The oldest Jewish documentary records in the Baden Württemberg region date from the middle of the 13th century. The very first mention of a Jewish resident of the Kraichgau dates of 1288 in Bruchsal. As of the 14th century, mentions increase in the Kraichgau, e.g. in Bretten, Sinsheim, Waibstadt, Neckarbischofsheim, Wiesloch and Eppingen. This was the time when many of these towns became cities and were glad to avail themselves the service of Jews as traders and moneylenders.
First persecutions in the Kraichgau
The first significant wave of persecution that also affected Kraichgau Jews dates from the middle ages, during the plague years 1348-50. Jews were accused of absurd allegations, of poisoning the wells and springs and having been the source of the plague. As a result, in many places, Jews were expelled or murdered. Concerning the Kraichgau, relevant records can be found in the archives of Bretten, Bruchsal, Waibstadt, Wiesloch and Eppingen. After these horrific years, a few Jewish individuals were mentioned in the records of the Kraichgau in the late 14th century. However, they were expelled from all communities belonging to the Electoral Palatinate in 1390.
After the Thirty-Year war
Until the ThirtyYears’ War it was barely possible to establish Jewish communities in the Kraichgau, where they existed there for some time. Permission for Jews to be admitted were temporary and were consistently followed by expulsion. Often, only individual Jews were allowed to settle – far too few to form intact community structures. Only after the Thirty Years’ War did the situation gradually change. The war resulted in an immense decrease in population, so that there was a prevalent lack of manpower.
To recover trade and economic activity, there was broad interest in settling workers, including Jews.
That is why at precisely this time many places in the Kraichgau established the possibility of settlement by Jews, whose numbers thereafter gradually increased over time.
The 19th century
In the 19th century, many changes to the legal situation of the Jews occurred throughout Germany, that finally made them equal citizens.
In 1862 in the Grand Duchy of Baden and all over Germany in 1871, an emancipation law was enacted that removed all remaining disadvantages imposed on Jews. By this time the number of Jews in Palatine had significantly increased. In 1808, they amounted to roughly 14.200, which corresponded to 1,5 % of the population. The Grand Duchy of Baden was a preferred settlement area for Jews. 8% of all German Jews lived in this particular territorial dominion. Within Baden, disproportionately many Jews resided in the Kraichgau, and especially in the vicinity of Sinsheim, where nearly every town had a Jewish community. The largest Jewish community of the Kraichgau was Hoffenheim, where 227 Jews resided in 1839 and in Neidenstein where they comprised one third of its population.
The National Socialist Regime
The crimes of the Nazis led to the extermination of Jewish life throughout Germany. These events were particularly severe in the Kraichgau because of the high number of Jews. There were outbreaks of riots and violence in every town on Reichsprogromnacht. Many synagogues were either totally destroyed or seriously damaged. The only houses of prayer that were spared were those that had already been sold to non-Jews.
On October 22, 1940 the remaining 6.500 Jews still living in Baden, Palatine and Saarland were transported to the concentration camp Gurs in the south of France. About 2000 died in the camp. In 1942 deportations began to the extermination camps, principally to Auschwitz.
After World War II
Jewish life came to an abrupt end in the Kraichgau, as
everywhere else in Germany due to the crimes committed by the Nazis. After the end of the war, Jewish citizens of the Kraichgau did not for the most part return to their home communities. In no community in the Kraichgau did a Jewish community become reestablished. A development and tradition that had extended over many centuries thereby ended forever.
Cultural heritage remains in the Kraichgau, which once witnessed a flourishing Jewish culture. A responsible and appropriate treatment of history protects and preserves these remains.