You are invited to follow the traces of Jewish life in Breisach, which dates back to the 14th century. The Blue House itself is very much a part of this story: It served as a Jewish religious school, a Jewish community house and a home for the cantors serving their community. The history of the association shows how we managed to save the Blue House, and is evidence of the great importance that our founders and current members place on the Jewish-Christian history of Breisach and the Upper Rhine.
1691 – 1829
Before 1691 one could erect buildings in the moat of the 14th century town wall, in the middle of the Jewish quarter at the foot of Muensterberg (the rock with the cathedral). A small, two-storied house was built, the foundation of which can be seen in the cellar of the Blue House.
1829 – 1876
The Jewish community acquired the house in order to establish a school; for a time it was used as an infirmary for the Jewish poor.
1876 – 1933
After 1876 the house was used for various purposes. From 1893 to 1898 parts of the garrison stationed in Breisach were accommodated here. Thereafter it was used as a community center; the cantors and their families lived here after the district rabbinate had been moved to Freiburg.
1933 – 1945
After January 30, 1933, when the National Socialists under Adolf Hitler had come to power and established a dictatorship, the persecution of the Jewish community of Breisach began, too.
1945 – 2000
The forced sale of the house to the Gugel company in Freiburg, which had installed a workshop for military products, was rescinded under the French military government by occupation law in 1953.
After the house had been returned in 1955 to the “Oberrat der Israeliten in Baden”, the institution sold it to Selma Ziehler, the only Jew of Breisach who had escaped the deportation and had survived with her family. The association for the support of the Blue House purchased the building in July 2000 from one of her grandsons.
2002 – 2003
The house was carefully restored, mainly by the company Domiziel, Neustadt, with the support of the Conservation Office. In April 2002, the lecture room on the ground floor was reopened.
2003 – 2018
Since 2003 we have received several hundred visitors each year, meanwhile more than 2000. Apart from paying off our debts, we are gradually building up a place for remembrance and encounters.
The Association joined the network “Alemannia Judaica” and invited members to the annual meeting in Breisach. This network of archivists, historians and initiators of places of remembrance met yearly with the goal of preserving the heritage of German-speaking Jewish communities in Vorarlberg (Austria), northern Switzerland, Alsace and southwestern Germany.
In New York, “Friends of the Blue House” planned their support of the work that had so far been done in Breisach. Jonathan Hollander and Aviva Geismar, two choreographers, discovered their different connection with Breisach, and after two years of preparation brought to Freiburg and Breisach their “Dances for the Blue House.”
The annual meeting was organized by the Blue House together with the mayor of Mackenheim and the Society for the History of Jews in Alsace and Lorraine (SHIAL), and took place in Breisach and Mackenheim.
Research uncovered the names and biographies of Breisachers who were victims of the systematic murder of patients with mental and physical disabilities starting in 1940. For the first time, Jewish and non-Jewish victims were named and remembered.
For 50 years now, Aktion Sühnezeichen Friedensdienste has held summer camps. This time, Günter Boll and Gerhard Dümchen returned to supervise the young participants. Their focus was on the cemetery in Mackenheim and initial research into the old cemetery behind synagogue square in Breisach. Dr. Gil Hüttenmeister taught and advised the group.
High school students from Breisach’s Hugo-Höfler Realschule prepared a program for International Holocaust Remembrance Day, January 27, marking the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. The students wanted to share what they had learned with their classmates and with the public.
Many children and youth were now spending time the Blue House, painting, researching, drawing and thinking.
On July 24, the Blue House hosted the president of the state parliament, Ms Muhterem Aras, and her staff, as well as Ms Sybille Thelen, head of the memorial department of the State Center for Political Education Baden-Württemberg in Stuttgart.
The Blue House opened a permanent exhibition in the former living quarters of the Eisemann family and in the community room on the second floor. Texts, audio stations and exhibits in both spaces have transported visitors back to 1931.
The Blue House project “Seeking Traces: Breisach-Gurs-Auschwitz” received three years of funding from the Federal Republic of Germany as part of the “Youth Remembers” program.
The research project focused on the fates of Breisach Jews who were deported to southern France in October 1940.
Due to the Corona-virus pandemic, the Blue House postponed for one year its study trip to Poland as part of the federal project “Youth Remembers.” Finally, 12 participants, including an infant, arrived in Breisach’s sister city – Oświęcim – after several months of preparation. They recorded impressions and experiences in a diary.
The Blue House supplemented a traveling exhibition from the memorial and educational site House of the Wannsee Conference in Berlin with ten panels on local and regional history, permanently installing it in the garden.
After the pandemic restrictions were loosened, it became obvious that there was a lively public interest in all the exhibitions in the Blue House, in its garden, in the former Jewish quarter and in the city center.
The Documentation Center of National Socialism of the Municipal Museums of Freiburg joined with the Blue House to present a series of events on the theme of the exhibition “Gurs 1940.”
After several years of contentious discussions about the renaming of Rheintorstaße, so dubbed by the Nazis, the Breisach town council reached conclusions about “How the Jewish history of Breisach could be made visible.”
Ralph Eisemann wanted to show his three granddaughters the place where he had grown up, where the family had put down roots. They were able to visit his childhood home, the former Jewish community house.
The Association sponsored a series of educational events on Jewish history and current Jewish life, with support from sympathetic hosts: the Goldammer Gallery, the Museum of City History and the Martin Bucer Parish, the Protestant congregation.
Willi Sutter and his company “Domiziel” took on the restoration of the house. The Agency for Preservation of Historical Monuments promised financial support; the district and the city of Breisach and many donors participated. It took a long time to complete.
In June, the renovated house was dedicated and given the name “Blue House.” During the inaugural week, guests from many countries came into conversation with students.
The Blue House hosted a trilingual international conference on the first Jewish families of Breisach, going back to the 17th century with the example of the Geismar family. Among those participating were Holocaust survivors and many descendants of Breisach Jews.
In May, the Blue House exhibited photos of Breisach in its postwar state of destruction. Gerald Schwab (1925–2014) had visited his parents’ hometown in 1945 and 1946. He was one of several U.S. soldiers originating in Breisach who had fought to liberate Europe from the Nazis.
The Zivi/Zivy family from Müllheim held a reunion in Breisach.
High school students from the Martin-Schongauer-Gymnasium worked for several weeks on a variety of topics to mark the 70th anniversary of the anti-Jewish pogroms in November 1938. Their work was presented in the 1st Blue Booklet, entitled “The Synagogue is Burning.“
The 70th anniversary of the deportation of the Jews of Baden prompted an invitation to Jewish guests to commemorate their families and remember the destruction of the community: “300 years of the Jewish Community in Breisach.”
Hans Krása’s opera for children – “Brundibar” – came to Breisach. It had been performed in the Theresienstadt concentration camp. Members of the children’s choir of St. Stephan’s Minster parish and the choir of the Hugo-Höfler-Realschule high school had the opportunity to hear from Holocaust survivor Inge Auerbacher (born 1934 in Kippenheim), who had survived deportation to Theresienstadt as a child.
A “Year of Remembrance” was launched together with “Für die Zukunft lernen” (Learn for the Future: Association for the Preservation of the Children’s Barracks at Auschwitz-Birkenau e.V.” and “Freundeskreis Oświęcim e.V.” (friendship circle, Breisach-Auschwitz). The high point was the Battery Dance Company New York’s unveiling of a Sculpture for the Blue House by artist Heike Endemann.
Together, the city of Breisach and the Association for the Blue House designed the square where Heike Endemann’s wooden sculpture is installed. It was inaugurated in June and given the name Michael Eisemann Square. A cantor and teacher, Eisemann had lived with his family in the community center.
Finally, the Blue House Association was able to pay off its mountain of debt with the support of many donors.
Until 2015, the Blue House depended almost exclusively on volunteers. Generous funding from the state of Baden-Württemberg now made it possible to hire staff on a mini-job basis. At last, professional archiving, inventorying and digitization could get underway.
The 2nd Blue Booklet was dedicated to Günter Boll and was published by modo Verlag Freiburg. It was presented at the Museum of City History in Breisach am Rhein, in an exhibition about the life and work of Günter Boll. He had, for example, rescued the Genizah (repository for damaged sacred Jewish texts or objects) of Mackenheim in 1981.
Since its founding in 1999, the Förderverein has been searching for the victims of National Socialist violence against the Jews of Breisach and enjoyed the support of Jewish families all over the world.
HISTORY OF THE JEWS IN BREISACH
Three times within 700 years Jews lived, suffered and prayed in Breisach.
Before 1301 – 1349
Before 1301 – 1349
Only merchants/traders were allowed to settle on the Breisach rock according to a contract between Heinrich, bishop of Basel, and King Henry V.
“Smariant the Jew of Breisach our citizen” and his sons, his neighbor Salman of Berne, Viveli, Löwe and Gutele: not separated from their Christian neighbors, Jewish traders enjoyed this privilege for 30 years and lived on the mons brisiacus before the violent end of their community.
1376 – 1424
On February 1, 1376 Abbot Ludwig and the convent of the monastery of Pairis sold the house “Zum Löwen”, situated on the mountain, on the eastern side of the present Radbrunnen, next to the “vicus leonis” to the “wise and modest Jew” Vivilkind for 125 gold guilders.
1638 – 1940
Marx Schnatticher, Nathan Ulmo and the progenitors of the Breisach families Günzburger, Geismar and Wormser, were the first Jews who settled in Breisach after duke Bernhard of Saxony-Weimar – who received soldier’s pay from France – had conquered the Hapsburg fortification of Breisach in December 1638. The town had been ceded to France and was returned to Austria only in 1700.