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28 June 2011

Jews of Switzerland

The Jewish history of Switzerland spans hundreds of years. The first recorded Jews settled there in the very early part of the 13th century. The first Swiss Jews were located in Basel, which was one of the largest Jewish communities in all of Europe,The Jews of Basel, who were mostly from Germany and France arrived in 1213.
Other communities followed soon after, with Bern, St. Gall, Zurich, Schaffhausen, Dissenholfen and Luzerne all having Jewish communities before the end of the 13th century. These communities flourished until the middle of the 14th Century, when events in different cities caused
major changes. In Basel, the community thrived until 1348. Then the Black Death when the Jews were accused of poisoning the water supply. Over 600 Jews were taken to and island on the Rhine where they were burned at the stake. Their children were sparred but were forced to be baptised.
In Bern, at about this same time, the Jewish community was accused of murdering a Christian boy. The Jews were then expelled from Bern, however not much later they were allowed to return.
In the 14th Century, Jews began arriving from places such as Alsace, Nuremburg, France and many of the Southern German cities. During this time Jews were also given limited citizenship. This was not the same that the Christians enjoyed but it did give them some protection and allowed them to live in the cities if they paid certain sums of money. Foreign Jews were not allowed to live in the cities.
During the 14th and 15th centuries, most of the Jews were involved as merchants and money lenders. They did live under restrictions, such as being forced to live in certain neighborhoods and even being told which streets they could live on. They were also persecuted by some of the Swiss people, many times because those same people were in debt to the Jews. These areas became the center of their lives as they built the synagogues and had their shops in these same neighborhoods.
Over the next few hundred years, the Jews who had been expelled returned to their communities. While they did return, it did not always mean that the persecutions had ended. During the early 1400's many Jews faced death. In 1401 all the Jewish residents of Schaffhausen were condemned to death and in fact thirty were burned alive on 25 June 1401.
The community in Geneva wasn't established until the 1780's, but became a thriving community, building a synagogue in Carouge. They later became citizens and had their own burial ground. During the 19th and early 20th centuries, many Jews arrived from Eastern Europe and Alsace. Between 1900 and 1947 many synagogues were built and burial grounds established. In 1947, the Great Synagogue was rebuilt.
During the Holocaust, Switzerland gave refuge to over 20,000 Jews. Because of the neutrality that the government had these Jews were protected. As the war grew the Swiss government took steps to make it harder for Jews to enter the country and over 30,000 were denied access. After the war, things changed somewhat and the Swiss became supportive toward those who faced hardships in their own countries.
In the 1950's they looked after refugees from Egypt and Hungary and then 10 years later they helped those fleeing Czechoslovakia. Today, some 20,000-25,000 Jews live in Switzerland with about a third of those living in Zurich.
Jews from Switzerland will be found in the Knowles Colection - Jews of Europe database.

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