General information: First Jewish presence: 15th century; peak Jewish population: 168 in 1861; Jewish population in 1933: 111 or 120 (see below)
Summary: In Witzenhausen, home to an important Jewish community in Hesse, a Jewish presence was documented as early at the beginning of the 15th century. By 1620 or 1622, a synagogue had already been established there. During the years 1665 to 1772, Witzenhausen was the seat of a chief rabbinate, the first incumbent of which, Mordekhai Suesskind Rothenburg, founded the duchy’s only yeshiva. Witzenhausen’s first synagogue (location unknown) was destroyed by fire in 1809. A new synagogue was inaugurated a year later on Steinstrasse, and we also know that the community maintained a mikveh, a Jewish school and (from the 17th century onwards) a cemetery at Alte Burg. Jewish life flourished in the town, as evidenced by the large number of Jewish organizations that were active there. In January, 1933, 120 Jews lived in Witzenhausen; later that year, that number was 111. The Jewish school was shut down in 1933, the same year in which the Nazis enforced the anti-Jewish boycott. On Pogrom Night, members of the SA and SS, accompanied by local residents, burned down the synagogue building, after which they marched through town and assaulted Jews. Forty-nine Jews left Witzenhausen during the period following the pogrom, so that no Jews lived there in 1943. According to Yad Vashem, 77 local Jews were killed during the Shoah. Witzenhausen is no longer home to a Jewish community. At the former cemetery site (on present-day Faehrgasse), a memorial plaque commemorates local victims of the Shoah. In November 1985, a memorial plaque was unveiled at the former synagogue site (present-day 22 Synagogenstrasse, or “synagogue street”).
Photo: The synagogue of Witzenhausen, probably in the 1930s. Courtesy of: the town of Witzenhausen.
Author / Sources: Benjamin Rosendahl
Sources: AJ, EJL, LJG, SG-H, YV
Located in: hesse