Discover the Jewish Heritage Path in Lengnau and Endingen, Switzerland
Only two miles apart, two communities in Zurich’s northwest escaped World War II with their homes, functioning institutions, and a variety of Jewish landmarks still standing. Only a handful of Jews still reside in the Swiss villages of Endingen and Lengnau, but an organization known as the Doppeltur Society is making significant contributions to the preservation of Jewish cultural heritage and reviving the 100-year-old history of Jewish-Christian coexistence in these two villages.
The Doppeltur Society is committed to preserving this heritage through exhibitions and educational activities that seek to broaden the understanding of this unique Swiss past, with the aim of making this fascinating history of coexistence accessible to a broad public and stimulating an examination of contemporary social issues. The Jewish and Christian histories of these two towns are connected through “The Jewish Heritage Path.”
Between 1776 and the creation of political equality and independence in 1866, Jews were forced to reside permanently in both villages. These communities—which made up the majority in Endingen and one-third of the population in Lengnau—became known as “Jewish villages” with 1,500 residents by the end of 1850, and were able to purchase a cemetery due to their peaceful cohabitation with Christians. Many laws prohibited Jews and non-Jews from sharing or owning a home and working in most occupations, including agriculture.
The existence of homes containing two identical doors suggested that Christians and Jews lived together next to one another in peace, and the double-door houses of Endingen and Lengnau are evidence that they came up with alternative solutions. The Doppeltur Society project’s head of administration, Ms. Seraina Conrad, told NYJTG that Jews and Christians could not live in the same house; instead, “the house split from the basement to the roof, with one entrance designated for the Jewish family and the other for the Christian family. The meaning of the residential form of these double-door houses is historically debatable. Whether those houses necessarily indicate Jewish and Christian inhabitants is as uncertain as the assumption that this might not have been the case at times. However, it can be said with certainty that over time, the double door has become a symbol for living together in a diverse society.” Most of the Jewish doors still have the mezuzah indentation visible, and most have undergone maintenance over the years and are currently kept in good condition.
After the last Jew in Lengnau passed away in 1977, the town lost its Jewish communal identity, and concerns about who would oversee the preservation of the synagogue, mikveh, and school arose. Endingen, where there were still three Jewish families, including the Bloch family, whose members were descended from the musician Ernest Bloch, had a totally different situation. A new liberal neighborhood was proposed during an open discussion by many liberal Jewish residents of Zurich, but the plan was rejected and never materialized.
Local organizations and people, including the Jewish community of Endingen-Lengnau, launched “The Jewish Heritage Way” in 2009, a tourist trail that connects the Jewish sites of these two villages with the cantonal and national heritage.
Ms. Conrad explained that the people of Lengnau and Endingen did not want to lose this part of their culture and history. The goal of this center is fourfold: Presentation of the unique Jewish-Christian coexistence; raising awareness of overarching themes such as tolerance, migration, and multiculturalism; serving as a place of encounter and starting point for cultural paths; and serving as a place of mediation and dialogue in the form of events and workshops.
Roy Oppenheim, co-founder of the project and a current board member, said that as the Swiss media recognized the public’s interest in this program, it broadened its coverage to include organized groups, churches, political parties, schools, and universities.
This facility places a strong emphasis on tolerance and respect for all cultures and religions and is accessible to everyone. Teaching kids about the history of multicultural cohabitation in schools is essential. These themes and historical periods will be taught in the secondary school curriculum across the country for students between the ages of 12 and 16.
The objective of the center, as stated by Conrad, is to provide a variety of activities in both English and German and to allow visitors to learn about the history of these original landmarks that have been so carefully preserved. We will promote this area and tourism by connecting with local organizations.
The Canton of Aargau and several Jewish and Christian groups have contributed the majority of the project’s 12 million Swiss francs. Depending on how soon the local authority approves it, the project is expected to be completed by 2025.
Endingen Lengnau Jewish Cemetery
A cemetery was needed when the Jews arrived in 1640. Jews were prohibited from purchasing land for more than a century, but throughout that time they were only permitted to bury their dead on a small island in the Rhine River close to Koblenz, known as the “Jewish Island,” which was badly damaged by floods.
After the cemetery flooded in 1750, Jews purchased land between Lengnau and Endingen. This Jewish cemetery, with two entrances (one in Lengnau and the other on the side facing Endingen), is still in use today. It has more than 2,900 preserved tombs, and each grave is cataloged. Mr. Oppenheim states that “unlike many other cemeteries, the graves are not arranged by family plots; rather, there are two separate rows used for men’s and women’s graves.” According to Jewish tradition, people are buried with their feet to the east, but here they lie to the north, for reasons unknown. This cemetery has a Holocaust memorial, which was dedicated in 2014 in remembrance of the hundreds of refugees who were denied entry into Switzerland while the Nazis were in power and perished as a result.
Every two months, there are a couple of burials. Three Israeli soldiers are buried here, given their Swiss ancestry, along with people from the United States, Canada, and Israel who want to be buried here. Celebrities from this region include the ancestors of composer Ernest Bloch; William Wyler, the director of “Ben Hur”, and Salomon R. Guggenheim, founder of the Guggenheim Museum in New York. The cemetery has undergone numerous additions and has been designated as a historical landmark since 1963.
For more information:
Fly Swiss at https://www.swiss.com/us/en/homepage.
Visit the Swiss Travel System at https://www.mystsnet.com/en/.
Story by Meyer Harroch, New York Jewish Travel Guide, and New York Jewish Guide.com
The author participated in a press trip sponsored by Switzerland Tourism.