century Byzantine influences. In World War II, the Nazis gutted the synagogue and used it as a mess hall. It was restored with the aid of Jewish members of the American army and placed on the register of historic monuments in 1984. Impasse des Jacobins, tel. 03.29.84.39.15
At Fort Douaumont, a memorial commemorates French and foreign Jews who died for France during World War I. It was dedicated in June 1938, the 22nd anniversary of the horrific battle of Verdun.
Tourist Office 2, place d’Armes, 57000 Metz, tel. 03.87.55.53.76.
In the Middle Ages, the Vicus Judaeorum was the Jewish quarter. Metz was home to France’s first state-sanctioned rabbinical seminary (Ecole Centrale Rabbinique), which was relocated to Paris in 1859.
French historic monument. judaisme.sdv.fr/histoire/villes/metz/synago/synago.htm, 39, rue du Rabbin-Elie-Bloch, tel. 03.87.75.04.44