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December 16, 1988 - Image 93

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1988-12-16

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

THE DIASPORA

Two Doors

I

t was a mere detail. Insignificant
if unknown; resonant with mean-
ing if recognized. What I wanted
to find was so simple, so easily
claimed. It was like the childhood
game of hot potato where an object is
hidden and the closer one gets the
louder the cries of "getting warmer"
sound. As I walked through the
streets, of first one Swiss village, and
eventually the other, I found myself
getting warmer, getting closer.
Finally in the damp mist I found
what I was seeking. The simplest of
discoveries: an old, abandoned house
with two near-identical entrance
doors, standing side by side. It was a
sign and a symbol: a reminder of a
Jewish presence I knew little about.

Individual Jews reached what is
now Switzerland with the Roman
legions in the 3rd century and small
Jewish communities existed in
Zurich, Basel, Berne and St. Gall dur-
ing the early Middle Ages. But in the
14th century the situation began to
change dramatically and for the
worse.
When the great plague reached
Switzerland Jews were blamed for the
horrors. Many were burned at the
stake for causing the Black Death
and many more were accused. By the
end of the 14th century, Jews were so
effectively expelled or persecuted that
Switzerland was for all intents and
purposes a land with no Jews.
This state of affairs lasted until
shortly after the Thirty Years War
(1618-1648) when Jews from the
Alsace and Rhenania obtained
limited permission to settle in nor-
thern Switzerland in what later
became the canton of Aargau.
Jews were granted permits, letters
of protection and the right to live and
work — primarily as horse and cattle
traders — in Aargau, more specifical-
ly in the towns of Lengnau and En-
dingen. And for more than 200 years
these two villages, and they alone, re-
mained the sole area of permanent
Jewish settlement in all of
Switzerland.
Over the years the Jewish com-
munities of Endingen and Lengnau
waged the long and difficult struggle

A Jewish house in Endigen.

Switzerland's Jewish history is
often hidden in double reminders

SUSAN LUDMER-GLIEBE

Special to The Jewish News

for Jewish emancipation in
Switzerland, a struggle which was
won only in 1878 when Jews were
granted full civil rights. The two
towns are considered the "cradle of
Swiss Jewry."
The successful fight for emancipa-
tion led, ironically, to their own
demise. Jews from the villages left the
region for other parts of Switzerland
in the middle of the 19th century.
What was once a combined communi-
ty that numbered in the thousands
now numbers less than half-dozen
Jews.
Searching for houses with two
doors seemed an odd way to confirm
the existence of two important Jewish
communities. But it wasn't. The
Jewish homes of Lengnau and En-
dingen, and only they, had two en-
trance doors.
Local law limited the number of
Jewish houses and forbade Jews and
Christians to live under the same
roof. Though not known for certain,
it appears that when Christians had
to enter the house of a Jew they were
required to use the door reserved for
them and only them.
The houses are not the only
reminder of the Jewish presence. Both
villages built impressive, handsome
synagogues. The synagogue in En-
dingen was especially noteworthy
with its gold clock and beautifully ar-
ched windows. Since the keepers of
the synagogue key, the brothers
Bloch-Meyers, weren't at home when
I visited I decided to continue on.
A few miles south of Endingen on
the road to Lengnau there's a huge,
walled Jewish burial ground, the
Waldfriedhof, which is a quiet
reminder of the communities that
once were. Hundreds and hundreds of
gravestones stood in a copse of rustl-
ing trees. The gate to the cemetery
was locked.
But as we were leaving we notic-
ed a small car driving up to the
cemetery. A group of young Orthodox
men stepped out with prayer books
and water buckets in hand. They
tried, unsuccessfully, to open the lock.
Several of the men left to find another
key. Eventually they returned.
"There's another gate, another en-

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

93

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