Vacha – Thuringia (English)

Location: Thuringia
About this community: Archival documents indicate that Jews settled in Vacha in the early 13th century and apparently lived in the former Judengasse (Jews' Alley). They were expelled during the Black Death pogroms of 1348/49. Jews resettled in 1399 and sporadically lived in Vacha until the 16th century. In 1673, it was reported that the few Vacha Jews attended the services in nearby Schenklengsfeld.

After the Congress of Vienna, Vacha became part of the Grand Duchy Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach in 1816. Subsequently, in 1823, Jews were officially granted legal equality, but they were still obligated to pay certain taxes (Schutzgeld). Only from the second half of the 19th century were they allowed to open stores and practice various professions. The Jewish population grew from 68 Jews in 1841 to a peak of 121 in 1913. Most of them were cattle dealers and merchants.

The modern Jewish community came into being in 1777. A synagogue and schoolroom were already in use before then. The synagogue, located at 22 Schulstrasse, was enlarged in 1829. The Jewish cemetery on Voelkershaeuser Strasse – probably established in the 14th century – was documented for the first time in 1732. It was enlarged in 1778, in 1839 and again in 1882. A cellar mikvah (ritual bath) was operated at 11 Schulstrasse. Probably already installed around 1700, the mikvah was discovered and excavated in 1998. In 1792, the Jewish community hired its first teacher, Ephraim, who provided religious instructions to Jewish children and also served as chazzan (cantor) and shochet (kosher butcher). In the fall of 1876, the Jewish community celebrated the dedication of a new Torah scroll in the presence of the regional rabbi Dr. Theodor Kroner. Almost all citizens of Vacha participated in this festivity.

In the mid-1920s, the Jewish community board members were Willy Kath, Wolf Katz, Adolf Nussbaum, Meier Bachrach, Schoen, and Isaac Hecht. Sebald Mueller from Tann provided religious instruction to nine Jewish children at that time. He was succeeded by teacher Moses Loewenstein in 1925.

The earliest anti-Semitic attack occurred in Vacha in 1924: the walls of the synagogue were painted with swastikas. Even before the official anti-Jewish boycott on April 1, 1933, Jewish homes were raided in Vacha. A Jewish city council member had to resign from his position. In the following years, many Jewish residents left the town for Berlin and probably other larger cities. In 1933, only 71 Jews resided in Vacha. The community had a teacher of religion who also served as chazzan and shochet. A women’s organization and a youth association were still active in the early 1930s. The cemetery was desecrated in 1929 and again in 1932.

On the morning after Pogrom Night, on November 10, 1938, seven or eight men destroyed the synagogue’s interior; the building was later shut down by the municipality. A police report of mid-November 1938 stated: "... At 9 pm local residents took actions against the Jews: They entered the home of merchant Hermann Strauss (Steinweg) by breaking his entrance door. Ms. Strauss was beaten up, while her husband was hiding in the attic and could not be found. Furthermore, locals smashed the windows of cattle dealer Robert Hecht’s and merchant Schoen’s property. The next day, Hermann Goldschmidt, Louis Baumgart, Theobald Speyer and Hermann Strauss were taken into custody and transported to the Buchenwald concentration camp."

Susan Strauss, the daughter of Hermann and Bertha Straus, remembered the years 1933-1939: her friends stopped playing with her. In 1938, she was forced to leave her public school. On Pogrom Night, local Nazi Party members damaged the family store and took her father together with the other Jewish men to the concentration camp in Buchenwald. Susan's father was released after four weeks. In 1939, he managed to flee to Belgium and later to the United States, while Susan, her mother, grandmother, and sister moved to Berlin.

On October 27, 1939, the newspaper Rhoen-Zeitung announced: "Last night, the two last Jewish families left our city. Vacha is finally free of Jews." The fate of most Vacha Jews is unclear. Approximately 35 Jews emigrated to Belgium, England, Palestine, the United States and probably other countries. At least 29 local Jews perished in the Shoah.

In 1955, the synagogue building was torn down. Today the site houses an apartment building and garages. A memorial stone was unveiled in the Jewish cemetery in November 1998.

Sources: Kahl, Monika, "Denkmale juedischer Kultur in Thueringen," in Kulturgeschichtliche Reihe, Vol. 2, Ed. Landesamt fuer Denkmalpflege, Publisher Rheinold E. 1997.

Kuestner, Eike, Juedische Kultur in Thueringen. Eine Spurensuche, Sutton Verlag, Erfurt, 2012.

Schwierz, Israel: Zeugnisse juedischer Vergangenheit in Thueringen. Eine Dokumentation. Erfurt, 2007.

Spector, Shmuel (ed.): The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before and During the Holocaust, Yad Vashem and New York University Press, 2001.

Synagogue Memorial "Beit Ashkenaz": Pogrom Night 1938: A Memorial to the Destroyed Synagogues of Germany, Jerusalem, 2013.

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Located in: Thuringia