On Memory, Money and Modern Life

A week ago I visited family in Frankfurt. There is not that much left of it, but apart from family there are still a lot of friends. Some of them, a family who I’ve known for more than 30 years, took me and my wife on a stroll to the latest “must see spots” of the city.

The European Central Bank is located by the riverside at the Frankfurt East End. There are open air cafés and youth sports grounds along the river, signs of the gentrification of an area that was once the heart of Frankfurt’s industry, transportation and storage in grand scale. Skate board enthusiast find refuge there, as does but anybody who wants to chill out, stroll around, or look for expensive housing.

Coming back to my friends, I know both of them from student politics. They became a family on their own, a little before I did the same. And their professional lives went to different direction from mine. Law, public finance, and business. A bit of another world. And still we never lost sight. We’d known each other 10 years when I learned of her family’s Jewish background, more by chance than by intention. It was not a subject to carry along in front of you. But it explained the mutual understanding of one or the other sensitive subject we’d had since we knew each other.

Some 20 years ago, my friend discovered her connection to the family named “Hohenemser,” that settled in Mannheim, founded a bank and partially moved to Frankfurt later. My friend is not a “descendant” herself. In Felix Jaffé’s genealogical universe—the one he introduced me to when I moved to Hohenems 12 years ago—she is something like a “very distant cousin.” When my friend got a huge genealogical collection of family charts from her mother, the frequency of the name “Hohenemser” made an impression on her. They became regular visitors in Hohenems.

This time, though, we were in Frankfurt. They took us on the promenade along the river—that so much informed my own childhood experiences—as well as the Main and its harbor.

The European Central Bank is a masterpiece of a skyscraper, following the deconstructionist design of the Coop Himmelblau architects from Vienna. It’s located right next to the former and truly giant Market Hall. The Frankfurt Market Hall was an icon of modernity in itself, built in 1928 by Martin Elsässer and functioning til 2004, when it became part of the future European Central Bank complex, which finally opened last year.

But there was a time when the Market Hall was not only delivering food— fruits, vegetables and meat to Frankfurts grocery shops—but human cattle for transport to the East. From October 1941 until February 1945, the deportations of Jews from Frankfurt to the camps and Ghettos began here in the market hall, where the deportees had to assemble  in the basement of the building and wait of their transport. A number of “very distant cousins” of the “Hohenemser” and other Hohenems families started their last journey from here. (The Jaffés, Felix’s Frankfurt-based part of his family already had left the town in the 1920s).


Last year—the same year the European Central Bank building opened—there also opened a memorial that reaches from within. Due to ECB security, visitors can only enter with special permits and elevated security standards, but passerby are drawn to the environment of the building and the story with inevitable curiosity. “What is written there?” a little girl asks her father as we walk by. To my disappointment, I was not able to follow their family discussion. I am a curious person, that’s one of my “deformations professionelle”—or the other way round: one of my weak points that put me on the track of museums.

I took a few photos of the outside portion of the memorial and the awesome scenery around it that puts everybody in a time machine between modernity, catastrophe and post-modernity with all its playfulness and contradictions. And then we went to a little boat house in a once proletarian swim club between the bushes (literally) and forgot about modern life.


One of the few German words I knew when I arrived in Hohenems was “danke,” which means thank you. It’s an important word, and one I used frequently. But, as I reflect on my time and prepare to leave Hohenems tomorrow, I also feel like it’s a word that I haven’t used enough.

Any list of the things and people that I ought to give thanks to will be incomplete, and I’m skeptical of my own ability to capture my gratitude in words. Still, I’m aiming for some semblance of closure and I would rather say “thank you” than “goodbye,” so here is a partial list:

Thank you to the entire Jewish Museum staff for welcoming me into their workplace. Thank you for the morning cups of tea, for making do with my language skills, and most importantly for giving me the opportunity to work and learn in a wonderful environment. Thank you especially to Hanno and Anika, for overseeing my work and finding tasks that fit my interests and abilities.

Thank you to each of my lovely host families for not only giving me a place to live, but treating me—a complete stranger—as one of their own. And thank you to their friends and extended families for welcoming me to their birthday parties and baptisms, their backyards and homes. It means a lot to be included.

Thank you to each of my host siblings for sharing their friends with me and giving me “people my own age” to hang out with. Thank you to my (exactly one year younger) host sister for also graciously sharing her birthday. Thank you to her brother who took me hiking that day (even if we sort of went the wrong way) and their mother who convinced me to go swimming (it was worth it) and made sure I had a gluten-free birthday cake.

Thank you to my younger host brother for the games of backyard football, the spray-on tattoos, and for teaching me how to count past ten. And thank you to his father, whose constant sense of humor never failed to make me laugh internally.

Thank you to my first host sister, who was my first point of contact in Hohenems beforehand, who told me not to be too scared about coming here and helped me meet people once I did arrive. Thank you to her friends for frequently switching into English on my behalf, and her father, who helped me find places to hike despite my terrible sense of direction.

Thank you to my first host mother, who valiantly attempted to teach me German and stayed up until an ungodly hour in case I needed a ride home the first time I went out on a Saturday night. Thank you to her son, who graciously tolerated my temporary occupation of his space and picked me up at the train station at another egregious hour after I’d gotten confused and missed my earlier train to Hohenems. And thank you to the several of his friends who gave me rides home on other very late nights.

Thank you to everyone who served as a translator for me, planned or impromptu, in the museum, a backyard, a nightclub or an ice cream shop—I would have been even more confused without you. Thank you to everyone who did talk with me in English (or Spanish) at various venues—I know that I’m the foreigner who didn’t learn your language, and I’m grateful you included me anyways. And thank you to everyone who invited me places, who met me and decided to offer food and wine and conversation, rather than saying “who is this girl and why can’t she talk?”

Thank you to the people with whom I didn’t share a language, but who nonetheless smiled, welcomed me, and treated me with respect. And thank you to all the young children who accepted my wild hand gestures and silly facial expressions as valid forms of communication.

Thank you to the various fellow foreigners I met, some of whom jarred me with their American accents, others who wowed me with their language abilities, and all of whom reminded me how complex and interconnected our world is. And thank you to the fellow Hohenems descendants and friends of the museum who visited or contacted me, from near or far—it was a pleasure to meet each one of you and I hope we stay in touch.

Thank you to each of the people who let me sleep on their spare mattresses and showed me around some pretty awesome European cities. And thank you to the Hohenems pharmacist, the Turkish vendor in Vienna, and the countless other strangers who will probably not be reading this blog, but who greatly helped me in one way or another.

Thank you to the American Friends of the Jewish Museum Hohenems for sponsoring my internship.

Danke, dass Sie sich Zeit genommen haben. Danke für Ihre Hilfe. Danke für Ihr Verständnis. Bis später.

(Still) Under Construction

When I arrived in Hohenems in early June, the museum’s street was under construction. Now, the area directly in front of the museum has been paved and the construction has moved a bit further down to the area in front of the Salomon Sulzer Saal.

Like many things I’ve experienced during my two months in Hohenems, construction is a process. At times it can be noisy and difficult, but the end result is usually something better.

With my own time in Hohenems coming to an end, there are a lot of things that I’ve worked on constructing. Some of them are complete; some will probably be left unfinished; some will hopefully be finished by others in the future.

-My German skills are still dismal, and as I’ve realized that most people speak English, I’m even quicker to revert to my native language than I was when I arrived here. Perhaps I’ll speak better next summer…

-I did get used to my German keyboard, however, which means my hands get a bit confused when I switch back to my English laptop and the “z” is no longer in the middle.

-Plans for the 2017 Hohenems reunion are continuing. Though I’m leaving Hohenems, I’ll continue to stay in touch with the planning process as a member of the Descendants Committee.

-This blog will also continue in some form, although updates might not be as frequent. Keep checking back (or subscribe to email notifications) to hear from me, the museum, Hohenems Desecendants, future museum interns, and other cool people.

-I’ve met some wonderful people during my stay here, and I’ve heard from many more who I hope to meet some day. I plan to return to Hohenems for the reunion next summer. If you’re attending the reunion (or coincidentally will be in Hohenems during that time), please say hi! If you can’t wait until next summer, send me an email and we’ll find a way.

Gefällt es Ihnen hier?

“Do you like it here?”¹ It’s a question I’ve been asked a lot over the last few weeks.

The short answer is yes, I like it here. I like the museum. The work I do is interesting. The staff is wonderful. I like Hohenems. It isn’t the busiest, but I’ve had no trouble finding things to do—in town, across Vorarlberg, and when I’ve been lucky enough to travel around Austria and Germany. I like the people here. I’ve felt incredibly welcome basically everywhere I’ve gone, and I’m grateful to everyone who has tolerated my lack of German language abilities.

Something else that I’ve been asked a lot is why I don’t speak German. After all, I’m here because of my Austrian heritage, which inspires more questions: “Does your mom speak German?” “Your grandmother?” “Did she ever teach you any?”² I always tell people that I wish I spoke German—there are many aspects of my stay here that would have been much easier, and knowing multiple languages is cool.

That said, my Austrian heritage isn’t exactly an inspiration for me to learn German. My relatives didn’t leave Austria because they wanted to, and I have family members who were killed during the Holocaust, when the Austrian government was largely complicit with the goals of Nazi Germany.

Growing up in America—the proverbial nation of immigrants—I know many people who are very proud of their family origins. My father’s father, for example, used to attend Scottish festivals every year. I have friends who still speak the language of their parents or grandparents, or who recognize the holidays of another culture or nation. For me, it’s hard to be proud of Austria when I’m also aware of how my family’s time here ended; I don’t think I’ll ever be able to celebrate my national heritage in the way that some people do.³

This image, as well as the one at the top of this post, are quotes written on the outside of the Jewish Museum in Munich. Both are relevant to me as I've grappled with my stay in Austria.
This image, as well as the one at the top of this post, are quotes written on the outside of the Jewish Museum in Munich. Both are relevant to me as I’ve grappled with my stay in Austria.

That said, the Austria of my heritage isn’t the Austria of today. I wrote last week that I don’t actually spend a lot of time thinking about my family’s persecution; I likewise don’t dwell on Austria as my ancestral homeland. It’s a past that I am aware of, and that I remember. But it’s not a key part of my identity.

At the same time, my adventures in Hohenems this summer have also created an Austria that is firmly part of my present. I’ve enjoyed the last eight weeks. I don’t want to forget the people I’ve met here, the places I’ve visited, or the lessons I’ve learned. And (setting aside my lack of German abilities), nationality and religion have been completely irrelevant to my experiences. Yes, I like Austria. Not because my family is from here, but because today it’s a lovely place.

It’s a long answer to a simple question. But as I prepare to leave Hohenems later this week, I’m certain about how I feel. Es gefällt mir sehr gut—I like it very much.

¹ “Gefällt es Ihnen hier?” is German  for “Do you like it here?” Thus, the title of this post.

² Please don’t read this like I’m complaining—I like it when people ask me questions! My presence here certainly invites plenty and I enjoy talking about myself, so keep asking.

³ I’m far from the only person grappling with this issue. Since 1949, Germany has offered citizenship to German Jews and their descendants. Here is a recent article on some American Jews considering German naturalization.

Memory and Beer in Munich

I spent the last few days in Munich, the sprawling city in the southern German region of Bavaria where adventurous surfers navigate a single wave in the Eisbach river and people drink beer by the liter.

Munich is also home to a Jewish Museum, which opened in its current form in 2007. I’m slightly biased, but I think Jewish museums are really cool. Visiting the one in Munich also gave me the opportunity to think about the complicated process of telling Jewish history.

The Jewish museums in both Munich and Hohenems teach about Jewish history in a manner that addresses the Holocaust without making it the sole focus. Hohenems largely examines the contributions of Jews in Vorarlberg prior to 1938, while the museum in Munich provides a lengthy look at the city’s Jewish history after 1945: the rebuilding of a community, the contributions of displaced persons, and the generational divides between those who remember the Holocaust and the people (like me) for whom it really is just a chapter in the history books.

These differences are summarized beautifully in a comic strip by American Jewish cartoonist Jordan B. Gorfinkel, which is displayed in the museum’s permanent exhibition. (It’s also online here, so assuming you aren’t currently in Munich and running to visit the Jewish Museum right now, take a moment to read it before you continue with this blog post).

In classic Munich fashion, the two floors that make up the museum’s special exhibition are currently devoted to documenting Jewish contributions to beer.¹ Exhibitions like this one matter not only because beer is culturally important in the region, or because old beer advertisements are funny. They serve as a reminder of the breadth of Jewish history and the range of Jewish identities. Sure, some Jews are debating the role and future of Israel, but others are trying to figure out whether beer is kosher. (And plenty of people are doing both).

To reduce Jewish history to only the Holocaust means missing out on some (supposedly) good beer. But telling Jewish history through only the lens of the Holocaust isn’t just neglectful, it’s dangerous.

In America, talk of the Holocaust is often accompanied by the phrase “Never Forget.” On the surface, this isn’t a problem—the Holocaust is something that we should absolutely always remember. At the same time, treating the Holocaust as the focal point for all studies of Jewish history runs a risk of also treating it like an isolated incident.

There is also a problem with treating the Holocaust like a piece of completed history. As someone who grew up vaguely Jewish in America, I don’t have to think about my family’s persecution on a daily basis. But as the Jewish Museum Munich highlighted, the trauma of those years remains a reality that some people have to confront every day.

The lesson, therefore, that I took away from Munich is that my perspective on this history is also incomplete. Although my ancestors were persecuted in Austria, I feel safe and welcome here.

“Never Forget” is too easy, too simple. Anyone can acknowledge that the past happened. Understanding the consequences and what they mean going forward requires much more introspection.

I definitely have some thinking to do.

¹ I have been blogging about beer a lot more than I thought I would this summer.

Searching for People

Fellow Hohenems descendant (and my "cousin") Juergen and I. We met for the first time this summer.
Fellow Hohenems descendant (my “cousin”) Juergen and I. We met for the first time this summer.

The Jewish Museum Hohenems has been always been committed to maintaining a relationship with the descendants of Hohenems Jews. This constant engagement is one of the reasons that it was possible for me to visit and work here this summer.

Of course, engaging with descendants requires knowing who they are and where they live now. The museum keeps a database of the relatives and descendants of Hohenems Jews dating back to the 17th century.¹ However, the museum’s research is incomplete—over the last several centuries, people have moved and married, crossed borders and had children. It’s impossible to track all these changes, and the database (despite including over 27,000 people) is riddled with dead ends and stories lost to the depths of time.

One of my tasks this summer has been investigating these dead ends and seeing what lies behind them. I sort through birth, death, marriage, and immigration records, trying to discover where descendants might have moved and where their families might be today. I read a lot of old digitized newspaper clippings and even more obituaries.

At times, the work can be difficult. Some people have really common names; some people changed their names when they migrated or married; some cultures follow different naming customs; some countries have strict privacy laws; a lot of records are in languages I don’t know.²

Many of the dead ends in the database are not attributed to poor record-keeping but to persecution. I’ve stumbled across a fair number of my distant cousins who died in Theresienstadt or Auschwitz.

At the same time, there is also a lot of beauty in the scattered history of Hohenems descendants. I’ve encountered crazy news of carjackings,³ miraculous tales of escape, love stories, adoption stories, and narratives of migration and persecution that still feel relevant today.

There’s a greater purpose to this research. When the museum “discovers” new descendants, we try to contact them. If they’re interested, they can visit the museum and learn more, attend a reunion, or get in touch with other distant family members. Some descendants now live in faraway places like Australia or Chile, the United States or Israel, while others are still in Austria—a man I met during my time here was born in Bregenz and now lives in Hohenems but didn’t know he was a descendant of Hohenems Jews until quite recently. Obviously, not everyone is interested in learning about Hohenems or their family history, but the museum wants to be a resource for people if they decide they want to discover more.

For anyone interested in searching through these records themselves, a public version of the museum’s database is available online (in both English and German) at http://www.hohenemsgenealogie.at/. Information about living people is omitted from the public version for privacy reasons.

¹ With the database, I can trace my own family history to Urban Veit Rosenthal, born in Hohenems in 1765.

² I prefer to read records in English or Spanish, so most of my research has been of descendants living in the UK, the US, or Latin America.

³ Don’t worry, everyone made it out OK.


This week is a busy (but exciting) one. The museum is hosting the European Summer University for Jewish Studies,¹ an event that brings together students and lecturers from across Europe and the world for a week of lessons and seminars. The theme this summer is “Jüdische Heimstädte. Jerusalem und andere Jerusalems”—a discussion of Jerusalem, based not only in the city’s role as a Jewish homeland, but on other notions of the city across spatial and temporal differences. The summer university is a cooperative effort between the Jewish Museum Hohenems and universities in Bamberg, Basel, Munich, Salzburg, Vienna and Zürich.

Most of the lectures are in German (I attended the only English one this morning). Yet the university attracts geographically diverse participants—while most have some affiliation with one of the sponsoring universities, some also originate from places as varied as the United States and Israel, Australia and Switzerland, and speak Yiddish, Hebrew, or other languages in addition to English and German. The university also attracts some of the top minds in the relatively small world that is German-speaking Jewish studies academia.²

Many participants are returners, some even for a third or fourth time. The university therefore gives them an opportunity to reunite with old friends and colleagues, while also encountering new perspectives.

After uncertain weather for most of the summer, it’s also been a beautiful week in Hohenems. For those interested in Jewish history and Jewish studies, there is no better place to be.

¹ In German, it’s the Europäische Sommeruniversität für Jüdische Studien, which is often shortened to Sommeruni.

² For anyone familiar with the academic circles of Jewish studies, a listing of lectures is available here.

London Calling #2

A Dannhauser born in Lyon, who has already lived in Göteborg. A Brunner born in Vienna and saved from the Nazis through a Kindertransport to Great Britain. A descendant of Rabbi Kafka who was born in Benghazi in Libya, a Brunner descendant who was born in Milan and grew up in Malaga in Spain, a British born Bernheimer descendant who only recently learned about her Hohenems connection. A violonist, a Catholic priest, an archivist of the British Library, a French language teacher, an artist, and a Rosenthal who is a curator at the London Jewish Museum and the only one at the table who was NOT a Hohenems descendant or spouse—that was the crowd meeting in the nice Market Restaurant on Parkway in Camden last Thursday.

Meeting “Hohenemsers“ at the Market Restaurant in Camden.

On the occasion of the London presentation of our exhibition “Jukebox. Jewkbox! A Century on Shellac and Vinyl!” we organized a little London pre-reunion of Hohenems descendants. After a tour through the exhibition, we enjoyed spending time together and I had the chance to give an update on the museum’s development and the preparations for the big event next year—when we expect descendants from all over the world for the third Hohenems Reunion, celebrating 400 years of Jewish presence in Hohenems and the Hohenems Diaspora.

For some, meeting in London was an opportunity to reunite with more or less distant cousins having already seen in Hohenems and to exchange updates on family events, careers and life. For others, it was a first encounter with each other and with the Hohenems background of their families.

It was also definitely an encounter with a dimension of 20th century popular culture that was unknown to most before our exhibition. Telling the history of the global music business and of pop music that connected the world with the invention of the gramophone and the record was a thrilling experience. It’s all about “identity” in the making. And as is common with this quest for identity, you end up with something round and nice, like a record of shellac or vinyl: with a long spiral trajectory and nothing but a hole in the middle—a blind spot, something that you must leave open as a question.

Hohenemsers meeting in record heaven.
Hohenemsers meeting in record heaven.

But there is one thing we do know—and it’s a funny story itself. In some way, the history of pop music starts in Hohenems. How could this be?

In 1826, a young cantor from Hohenems, Salomon Sulzer, was invited to become chief cantor of Vienna. Soon he became a star in this world capital of music of the time. He was the first Jewish musician that non-Jews listened to in great numbers. He ranked among the greatest composers of the time, along with Schubert and Liszt. He was among the first who set Jewish prayers in written, notated music that could be sung by professional choirs. His composition had a strong impact on his contemporaries. He composed and performed secular music with lyrics from Goethe to revolutionary songs. He was adored like a star by Jews and non-Jews alike. And he became the role model for many Jewish musicians who crossed the border between the synagogue and later Broadway and Tin Pan Alley, where Jewish musicians (especially the sons of cantors) became prominent and successful performers, composers and producers of popular music, shows and musicals after Sulzer’s time. They formed a line ending (preliminary) with punk bands like The Clash and singers like Amy Winehouse.

The story, therefore, of how pop music started is a strange bit of chance, and it might even be pure legend. When Salomon Sulzer was a child, he fell into the Ems creek but was saved. His parents swore an oath that he would serve his community by becoming a singer in the synagogue. We’ll say “se non e vero e ben trovato”—even if if it is not true, it is a good story to tell.

Getting together with a crowd from Hohenems in “Jukebox. Jewkbox!” in London—specifically in Camden town, the birth place of British pop, just a few blocks down from Camden Market where the Clash once rehearsed and where today a small monument commemorates Amy Winehouse—is a particularly nice spiral movement toward the riddle in the middle. I greatly enjoyed that.

London Calling

In the middle of weird times in London, it is still a joy to be in the city. At least there is no “Brexit” for Jewish Museums. Our London colleagues invited our exhibit “Jukebox. Jewkbox! A Century on Shellac and Vinyl,” which opened yesterday at the beautiful Jewish Museum on Albert Street in Camden.

Alan Dein (left, London based collector, and historian, who contributed to the project so much from the first minute), together with David Leigh, a descendant of the Levy’s family, whose record shop introduced black Jazz music in Great Britain.
Alan Dein (left, London based collector, and historian, who contributed to the project so much from the first minute), together with David Leigh, a descendant of the Levy’s family, whose record shop introduced black Jazz music in Great Britain.

The opening (which they called a “private view”) attracted hundreds of joyful guests. We didn’t exactly get privacy, but we did have many nice encounters, chats, and discussions. The crowd seemed like they could have stayed at the show forever, listening to the music samples and the intimate, poignant and thought-provoking stories told by some forty “witnesses” of the history of 20th-century global popular music from all over the world.

Abigail Morris (center left), director of the Jewish Museum London, obviously having fun.

These witnesses all came together digitally on the counter in the middle of our global record shop of “Jewish music.” (The eldest, a man from Warsaw who is now turning 101 years-old, told about his childhood memories of Jewish popular musicians and cantors in interwar Poland. The youngest spoke about her experiences with punk music and hip hop). Visitors explored the 20th century through the contributions of Jewish inventors, musicians, composers and business people to what became the first global culture: the gramophones and the records.

Joanne Rosenthal (curator of the Jewish Museum London, on the right) with Antony Lerman (left) and his wife Kathy.

Since the museum had asked me to say a few words at the opening, I took the liberty to question some of the myths about “Jewish music.” The history of popular music was definitely influenced by the rebellion of Jewish cantors and their children, Yiddish theatre stars and comedians against their traditions and the expectations of their peers—much more than by any continuity of Jewish culture. But maybe this rebellion against tradition, this ongoing struggle for reinvention is also continuity?

Jennifer Jankel from the Jewish Music Institute, daughter of British dance music legend Joe Loss, in front of records of her father
Jennifer Jankel from the Jewish Music Institute, daughter of British dance music legend Joe Loss, in front of records of her father.

Regardless, our show was a perfect stage for the crowd in the Jewish Museum London to bustle around, to share their own memories of moments where listening to a record could change their lives or perhaps the world, and to discuss the future of their country.

Guests discussing memories of pop culture or the future of their country.
Guests discussing memories of pop culture or the future of their country.

The same day our exhibit opened, the British got a new Prime Minister, jumping out of the box, who is able to say “Brexit means Brexit,” without having any idea what “Brexit” could mean. But maybe that is the secret of this tautology. “Brexit means Brexit means Brexit”—which is: it means nothing but a mess, without making sense to anybody. Be sure. We will get more of this in the future.

Alte Zeiten Museum

A seven-minute walk from the Jewish Museum, there is another old house that has been converted into a museum and tells stories about regional history. The Alte Zeiten Museum¹ explores Hohenems’ very early past—the building itself dates back to 1602.

While the house may be old, the museum is very new. The concept originated in 2012, when the building was actually set for demolition. A group of concerned citizens—searching for a way to preserve it—eventually settled on the idea of converting it into a museum. With the help of government and private funding, they restored the building and created inside it an exhibition on the early history of Hohenems.

The restoration of the old house sought to maintain its original character as much as possible. While the museum does have modern electric lighting, the ceilings remain very low.² The floor is composed of slightly uneven boards and a preserved flowery wallpaper is still visible in some places.

This wallpaper, from the old house, still is visible on the museum's walls.
This wallpaper, from the old house, still is visible on the museum’s walls.

The museum’s exhibits tell of early life in Hohenems. Living, of course, wasn’t the same for everyone—the museum highlights the relationships between the count, the aristocracy, and the commoners who made up the majority of the population but mostly lived in poverty and had few legal rights.³ Another room details the ignominious history of witch hunts in the region: during the 17th century, some Hohenems residents were accused of—and ultimately executed for—practicing witchcraft. The museum also examines historical events like the Black Death and the Thirty Years War, as well as aspects of everyday life like craftsmanship and weaving.

Across the street from the museum sits another old house. Although it appears run-down today, it was one a brilliant mansion. Built in 1637, it may have once belonged to the mayor of Hohenems, although this claim isn’t verified.

This house, built in 1637, may have once belonged to the mayor of Hohenems.
This house, built in 1637, may have once belonged to the mayor of Hohenems.

Sägerstraße—the street which today hosts both the museum and the old mansion—was once the main part of Hohenems, but is now nestled in the hills slightly above the center of town.

The building that houses the Alte Zeiten museum, and the constructions that once surrounded it, actually pre-date the foundation of a Jewish community in Hohenems. (The count issued his Letter of Protection for Jewish families in 1617). Although the Jewish quarter and the Sägerstraße are not geographically far apart, there is enough distance to imagine the two communities operating as separate, at least for a time.

Of course, Hohenems has grown substantially since the 17th century. Today, the town not only stretches from the Sägerstraße to the Jewish quarter, but extends outward in all directions. Perhaps because of such growth, it’s important to remember (and learn about) the the old times.

¹ “Alte Zeiten” is German for old times.

² Tall people will struggle a little bit.

³ Legal and economic inequality based on predestined social determinations existed both alongside and in the absence of inequality based on religion.