Timeline Former Synagogue

1563: first mentioning of a Jewish resident in Heinsheim (“Jew Simon of Heinsheim”)

In the 16th century, the Jewish Cemetery near Heinsheim is established.

1681: permission is granted for the a total of nine Jewish families to settle down in Heinsheim; the actual number will exceed this restriction several times in the following centuries

1767/68: Despite objections from the Teutonic Knights (members of the Catholic Order of Brothers of the German House of Saint Mary in Jerusalem) in the nearby town of Gundelsheim as well as Christian neighbours, construction of the Heinsheim synagogue begins.

1838: the number of Jewish residents in Heinsheim peaks at 118

1937: the Jewish community in Heinsheim is dissolved as many members have emigrated in previous years

1938: The last locally living members of the Jewish community sell the building to a farmer. During the Progromnacht (English: Progrom night), the former synagogue remains untouched.

1940: on October 22nd,the remaining Jewish villagers are deported to the concentration camp Gurs in south-western France.

1938 to 2013: the building is used as a barn, storage room and eventually a locksmith’s workshop.

2012: The association Freundeskreis Ehemalige Synagoge Heinsheim e.V. (English: Registered Association Former Synagogue Heinsheim) is founded

2013: The association purchases the site in order to renovate the dilapidated building and create a place of remembrance, information and intercultural encounter.

On the history of the synagogue

The existence of a prayer room or synagogue can be traced back to as early as 1600. At the time, services in Heinsheim were also attended by Jews from the neighbouring town of Wimpfen. In 1738, the prayer room was located in a house owned by Joseph Mayer. For the permission to hold religious services, every Jewish family had to pay 30 kreutzer per year as a so-called Schulzins (literally: school interest) to the village gentry. Occasionally disagreements between the local gentry and “their” Jews arose in terms of cultic matters (for instance the appointment of a rabbi). A legal settlement under the local law from 1727 kept the option open for both local lordships to establish their own Jewish schools for “their” respective Jews.
After “strong disputes” in 1744, it did indeed come to a separation as Teutonic Knight Wolf Levi Mayer temporarily established a second prayer room in his house. In the following, problems arose as Wolf Levi Mayer rejected prayers for the noble lordship in his private synagogue – in the communal synagogue the congregation had always prayed for both local lordships. In 1746, the dispute was settled and a “community school” was re-established.
When the Jewish community in Heinsheim had grown to 13 families at the end of the 18th century, permission was asked to build a new prayer house and an apartment for the cantor. The request was granted by the local gentry, and both buildings were erected on garden ground owned by the noble Racknitz family (location today: Schlossgasse 3/1). According to the wishes of the Heinsheim Jews, the synagogue was originally meant to be built as a “temple-like construction”, similarly to the one in Olnhausen, which, however, both local lordships did not allow.
In 1796, following the example of Freudental, a simpler, comparatively much smaller building was realized. Christian neighbours protested in vain against the construction of the synagogue. Firstly, they were not pleased that their view of the road and the former garden was blocked, secondly they were disturbed in their rest, as now they had to listen to the “daily noise of the Jews” – as they disrespectfully called the chant of the cantor. After the synagogue was completed, the Komtur (= administrator to whom the craftsmen and servants were subject) inspected the building and was not delighted: he considered it too big and too expensive. What he disliked most were “the formal church windows”. The local nobility, however, pointed out to him that “no unnecessarily overbuilt space” had been taken up and that the height of the windows was “unavoidable because of the womenfolk”.
Major repairs of the synagogue became necessary in 1818 due to structural damage. The building repairs cost the Jewish community 160 guilders.
By the beginning of the Nazi era, the number of Jews living in Heinsheim had considerably decreased. On 8th November 1937, the Jewish community was dissolved. On 17th January, the synagogue was sold to a local farmer by the remaining Jewish residents. This farmer was kindly disposed towards the Jews and had provided them with food and milk as long as possible. During the Progromnacht in November 1938, five Jewish homes were looted and destroyed. The synagogue remained intact. This was not due to the fact that the building was now owned by a non-Jew. Apparently it was thanks to a man who did not carry out the instruction to set the synagogue on fire with the provided five gallons of gasoline. According to reports, the man – inspired by the synagogue owner – had put the gasoline to better use.
The building has since been used as a barn, storage room and a locksmith’s workshop. The outside of the former synagogue has changed little. Above the entrance, a wedding stone can be found, along with the year of construction (1796) and Hebrew letters. The two letters in the centre of the Star of David (M and T) stand for mazel tov (= good luck), the other letters for a bible quote from Jeremiah 7:34 (“the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride”).
In 1987, it became public that the town of Bad Rappenau had plans to renovate the synagogue and put it to meaningful use. For this purpose, the town acquired the building in 1991 but returned it to the previous owner only a few years later as the renovation plans had to be deferred. In the following years, the building was again used as a workshop.
On 6th July 2012, after great efforts by both individuals and groups in the region, the Freundeskreis Ehemalige Synagoge Heinsheim e.V. (Association Former Synagogue Heinsheim) was founded. Yvonne von Racknitz was elected chairwoman of the association (deputy chairman = Fritz Abel, treasurer = Manfred Schädler, secretary = Bernd Göller).
The Association has set itself the goal to acquire the building in order to save it from further dilapidation. In June 2013, the purchase agreement was signed. The next step is to secure the standing fabric, as well as the gradual restoration of the former synagogue.
The works are being carried out in accordance with the Landesamt für Denkmalpflege (State Office for Monument Conservation). After the restoration, the former synagogue is to become a place of encounter. It is supposed to offer various opportunities for people of different cultures to meet, learn from each other and live together in mutual respect. What we have in mind are lectures, readings, concerts, exhibitions and seminars, as well as guided tours for schools and clubs in combination with a tour of the Jewish Cemetery near Heinsheim.

On the history of the Jewish community

A Jewish Community existed in Heinsheim until 1937. Its origins can be traced back to the 16th century. In 1563, a Jewish resident was first mentioned by name (Jew Simon of Heinsheim). In 1681, both local lordships decided that the Teutonic Order was permitted to take in three, the noble Racknitz family six Jewish families. This number was, however, exceeded, several times over the years. In 1767/1768, 17 Jewish families lived under the protection of the noble family. The number of Jewish inhabitants developed in the 19th century as follows: in 1825 100 Jewish residents (11.9% of a total of 838 inhabitants), maximum number of 118 persons in 1838, in 1875 72 (8.9% of 812) , in 1900 82 (12.0% of 686) , in 1910 45 residents (6.8% of 660).
In terms of institutions, the Jewish community owned a synagogue (see below), a Jewish school and a ritual bath (in 1831/32 it was re-built next to the Racknitz family’s wine press behind the Catholic church; in 1935 it was sold to the Catholic community).
Within the boundaries of the Gemarkung Heinsheim (local subdistrict of Heinsheim), a large Verbandsfriedhof (collective cemetery) existed for the Jewish communities in the wider area. For the execution of religious duties the community employed a teacher, who also acted as a cantor and shochet. In 1827 the Jewish community in Heinsheim was assigned to the Rabbinatsbezirk (rabbinate district) Mosbach.
The Jewish families mainly made their living from trading cattle, horses and textiles in the surrounding area.
In World War I, the Jewish community recorded two victims: Heinrich Strauss (1897-1917) and Corporal Karl Zeilberger (1893-1918) fell fighting for their country. Their names are mentioned on the war memorial of the local Christian cemetery.
Around 1925, when the Jewish community still comprised 21 people (3.0% of a total of 702 inhabitants), Jacob Strauss was head of the congregation. Eliezer Zeilberger worked as a teacher, teaching the two remaining school-aged children in the Jewish community. A charitable association under the direction of Hirsch Ottenheimer had five members. The Jewish community in Heinsheim now also included the 17 Jewish residents living in the neighbouring village of Hochhausen after their community had been dissolved.
In 1932, Adolf Ottenheimer was head of the community. Jacob Strauß was second head. Eliezer Zeilberger was still teacher, and Adolf Ottenheimer also acted as cemetery overseer.
The following Jewish households are known to have existed until after 1933: Merchant Hirsch Ottenheimer (Neckarstaße 73), merchant Isak Ottenheimer and Abraham Ottenheimer Wwe (Neckarstraße 35), merchant Isak Ottenheimer (Gundelsheimer Straße 19), Liebmann Otteneheimer (Neckarstraße 20), merchant Moses Ottenheimer (Neckarstraße 53), Hermann Straß (Schäfergasse 1), horse dealer Jacob Strauß (Schloßgasse 8), Eliezer Zeilberger (Neckarstraße 24).
In 1933, 24 Jewish residents lived in the village. According to reports, there were no assaults on Jewish families in the following years. Due to the consequences of the economic boycott, however, most of the Jewish families decided to emigrate. By 1938, 16 people had been able to emigrate to Argentina, Switzerland, the US or Palestine; two had passed away by then. On 8th November 1937, the community was dissolved. Both the synagogue and the ritual bath were sold. During the Progromnacht in November 1938, the windows, furniture and personal belongings of the remaining Jewish households were smashed by local SA men. In 1939, six Jewish residents continued to live in Heinsheim; in 1940 there were only four.
On 22 October 1940 Moses Ottenheimer, his daughter Hedwig and his granddaughter Anna Freudenthaler were deported to Gurs. Only Anna Freudenthaler survived; she was liberated from the camp. Her mother was murdered in Auschwitz. Her grandfather died in the Camp de Rivesaltes.
Of the Jews born in Heinsheim and/or of those who resided there for a longer time, the following died during the Nazi era (the data is based on the lists of Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, and the data of the “Memorial Book – Victims of the Persecution of Jews under the National Socialist Tyranny in Germany 1933-1945”): Henriette Arnstein née Wiener (*1866) , Ricka Bauer née Krämer (*1870) , Johanna Bechhofer née Krämer ( *1870) , Frederique Frank (*1890) , Hedwig Freudenthaler née Ottenheimer (*1893) , Bertha Grünebaum (*1881) , Hedwig Hallheimer née Ottenheimer (*1896) , Sofie Heymann née Ottenheimer (*1901) , Lisa Loeb (*1891) , Otto Mayer (*1908), Berta Ottenheimer née Kahn (*1864) , Emma Ottenheimer née Strauß (*1871) , Lydia Ottenheimer (*1891) , Moses Ottenheimer (*1861) , Natalie Ottenheimer née Würzweiler (*1861) , Seligmann Ottenheimer (*1874) , Hannchen Stein née Ottenheimer (*1863) , Wolf Strauß (*1888), Max Strauß (*1873) .
In 2010, five young Heinsheimers planned and designed two memorial stones in order to commemorate the deportation of the Jewish Heinsheimers to Gurs in October 1940. One of the memorial stones was set up on a central memorial ground in Neckarzimmern , the other one was set up as part of a memorial service at the Lindenplatz in Heinsheim in October 2010. The local newspaper Heilbronner Stimme covered the story in their issue from 18 October 2010: “Erinnerung wachhalten” (Keeping the Memory Alive).


Return to Heinsheim (pdf)

Förmliche Kirchfenster (pdf)

Genisa Finds (pdf)