A Tale of Two Little Towns

Emsiana Opening on May 11, 2017
Musicians on the balcony of the museum

Najem Wali made it to Germany just in time. In 1980. The war between Iraq and Iran had begun. And the student of literature who dreamed of becoming a writer was already known as a political dissident, an “enemy of the people” to Saddam Hussein and the Baath party regime. A few months he had already enjoyed the special attention of the party’s officials, in jail. And for somebody like him in 1980 only the worst of the front was waiting, a secure way to heaven or hell. For some kind of luck, one of the subjects he had studied was German literature. So he was seeking Asylum in Germany. Two times to be taken in custody pending deportation was waiting for him. But in the end he made it.

Emsiana Opening: Najem Wali

Now he is an acclaimed author, living in Berlin, invited to offer a crowded “Markus Sittikus Auditorium” in Hohenems his opening speech for the Emsiana Festival on May 11, 2017. Every year in May a bunch of cultural institutions and initiatives in the small town on the border brings together music, literature, art, history, and challenges of today.

“Hohenems. Babylon” is the theme of 2017: the hybris of man, the Diaspora, and the clash and the richness of a diversity of languages. Najem Wali, born in Amara, a small Iraqi border town next to Iran, still remembers the Jewish quarter of his hometown. And the story of Iraq’s minorities, among them prominently its flourishing Jewish communities, going back to the Babylonian “Exile” 2600 years ago, is one of the lasting themes in his novels and essays.

His reflections about the role of small border towns like Amara and Hohenems, and the crossroads of Exiles making the world more complex, was deeply rooted in his life.

So Najem not only opened the program, he also – a day later – read from his autobiography (“Bagdad – Memories of a Metropolis”). And he had a lot of fun during the four days in Hohenems, with both the locals and the guests. This year the festival centered – in a way – around a “Babylonian” bread bakery on the Salomon Sulzer Square in front of the former synagogue. A young team of enthusiasts was occupied all day with producing fresh bread, served together with all kind of dishes brought by neighbors and other locals from all tribes. Turkish salads and stuffed vine leaves, Indian food and typical local dishes like “Riebel” (a simple and very traditional recipe for cornmeal) blended together in harmony. The backbone though of the outdoor kitchen – serving the ever growing crowd during the festival – were refugees from Syria and Afghanistan, and a Palestinian couple who made it to Hohenems already a few years ago, now happy to learn something about Jewish history and to tell about their loss of home too…

Emsiana 2017: “Babylonian Bakery”

The Babylonian dilemma and the richness of languages was present also during the musical part of the opening event. Johannes Schwendinger sang ten psalms, with music by Antonin Dvorak. But he had his own turn on them: he sang them in Czech and German, Hebrew, Turkish, Farsi, and Arab, Icelandic, French, Mandarin, and English.

Johannes Schwendinger, Foto: Benjamin Hofer

Among the other highlights of the musical program the band “Light in Babylon” surprised in particular, a bunch of devoted musicians playing “world music” with Hebrew and Turkish texts. Michal Elia Kamal, the singer, was born in Tel Aviv into an Israeli-Iranian family – and she is proud to be both, Jewish and Persian. Now she is based in Istanbul performing together with a French guitarist, a Turkish master of the santur (a Turkish dulcimer), a Scottish percussionist and an English bass player. If you want to listen to their music go to http://www.lightinbabylon.com/de/

The band “Light in Babylon” Foto: Diren Duzgun

As in former years exhibitions during the festival explored locations in the Jewish quarter and the “Christengasse” usually not regularly open for the public, like basements, attics and stables, or houses about to be restored. This year we opened the Mikvah, the Jewish ritual bath to the artists Ursula Dünser and Karin Nussbaumer. Their installation invited visitors to immerse their wishes, put on paper in all languages, into a water tub and to see how all their writings blend together, coloring the water ever more blue. Let’s hope their wishes are nice – and come true…

Art installation by Ursuala Dünser and Karin Nussbaumer in the old Mikvah

While we still enjoy the memories of this year’s Emsiana Najem Wali already travelled to the Iraq again, invited by the German news magazine “Der Spiegel”. He is still dreaming of an Iraq that will match with his childhood memories of Amara, the little multi-cultural town on the banks of the Tigris.

The banks of the Tigris in Amara


The Female Side of God

Foto: Dietmar Walser

… discovered in Hohenems

On a sunny day in April the Jewish Museum Hohenems opened its gates for a new exhibition that poses a challenging question:
Is it possible to view the—according to Jewish, Christian, and Muslim tradition—“one and only God” as other than male?

Foto: Dietmar Walser

In the biblical Book of Genesis 1:27, it says: “And God created man in His image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”

What is this idea of God about who appears as „us“ when it comes to the creation of men, a God creating man and woman together, before the „first Eva“ (later called Lilith) strangely disappears from the holy scriptures – because she did not want to follow Adams orders? – and a second one is created from his rib, now clearly meant to be not equal to him. What happened to the inherent pluralism, suppressed but never totally disappeared?

Foto: Dietmar Walser

So we decided to confront the monolithic image of „God without image“ with surprisingly ambivalent insights into the creation of God and its conception as a male power. Working together with Felicitas Heimann-Jelinek and Michaela Feurstein-Prasser, the two curators from Vienna, with whom we already have a longstanding collaboration, was an intellectual adventure, discovering new dimensions. And the enthusiastic coverage the exhibition received so far, proved that endeavor being fruitful.

Foto: Dietmar Walser

The exhibition „The Female Side of God“ —a project of the Jewish Museum Hohenems in cooperation with the Museum of the Bible, Washington DC, and the Jewish Museum Frankfurt am Main—thus takes a critical look at concepts of God in the Abrahamic religions. It also addresses the impact of these notions on traditional religious and social practice and the self-assertive attempts to break out of these roles.

Foto: Dietmar Walser

In the Ancient Near East, female deities were usually perceived in close conjunction with their male partners. And vice versa. This is also reflected in the formation of Yahwism. The old “Israel”, before the Babylonian Exile, was much less strictly monotheistic as regularly admitted. The prophets were not only fighting against the “idols” of other people and cultures, but particularly against the still vivid worshipping of a plurality of gods and goddesses among their “own people”. It took hundreds and hundreds of years till, already in Exile and long after the mythical heroes of Abraham and Moses, David and Salomon, the ideas of Judaism and the formulation of a “god without image” was codified. Judaism as we know it, was never a “states religion”. It was never meant for being in power.

Foto: Dietmar Walser
Foto: Dietmar Walser

And although strict rejection of anthropomorphic images of God proscribed the question of concrete gender attribution, in the monotheistic world religions, the notion of God “the Lord” was clearly defined as male. And this male definition was even taken further by Christianity and Islam.

The possibility of a sexually—sometimes more, sometimes less—female-defined dimension of God still flashes up in the Hebrew Bible, in extracanonical writings, and in rabbinic literature. Especially in Jewish mysticism, it lives on explicitly—only to be rediscovered in the 20th century with momentous consequences.

The exhibition casts a glance at the sources that generated the monotheistic notion of God, at its cultural tradition in writing and imagery. It scrutinizes ideas of the female as negative antithesis to the male, and presents Jewish and other women who have been and still keep searching for their own dimensions of the divine—also in their artistic examinations of traditional notions of God in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Foto: Dietmar Walser
Foto: Dietmar Walser
Foto: Dietmar Walser

The exhibition, magically designed in silver and blue by Martin Kohlbauer, is after all not about theory, but a joyful, sensual and intellectual voyage of discovery: to the goddess Aschera, the old Israelites offered too, whatever their prophets and leaders thought about it, to a statue of Maria, covering God in her womb. From the demonized Lilith, who was turned into the image of a female snake, either trying to kill the Jewish newborns, or to seduce Eva with the apple – reaching to kabbalistic attempts to portray (and heal) the order of the world, of God in its male and female emanations, to reassemble the sparks of the divine, exiled in the world. And also to the practice of women trying to engage themselves in the service of God, whatever men would say about it. Not to forget the poignant comments on all that by contemporary female artists, who open up the discourse to our own fantasies and thoughts.

Foto: Dietmar Walser
Foto: Dietmar Walser
Foto: Dietmar Walser
Foto: Dietmar Walser
Foto: Dietmar Walser

Behind the overt theme of gender the exhibition, and this became clear more and more in the process of the making, is not only questioning the role of the sexes in the idea of God, that support the positions of power and the control of resources in religion and society. It also sheds light on the growing fundamentalism in all three monotheistic religions. It asks naughty questions about how religions define the “other” by excluding “the female side of God”, how images of enemies are possible, how religious zealots of all “tribes” forget the common roots and kill the hope for an egalitarian society.

Rabbi Bea Wyler – in her inspiring opening speech – brought that all down to her Jewish upbringing and her own discovering of spiritual dimensions by asking insistent questions, step by step dismantling her initial image of God, that so much resembled the performance of her dentist, a bearded and all-knowing male power, who was definitely also causing pain.

More information you find online, also about the catalogue, beautifully designed by Roland Stecher and Thomas Matt. Enjoy!


Current Exhibition

Purim celebration in Hohenems? Purim in Hohenems!

Purim Parade 2017, passing by the old synagogue

The last time, Purim was celebrated in Hohenems might have been, when Jewish DPs from Eastern Europe lived in Hohenems after 1945 for a short while. But from archival sources we know that in the 19th century Purim was joyfully celebrated in Hohenems, regularly both in local pubs and on the street.

This was also the case in 1811, when the Jewish carnival was celebrated with a parade from the Jewish quarter in the center to the public Bath building in the southern part of the town – and back. Christians participated, some helping out with collecting the entrance fee for the masked ball, others offering pastry and other bakery goods. And a music band around bassist Rick came from Bregenz to entertain the guests of the festivity in the “Old Post” pub. We know all that from the police protocols. Why?

Purim Parade 2017

The officers had to interfere, when local hoodlums from Bregenz – in fact they were civil servants and other members of the better society – came to disturb the feast. When the parade came by they accused the participants – Seligman Bloch in particular, wearing a Bavarian toll officers uniform – of making a mockery of official symbols. Well that’s exactly what the carnival is about, also the Christian one taking place a few days earlier every year. But what’s allowed for Christians might not be for their Jewish neighbors?

After enjoying beer in the tavern of the brewery, the drunkards from Bregenz (among them a forest ranger and an accountant, a court servant, a pharmacist and a lawyer) went to the “Old Post” and started a brawl. The double bass of Mr. Rick was the first victim, but also the two Jewish teachers got hurt, Mayer Brezfeld and Simon Drach, who tried to calm down the offenders.

In the end the gang from Bregenz was arrested. But never sentenced.

Purim 2017: Dancing in the old Jewish school
Purim 2017: Haman on the camera. Or is it Mordechai?
Purim 2017: Welcome in the Jewish Museum
Purim 2017: Vampires among us

When two weeks ago the Jewish community of Tirol and Vorarlberg, with a little help from the Jewish museum, celebrated Purim again in Hohenems, there were no hoodlums to disturb the party, but a lot of humor in place. Again, Christian locals participated in the festival, this time in masks of all kind themselves. Among them museum staff and friends from association, and neighbors from the Jewish quarter. And a descendant of the Hirschfeld family, living in Bregenz, won the prize for the best mask.

Purim 2017: Waiting for the Jury appointing the best mask of the year
Purim 2017: A star is born

The memory of the Jews of Persia, saved by Esther’s and Mordechai’s courage from the extermination, plotted against them by the evil grand vizier Haman, was celebrated with decent irony. With good music, both life and in the disco, installed in the Federmann auditorium in the old Jewish school, great Jewish food served by the Moritz restaurant in the same building – and a lot of high quality Vodka, helping us to fulfill the religious demand to drink enough, “until one cannot tell between the damned Haman and the blessed Mordechai”.

Purim 2017: Reading from the Esther scroll
Purim 2017: still able to tell that’s Haman we talk about

The reading of the Esther scroll became a world premiere though: recited by various participants in all the local dialects surrounding us in Vorarlberg, Switzerland, Austria and Southern Tirol, spiced with some Russian and Israeli accents and my own hometowns idiom, the Frankfurt dialect…

Now everybody is waiting for the next Purim party in Hohenems.

The Wisdom of the Hohenems Diaspora: Christopher Brauchli and his Blog

You expect to read here something about the „famous Hohenemsers“ of the past? Well, if you look around you find the wisdom of the Hohenems Diaspora also in our contemporary world.

Its fun to organize a Reunion of Hohenemser descendants – living all over the globe. Because doing this you run into wonderful people like Christopher Brauchli, a retired lawyer in Boulder Colorado, and descendant of the Reichenbach family. He was president of the Boulder and Colorado Bar Associations and served on various bar and Colorado Supreme Court Committees throughout his legal career.

But he is a great blogger too! Both on Huffington Post and on his own one: „The Human Race and Other Sports“ presents lucid and sometimes breathtaking political commentary and satire. Unfortunately its a good time for satire in the US today. As good times for satire very often are bad times for the human race – and the race for something human.

What makes it into the news is indeed only the tip of the iceberg. If you want to learn more about the daily ration of poison the Trump administration and its entourage is bringing about – please find some insight into the abyss here. Something only digestible with Brauchli’s unbeatable and poignant black humor.


If you want to get that regularly too, you can subscribe here:


33 Revolutions in Warsaw

Waiting for the Jewkbox! Photo: Magda Starowieyska

Last week our „Jewkbox“-exhibition opened in Warsaw. The Museum of the History of Polish Jews, POLIN, presents our exhibition for the next four months in the Polish capital. And the show became the talk of the town immediately.

Gazeta Wyborcza, the liberal newspaper devoted no less than 5 pages to it, the most popular television host of Polish breakfast TV came for an interview, national and local news were running around, and masses of people appeared in the giant lobby of the Museum to attend the opening last Thursday.

The Jewtube Lounge at POLIN. Photo: Magda Starowieyska


Here are a few assumptions: Jewkbox is presenting a global story from a Jewish angle and a Jewish story from a global perspective. It is presenting the diasporic state of mind and its productivity – focusing on Jewish experience and not on any fixed, substantial identity. And it makes – rather implicitly – a statement about cultural productivity in general. It locates cultural productivity on the margins of societies, nations, ethnic groups, religions… It tells stories about migrants and refugees, rebels against traditions, about cultural transfer and re-invention, about the emerging of the „popular“ from the peripheries. It tells about the simple fact, that exactly what very often is considered to be the expression of „the people“ mostly came from outsiders, from those fighting for recognition, from those who question the cultural traditions, from those who connected the particular with the universal, from those who had the greatest desire to be loved, instead of being oppressed, persecuted, or expulsed. The Warsaw Museum, Tamara Sztyma in particular, did a wonderful job in extending our show with a large presentation of Polish interwar musical culture, a portrait of a time when cultural influence from all over the world merged with Polish traditions, and Jewish artists where leading figures of show business all over the country. Poland after WWI had been back on the political map, but also on the map of world cultures.

The real thing. Photo: Magda Starowieyska

This Polish story is wonderfully presented in a new, richly illustrated and highly informative supplement catalog, produced for the Warsaw presentation of the show (bilingual in Polish and English). I can only recommend to go for it.

Our catalogue got a baby. Sweet.

A music club, presenting new Jewish music in Poland today, was installed in a separate space only to be entered from the Jewkbox show. So, letting the visitors step on the stage of this installation from the back, it also turns the visitor into the performer, and the grand show into the backstage area of a music club. The drums are ready to start playing.

And in the middle of our show now there is not only the Jewtube lounge waiting for guests to relax, watch, and chat – there is also a world map of popular music, telling the story of global musical culture in 33 revolutions.

Walking on the wild side. Photo: Magda Starowieyska

Being in Warsaw for a few days is always a very mixed experience. Personally for me its getting closer to a lost element of my own history. My grandfather once was among those emigrating from Polish Galicia to Germany, leaving behind family, traditions, religion and a narrow world that was doomed – only to end in Lemberg to be shot by the Nazis, together with a few thousand others, in the fall of 1941, while his daughter met my father on the shores of Tel Aviv… Much of Warsaw reminds me to this void.

Once almost completely wiped out by Nazi German forces the capital is far from being a particular charming metropolis. Its small old city was reconstructed from scratch – as an attempt to resurrect its heart from the ashes. But around that the monumental blocks and vast “boulevards” of Stalinist hybris, 1960s modernism and capitalistic endeavor after 1989 blend together in not the most favorable way. And between this structures wonderful people try to find their own path into a future nobody can tell. The presence though is rather gloomy.

Expert talk at the opening. But everybody is an expert.

The right wing government tries to create an illusion called “Poland” that resides mainly on definitions what Poland is NOT: Poland is not Russia, Poland is not Germany, Poland is not the EU, Poland is no place for refugees, Poland is no place for immigrants, Poland is not the Jews, Poland is not an inclusive place, Poland is … Poland. And when it comes to define what Poland is – it comes to the heroic image of a Poland that always fights to be Poland, against the rest of the world and against all odds. So lets make Poland great again and think about what could make it a good place on earth later or never.

I actually did not meet anybody in Warsaw who shares these xenophobic views. The new government though found enough voters elsewhere. So most people I know are hovering between depression and a good old Polish sentiment: the evil powers come and go, and we stay – even if the evil powers are elected from our own midst. Tamara’s opening speech was a clear expression of resistance against the prevailing nationalism and isolation. And it was obvious how much it moved herself and the crowd listening to this.

Tamara Sztyma speaking at the opening. Photo: Magda Starowieyska

While the government of the country starts to censor the cultural production, while the ministry is firing critical theater directors and heads of cultural institutions, promotes mediocrity and nationalism in the arts, while the government threatens the freedom of press and media and step by step is killing the independent role of justice, the Jewish Museum in Warsaw seems to be an island in the storm. It seems obvious: the government does not dare (yet?) to open up conflict about this so much internationally observed and connected institution. Do they save this prey for later? But it is unfair to return from this Warsaw journey with such depressing thoughts.

In the night of the opening – and in the light of its success – there is also the feeling that there is a civil society in Poland that fights back. “Poland is Not Yet Lost”. A country that chooses these lyrics for its national anthem indeed can go through a lot. And the claim of the museum is a simple one: that Poland was strong and “great” when it was inclusive, multicultural and open for others. When it was a crossroad of cultures and influences, when it did not seclude itself from the rest of the world. There is still something puzzling to me, something “patriotic” about the way this claim is brought forward in the permanent show of the museum. It still appeals to a “polish soul” that wants Poland to be great. But at least that’s a greatness that opens the arms and is not closing the doors. Lets for now take it for generosity. That’s the greatness of those who don’t confuse greediness and megalomania with “strength”. The evening in Warsaw was a celebration of generosity.

Poland is not lost at all. Or we are all lost. Jewkbox is offering a few ideas for possible revolutions. Take a nice vinyl record and play it. You will have even 33 (and a half to be precise) revolutions per minute.

The Jewtube Lounge from above. Photo: Magda Starowieyska
This is actually producing sound? Photo: Magda Starowieyska

Wisdom of the Hohenems Diaspora: Moritz Julius Bonn

The Brunner House about 1920

He still deserves a rediscovery: the liberal intellectual and cosmopolite Moritz Julius Bonn. Born 1873 into a bankers family in Frankfurt and son of Elise Brunner from Hohenems he spent most of his childhood summers with his grandfather Marco Brunner in Hohenems. (His own father Julius Philipp Bonn died, when he was four.)

Moritz Julius Bonn became one of the most elaborate thinkers of free trade and liberal economy in the late German Empire and the Weimar republic – and a democrat by heart.
Bonn studied in London and became professor in Munich, before he spent three years of teaching in the US, from 1914 to 1917. His publications about the USA tried to foster understanding between Germany and the US, even during WW1, starting with “Amerika als Feind” (America as an Enemy) in 1917 and “Was will Wilson?” (What Does Wilson Want) in the same year, to the books “Die Kultur der Vereinigten Staaten” (The Culture of the United States) and “Prosperity. Wunderglaube und Wirklichkeit im amerikanischen Wirtschaftsleben” (Prosperity. Believing in Wonders and Reality in the American Economic Life) in 1930 and 1931 – but also in his seminal book “The Crisis of European Democracy” from 1925.

Moritz Julius Bonn now being the head of the Berlin University of Trade was fired in 1933 by the Nazis and emigrated to London. 1939 he started teaching in the US again for another seven years, but also advocating the US entering the war against Nazi Germany. Still he never cut his bonds with Germany and Austria completely. In his autobiography “Wandering Scholar” he did not only describe his life between the nations and political systems but also his childhood memories from Frankfurt and Hohenems. At that time he still – together with a few cousins – owned the Brunner House in Hohenems, that for time being, around 1950, served as a Talmud school for orthodox Holocaust survivors from Eastern Europe. But now – on the day an american president starts to execute his war on free trade – lets listen to Moritz Julius Bonn, offering us an insight into the Hohenems he enjoyed as a child around 1880 – and how it informed his world views…

An Atmosphere Hostile to Customs

“The journey to Hohenems was inconvenient. It went via Stuttgart and Ulm to Lake Constance, and at that time took almost a day or an entire night: there were no sleeping cars on that stretch of the line. From Friedrichshafen the train went to Bregenz, where we passed through Austrian customs. In Austria the duty on sugar, coffee and the like was very high at that time. It was customary to smuggle a little sugar, coffee or embroidery in from Switzerland. With the many petticoats worn by the ladies, it was always possible to slip in an extra set without it making you conspicuous. I grew up in an atmosphere hostile to customs and I’ve never been clear in my own mind whether my attitude to free trade derived from this, or from textbooks about traditional national economics. The train journey from Bregenz to Hohenems took another hour. At the station we were greeted by Herr Weil, the porter, with a long, flowing white beard. He had such a kind smile that one of my little cousins once went straight up to him and asked: “Are you dear God?” Then we were packed into a roomy landau pulled by two ponderous white horses, and four weeks of bliss lay ahead of us.

View into the Jewish Quarter about 1920. The Brunner House in the center.

The Brunner house still stands on the main street of the town: before the rise of the Nazis it had been called Marco-Brunner-Straße after my grandfather. It was built in 1770, and looks like a superior townhouse, with three and a half storeys.

The highlight of the house was our playroom. It faced south and west, overlooking the courtyard and the garden. We had to go through the kitchen with its gleaming copper saucepans, and at least twice a week the smell of freshly roasted coffee wafted through. In Austria as it was then nobody talked about coffee beans. All coffee was coffee – with a little fig coffee and half a teaspoon of chicory added for flavor.

The playroom had a strawberry-colored tiled stove, and in its vents we cultivated silkworms. They needed an even temperature, and the greedy little creatures always kept us busy as we had to pick mulberry leaves for them. Grandmother had brought the love of rearing silkworms with her from her home town of Bolzano.
From the south-facing windows we looked out on the Säntis, the Churfirsten and the Drei Schwestern in nearby Switzerland; even on the hottest summer days the mountaintops were covered in snow. Behind the house there was a large square courtyard paved with cobblestones, enclosed on two sides by stables and the woodshed. Facing the street, there was a small front garden adjoining the house; on the west side was the start of a big orchard and vegetable garden, and a passageway covered with vines led to an arbor. Then there were meadows where a garden house with a beautiful garden room stood. That is where I used to put my first literary efforts down on paper.

The Brunner House about 1945.

Grandfather was a small-scale farmer. We kept a few cows that supplied the household with milk; butter and cheese we bought. We had enough hay for the cows and horses. Oats, bran and turnips had to be bought in. In the early spring Grandfather took on a couple of young oxen which were disposed of again in the autumn. In the courtyard, beside the woodshed – we had a little spinney – , the hens cackled and sometimes a few ducks waddled. An itinerant pedlar came regularly with a pack basket and brought us chicks, and every week a fisherman appeared carrying a small container on his back with live trout; we put them into the trough by the fountain, which bubbled day and night. Life was simple, but richly varied. The local shops made a poor impression, and delicacies were unobtainable.

The contrast to my life in Frankfurt could not have been more complete. Grandfather was not sociable and wanted to be left alone with his family. His only regular intercourse was his daily visit to a little café where he went after lunch – we ate at twelve – and played “tarock” (a card game using tarot cards) for an hour with old acquaintances.
The holidays in Vorarlberg strengthened my Austrian inclinations which memories of Frankfurt had aroused.
Grandfather hated the Prussians and particularly Prussian compulsory military service, like every good Austrian. He had spent the greater part of his working life in Switzerland and wanted me to emigrate there to escape the hated military conscription. I often went to St. Gallen, where my Uncle Luzian Brunner had taken over from my grandfather. There from my earliest youth on I had “living democracy” before my eyes. Of course I hated the playing at soldiers aspect of Prussian militarism. But in St. Gallen I learnt that the weapon can be a pledge of freedom, and does not have to be a tool of suppression. It often amused me when my north German friends discussed Austria or Switzerland from the viewpoint of summer holiday-makers. For many of them Swiss hotels and democracy were the same thing. The expertise of the Swiss hotel director of course made a deep impression on them. If ever someone somewhere were to want to set up a perfectly functioning socialist state, they would in fact be well advised to put it under Swiss hotel management.

The Brunner House hosting the Talmud school “Beth Shmuel”. Abt 1948.

The Jewish community in Hohenems had an elementary school which was highly reputed throughout the province. It was so good and so liberal that an administrative objection was required to close its doors to the non-Jewish population. (…) It is in itself a social disadvantage to belong to a small, unpopular religious community. However, the consciousness of being somehow different from most of your contemporaries offers a certain compensation. You are forced to look at nations and times from a broader perspective. It prevents you from letting yourself be swept along by the passion of the crowd that you would like to be part of, yet cannot quite be part of; but it gives you a kind of inner inviolability. You can easily break away from outmoded traditions and do not have to purchase personal freedom through breaking with the society you are born into; you see no obstacles in front of you that you might not have the strength to overcome; you do not hover between heaven and hell, between sin and salvation, and can become free without having to wear a martyr’s crown.”

The Jewish Quarter abt 1950. the Brunner House on the right.


From: Moritz Julius Bonn, So macht man Geschichte, Munich 1953, pp. 26-29. The slightly different English edition was already published four years earlier: Moritz Julius Bonn: Wandering Scholar, London 1949.

Postcript: The rediscovery of Moritz Julius Bonn is on its way. In 2015 the Hamburg Institute for Social Research organised an international conference “Liberal Thinking in the Crisis of the Epoch of World Wars: Moritz Julius Bonn”. We very much hope that the results will be published.


Wisdom of the Hohenems Diaspora: Stefan Zweig

A few lines from Zweig’s Manuscript – that we exhibited in our show “The First Europeans” in 2014 as a loan from the Library of Congress

We are working on a library of descendants. Preparing ourselves for the Reunion in July this year we searched our files for the books of the Hohenems descendants – and we extend our collection. While we do this we look back into waht we found already, and from to time will share this with you. Let’s start with Stefan Zweig and his memoirs The World of Yesterday. Memories of a European, written in his years of Exile, before he committed suicide with his last companion Lotte Altmann in Petropolis, Brazil, in February 1942.
He had begun with this project in 1934, but was working on it seriously in the last years of his life, when he lived in Great Britain and then in New York (using the Library of Congress in Washington as a major source) and finally in Brazil. His remarks about his Hohenems family is full of irony.

This Kind of Nobility

My mother whose maiden name was Brettauer was of a different, international descent. She had been born in Ancona, in southern Italy, and Italian was as much her childhood language as German; always when she was discussing something with my grandmother or her sister that the servants should not understand she switched to Italian. Risotto and artichokes which were still a rarity at the time as well as the other specialties of Mediterranean cooking were familiar to me from my earliest childhood, and whenever I later went to Italy, I immediately felt at home.

But my mother’s family were by no means Italian, rather they were consciously international; early on the Brettauers, who originally owned a banking business, had spread out across the world from Hohenems, a small place on the Swiss border – following the model of the great Jewish banking families, but of course on a much more modest scale. Some went to St. Gallen, others to Vienna and Paris, my grandfather to Italy, one uncle to New York, and these international contacts gave them more polish, a wider outlook, and a certain family arrogance into the bargain. (…)
As a large-scale industrialist my father was certainly respected, but my mother, though very happily married to him, would never have tolerated his relations being put on a par with hers. This pride in coming from a “good” family was ineradicable in all the Brettauers, and when in later years one of them wanted to show me special goodwill, he would say condescendingly, “But you really are a true Brettauer”, as if wanting to say in recognition: “You came down on the right side.”
This kind of nobility which many a Jewish family assumed on its own authority amused me and my brother even as children, and soon annoyed us too. Again and again we got to hear that these people were “refined” and those “unrefined”, enquiries were carried out into every friend to see if he came from a “good” family and checks were made down to the last detail about the origin both of his relations and their fortune. This constant classification which actually formed the main topic of every family and social conversation at that time struck us as extremely ridiculous and snobbish, because when it came down to it, in the case of all Jewish families, they had emerged from the same Jewish ghetto by only a matter of fifty or a hundred years earlier. (…)
It is generally assumed that becoming rich is the real and typical life ambition of a Jewish person. Nothing could be more wrong. For him becoming rich means only an intermediate stage, a means towards the true purpose and in no way the inner goal. (…) Even the wealthiest man will prefer to give his daughter to a desperately poor intellectual than to a merchant. (…) even the poorest pedlar dragging his wares through wind and bad weather will try to let at least one son study, making the most extreme sacrifices, and it is regarded as an honorific title for the whole family to have someone in their midst who is visibly highly regarded in the intellectual field, a professor, a scholar, a musician, as if he ennobled them all through his achievements.

From: Stefan Zweig, Die Welt von gestern. Bermann-Fischer Verlag, Stockholm 1944, pp. 23-25.

Postcard of Stefan Zweig to his aunt Erna Brettauer, from his new home in Salzburg, 1915

The Wanderer – in Jerusalem

The Departure of the Wanderer

„There, where you are not, lies happiness” sings the Wanderer in Schubert’s probably most famous song based on a poem by G.P. Schmidt von Lübeck. The „Wanderer“ was a major motive of the romantic period. Time and again the image of a the restless wayfarer, who remains a stranger wherever he wanders, recurs in Schubert’s œuvre. This alone could have been reason enough to give our program, planned to tour from Hohenems, a town known for hosting the international Schubertiade Festival, to Schubert’s birthplace Vienna and from there to Jerusalem, the title „Die Wanderer“. But there is a lot more to our story of „Die Wanderer“.

Schubert’s friend, the celebrated Hohenems born cantor Salomon Sulzer who was gifted with a legendary baritone voice, performed many of Schubert’s creations. According to Ludwig August Frankl, a writer of the time, Schubert asked Salomon Sulzer to sing his ‘Wanderer’ song and he must have done this so beautifully that Schubert begged him to repeat the piece several times declaring that only now he finally understood his own music and what he felt when he wrote it.
But Salomon Sulzer, the famous chief cantor of Vienna, was not only admired for his vocal performance which attracted people from all over the world to travel to Vienna only to hear him, he also happened to be a highly skilled composer himself. While he is recognized as one of the most important composers and arrangers of synagogal music, his secular compositions are nearly forgotten today. Among his many creations is his „Wandererlied“ which we decided to use as an overture to our concert program.

An Ensemble United in Diversity

Nowadays it is normal in the daily music business, that musicians from different corners of the world work together in one project. The language of music is international, and every single artist working on a professional level will soon find himself in ensembles of different nationalities, languages and cultural backgrounds. This is the world of music and for the future richness of the arts we may all hope that this openness and diversity will remain forever.

Nevertheless, even in today’s boundless music scene, you will find it hard to attend an event including Israeli and Palestinian artists. I do not want to immerse in politics, as this is not the place to discuss the reasons. But the many fears and legal obstacles sadly hinder many Israeli-Palestinian collaborations, even on artistic neutral grounds. The luckier we felt that for this project, starting in Hohenems, it was possible to bring together artists from Canada, Finland, Austria, Germany as well as from Israel and Palestine. A group of former strangers, wandering from now on together to present to its audience the works of Franz Schubert, Salomon Sulzer, Joseph and Julius Sulzer.
Joseph and Julius were sons of Salomon Sulzer, both of them accomplished composers themselves and their pieces felt like such precious, interesting and beautiful discoveries that we could not resist adding them to our program.

Our performances at the Salomon Sulzer Auditorium in Hohenems, the Hamakom Theatre in Vienna and at the Imperial Salon of the Austrian Hospice in the very heart of Jerusalem’s Old City where received by an audience full of curiosity and enthusiasm. We didn’t know how people would react to a program which was so unconventional, if not to say daring, building bridges between classic romantic Viennese and traditional Jewish and Palestinian creations presented by an ensemble reflecting this diversity, being at the same time united by a professional musical approach and the will to give birth to a sparkling musical solitaire.

The many administrative and organizational barriers were finally worth everything when hearing comments like „This was unforgettable“, „what a special evening“, „what a discovery“ and reading reactions of audience members about how moved they were, waiting for more concerts to follow.


Jerusalem was in every respect the big final of our Wanderer tour. The Old City has an ambiance that is difficult to define. A friend of mine once said, this city offers you heaven and hell, more often the latter, but in the end, it is the salt and pepper of life. What would Jerusalem offer to us?

Hiba Awad, Rita Tawil and Jamila Zaatreh

Our ensemble was hosted in the gracious historical setting of the Austrian Hospice situated on the Via Dolorosa, only a few steps from the Dome of the Rock, the Western Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The Austrian Hospice of the Holy Family in Jerusalem opened its doors in 1863 during the Habsburg monarchy as the first national pilgrim’s residence in Jerusalem when pilgrimages to the Holy Land were undertaken by Catholic clergymen and orient travelers imbued with the spirit of Romanticism. We couldn’t have dreamed of a more suitable and atmospheric location for our last concert. At the same time, the Old City brings a certain unpredictability with it.

Lorne Richstone and Shira Karmon

Also we had to ask ourselves, will we be welcomed or will people dislike the fact that our ensemble consists of European, Canadian, Israeli and Palestinian artists? In Europe we are able to look at the Middle Eastern conflict with a certain distance. Our young Palestinian singers had to face a tremendous amount of bureaucratic requests during their visa process and spent hours in security checks at the airport but then, as soon as we all arrived in Hohenems, we had the luxury to focus fully on the music. Here in the center of Jerusalem, the situation is different. People here live the conflict and, especially in the Old City, they are effected by it every single day of their life.

Liina Leijala

Due to experiences with former cultural projects in the region I couldn’t help myself but worry if there might be a prostest or some other problem arising from one side or the other at the last moment. There was in fact one impediment, although not related to the project: The Russian prime minister Dmitri Medwedew visited Jerusalem on the very day of our concert thus the Israeli police decided to block basically all roads that would lead to the Old City. Several of our expected guests got stuck in traffic jams and didn’t make it to the concert. The road blocks weren’t announced, another proof of Jerusalem’s unpredictability.

Rita Tawil, Jamilah Zatreeh, Veronika Dünser and Karl Kronthaler

But once our pianists’ hands were set on the beautiful old Bösendorfer grand piano and our singers raised their voices in the venerable Imperial Salon, all worries and sorrows vanished in the melodies of Franz Schubert, Salomon Sulzer and his sons.
For us it was more than a project. More than a musical concept. And this is why we hope that our story will not end in Jerusalem. Because wherever he is, a true „Wanderer“ will never stop searching for happiness. After this project and all the unforgettable encounters we experienced together in Hohenems, Vienna and Jerusalem I wonder, don’t we all have a bit of a Wanderer in our hearts?
The Wanderer keeps traveling from land to land and – hopefully – so will the spirit of this unique project. So let us end with a quote from Sulzer’s Wanderer-song: „Beat happy my heart, be joyful and free, the world is big and wide!“

Petra Klose

Fragments from the Burgauer story

The early Burgauer mansion on Leonhardstreet 8 in St. Gallen.
The early Burgauer mansion on Leonhardstreet 8 in St. Gallen.

This week was marked by a moving evening event. Even if it wasn’t public at all. We were sitting with Pierre Burgauer and a little group of enthusiastic friends of the Jewish Museum Hohenems in the “Schlössli” in St. Gallen. Built in 1586 by Laurenz Zollikofer, a notable of St. Gallen and grandson of a leader of the Protestant reform in the city, the proud mansion today hosts a cosy restaurant. But we didn’t come for the food (even if the canapés served after our meeting were great. Thanks Pierre!).

The Schloessli in St. Gallen
The Schloessli in St. Gallen

What brought us together was the first session of a newly created foundation that shall support the museum, the initiative of Pierre and his family.

Exactly 140 years ago the Burgauers were the first Jews in St. Gallen who were granted citizenship in 1876. And while we expected serious business, coming together in the “Schlössli” with two well known lawyers and a financial expert, Pierre – with his wonderful humor – welcomed us with a protocol from 1860. On March 15, 1860 to be precise the council of the city of St. Gallen formally accepted the application of merchant Adolf Burgauer from Hohenems, his great-grandfather, to obtain the right to live in a private house and to have a stock of goods there for his trade. The positive decision was spiced with a few cautious remarks: Adolf Burgauer was informed not to host other Jews in his house and to be aware that this concession could be removed at any time and without conditions. A dry beginning of a great story. And a poignant beginning of a great evening. We hope we can report on this foundation soon. Our meeting at least was spiced with humor and heartfelt appreciation.

Adolf Burgauer (1837-1904)
Adolf Burgauer (1837-1904)

For today its time to look back into the Burgauer story. And you can find more about it in the newsletter of the American Friends of the Jewish Museum Hohenems and on the website of the Museum. But first let’s have a closer look on what has driven the Burgauer family history.

The Burgauer family first appeared in Hohenems in 1741, when Judith Burgauer, a young widow of twenty one and mother, grown up in the Burgau region near Augsburg, settled in Hohenems to marry for a second time. Jonathan Maier Uffenheimer from Innsbruck was a wealthy merchant and gave her a chance to begin a new life. And to have many more children. At least one child died young and there might have been more. A common fate at that time. But the others were better off. Their son Abraham married 15 year old Sara Brettauer from Hohenems and moved to Venice. Another daughter, Brendel, married Sara’s brother, Herz Lämle, later the patriarch of the Brettauer family and founder of the first banking business in Vorarlberg. Their daughters, Klara and Rebeka also married into successful families, the Viennese Wertheimstein and the Frankfurt Wetzlar family. Another daughter, Judith, married Nathan Elias, the head of the Hohenems community around 1800. This was a successful marriage policy and rather typical for a Jewish family at the upper end of the social hierarchy of the community. However, most of the Jewish families in that era had a hard time instead finding marriage partners and places for their children to settle and to make a living against all odds.

Of interest is what happened to Benjamin, Judith’s first son from Burgau. The sources as to when he definitely settled in Hohenems as well are scarce. Aron Tänzer mentions the year 1773, so it is possible that he grew up with relatives in the vicinity of Augsburg. In any case, sometime before 1772 already Benjamin Burgauer married Jeanette Moos, the daughter of Maier Moos, who for more then 20 years had served as head and representative of the Hohenems Jewish community. These were critical times; the family of the imperial counts of Hohenems died out and the countship fell back into the control of the Hapsburg Empire. Under difficult circumstances, new letters of protection needed to be settled. The Empress Maria-Theresa was known for her blatant anti-Jewish sentiments.

Even though Benjamin’s father–in-law successfully secured the future of the community and even though the dream of building a proudly visible synagogue took place while he was head of the kehillah, the community still had to survive restrictions and hardships. In the year of Maier Moos’ death, a great fire destroyed both half the Christian’s lane and the Jew’s lane. While the Jews were required to contribute financially to the reconstruction of the Christian quarter, support in the other direction was scarce. And the restrictions on settlement and marriage imposed on the Jewish communities, limiting the continuation of a family in Hohenems to one (and mostly the eldest) son and his offspring, continued until the middle of the 19th century. These restrictions forced the vast majority of children to emigrate, if they wanted to marry and create a family.

Two of Benjamin’s daughters, Esther and Brendel, found husbands in Lengnau in Switzerland. Brendel married Baruch Guggenheim,on e of the many Burgauer-Guggenheim connections that were to come. His son Benjamin Maier stayed in Hohenems, but three of his other children started business in St. Gallen and moved their families to the vibrant hub of textile production. Two other children emigrated in the 1840s and 1850s to the United States of America, particularly to Philadelphia, as did so many other of their fellow Hohenemsers. Family members of subsequent generations continued this migration, even from St. Gallen. And in South America, too, there is a Burgauer line today.

The Burgauer company in St. Gallen at its best.
The Burgauer company in St. Gallen at its best.

Thanks to Stefan Weis’ study „Entirely Unbeknown to His Homeland- The Burgauers. History and Migrations of a Jewish Family from the mid-18th until the mid-20th Century“, written as a diploma thesis in 2013, today we know much more about the origins, migrations, and diversity of the Burgauer family. With a generous grant from the American Friends Jewish Museum Hohenems – made possible by the efforts of the Leland Foundation, supported by Jacqueline Burgauer-Leland and Marc Leland – we were able to produce an English translation of Stefan Weis’ book. Have a look on the chapter on the Burgauers in the Americas in the Newsletter of the American Friends (http://www.jm-hohenems.at/en/about/friends/american-friends) or go for the whole book on our website (http://www.jm-hohenems.at/publikationen/downloads). Enjoy.

Tales of Two Wars. Part 2


You read about the night on the WWI front line? The Dolomites offer more comfortable places to stay too. And stories of another war. Two days after the Biwak of Peace we found ourselves just at the other end of the same “national park”.

The “Hotel Pragser Wildsee”, a Grand Hotel at the shore of a mountain lake that couldn’t be more scenic and impressive, made history only in the last minute of the second war that turned the 20th century into a mess even more profoundly than the first one. Now even some of the brave Austrian  and German soldiers of the first war were only considered as the “other” as such, Jews… Like Robert Rosenthal from the Hohenems family who fought for Austria in the Alps not far from here in 1917 and was taken to Auschwitz to be killed in reward.

Robert Rosenthal, 1917
Robert Rosenthal, 1917

But while the fronts along the peaks of the Dolomites experienced all brutal aspects WWI had to offer, the episode at Pragser Wildsee and the neighboring village Niederdorf that took place in the last days of April 1945 bordered on satire – or melodrama. Subject matter for a film that would provoke criticism about offering an “unbelievable plot” and “trivial kitsch”. The story in short – and with some distortion – one can read on a placque at the little chapel on the shore of the lake: here the Wehrmacht liberated 133 Nazi prisoners from the cruelty of the SS. Okay that’s not the whole story. We come to that.

That’s not the chapel but the boat house.

In the staircase of the Hotel you can sit at a desk with a history. It belonged to Henning von Tresckow, a high ranking German officer who initially supported the Nazis, later joined the resistance – while he still was involved in war crimes of the Wehrmacht in Belorus. Tresckow tried to kill Hitler in 1943 and took part in the plot of 1944, making an end to his life when the coup failed. By that he became one of the heroes of the myth of a “Wehrmacht” that remained “honorable” during the war while only the SS was taken responsible for the Nazi crimes. Its just a few years ago that Rüdiger von Tresckow, his son, handed the desk down to the Hotel. Obviously a good place for myths.

Writing about the Wehrmacht on Henning von Tresckow’s desk

When in the last days of the war high ranks of the SS and the Party were dreaming of the “Alpenfestung”, more then 130 prominent prisoners of the Nazis were still waiting for their “fate” to be determined in Dachau. The Nazis were preparing to retreat into their “alpine fortress” as a last chance to either fight a glorious never ending battle – or to negotiate some better outcome for themselves with the US-Army. For instance offering them to join forces against “the Russians”. The prominent hostages in Dachau seemed to be a valuable stake in this last gambling. So 133 of them were put on busses and taken south, into the Dolomites. In Niederdorf, in the Pustertal, the caravan came to an end. The “Hotel Pragser Wildsee”, the intended final stop, was occupied by a Wehrmacht unit. And the SS run out of petrol, a new destination was not in sight. So the SS troupe and their hostages got stuck. Confusion among the guards increased the tension but also enabled one of the prisoners to sneak out and get to a phone. It was Bogeslaw Adolf Fürchtegott von Bonin, a Wehrmacht officer who fell in disgrace in January 1945.

A great place for myths: the “Pragser Wildsee”

The hostages were a colorful mixture of prominence, politicians like the French president Leon Blum or the last Austrian chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg, activists of German resistance like Martin Niemöller and family members of von Stauffenberg and Goerdeler, foreign notables and German aristocrats, British intelligence agents but also former Nazis whose careers came to a dead end, like Hjalmar Schacht, the former minister of finance, or members of the Wehrmacht who at some point disagreed with Hitler or with other leading Nazis. Among them Franz Halder was probably the highest ranking officer, “Generalstabsschef des deutschen Heeres” (chief general of the German army), the mastermind behind the war against Soviet Russia and some of the criminal orders, paving the way to the war of racist and anti-Semitic destruction. A few weeks later Franz Halder would boast with reminding everybody that he belonged to a group of resistance in the Wehrmacht, that back in 1938 was opposing Hitler’s hurry to go to war, even being ready for a coup, now presentable as anti-Nazi “resistance”.

The Grand Hotel
The Grand Hotel

But in the last days of April 1945 it wasn’t time for that yet. The SS got uneasy and also more and more drunk as they had no idea where to take the prisoners – and the prisoners feared the worst. Von Bonin managed to get a line to the Wehrmacht in Bozen and asked for help. General Röttiger was not amused. He had other problems. Together with SS-Obergruppenführer Karl Wolff, the SS leader in occupied Italy since 1943, he was organizing a separate capitulation in Italy – and how to save their heads in the times coming. A Wehrmacht officer, Wichard von Alvensleben, was sent to Niederdorf to check the situation. And also Karl Wolff, the high ranking SS-leader, now was keen to “help” von Bonin and the SS-hostages. In the end the SS troups had to leave the prisoners to the Wehrmacht and hurried to Bozen. And the 133 prominent hostages enjoyed the end of the war on the lake and waited for the American troops.

A great place for waiting
A great place for waiting

Franz Halder made a good deal. He served the Americans as one of their major consultants when it came to the history of the war. He wasn’t put on trial in Nuremberg and the Americans took care that also his regular “Denazification”-trial ended with acquittal. When the West-Germans prepared themselves for building up a new army – now as American allies – his interpretations of the war became the canon of myths forming the basis of the “tragic” image of the Wehrmacht: being abused by the demonic Adolf Hitler, struck by fate, or fighting a preventive war against the Russians. In any case, having “no choice”.

Karl Wolff, once the SS chief of staff behind Himmler, also made a good a deal – with the US army, starting in March 1945 and finishing the war in Italy already six days before May 8, 1945. But also after the war, when the Americans spared him from prosecution in Nuremberg, because they now didn’t want to disclose the details of their secret negotiations with him. About the crimes of the SS, the murder of Jews and others, he claimed to have learned only in 1945.

A room with a view. Next door Kurt Schuschnigg was waiting for the Americans to come.
A room with a view. Next door Kurt Schuschnigg was waiting for the Americans to come.

He became active for the advertisement department of an illustrated paper and intended to spend the rest of his life next to another lake, in Starnberg in Bavaria. But the last word wasn’t spoken yet. In 1964 he was tried and sentenced in Munich for complicity in murder in more than 300.000 cases, when his active participation in the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto and the deportation and murder of its inhabitants in Treblinka was publicly disclosed.

In 1969 he was released “for health reasons” and enjoyed the last fifteen years of his life, making friends with journalists like Gerd Heidemann from the “Stern” magazine – and with a notorious forger, Konrad Kujau. So the last “project” Karl Wolff was involved in, was the publication of the fake diaries of Adolf Hitler. When he peacefully died, a few weeks after his conversion to Islam, the forged diaries already had become the subject of a major scandal in Germany. But Wolff missed the trial that followed.

A great place for a journey through time
A great place for a journey through time

One of the “special prisoners” of the SS in Dachau was not taken to Pragser Wildsee but killed already two weeks before: Georg Elser, the brave carpenter, who tried to kill Hitler and his entourage in 1939, when it was time still to stop the war. He wasn’t prominent enough to make a deal about with the Americans.

We enjoyed the three days at Pragser Wildsee. We learned a lot.