DESTROYED JEWISH COMMUNITY: Zelem / Deutschkreutz
The Hebrew name ‘Zelem’ (image) was probably used to avoid the term “kreu(t)z” (cross) in the village’s name Deutschkreutz.
There is evidence of Jews living in Deutschkreutz long before 1671; however, the foundation of the Jewish community is a consequence of the permission for return, after Emperor Leopold I ordered the expulsion of Austrian and Hungarian Jews. Many Jews settled down “around September 14th 1671, soon after the Jews were allowed to settle again in the Hungarian Kingdom.” (Prickler and Spitzer)
Until then, Deutschkreutz had belonged to the Hungarian aristocratic Nádasdy family whose belongings were pledged to Count Nikolaus Esterházy and in 1676 eventually sold to Count Paul Esterházy. Since then Deutschkreutz had been under the rule of the Esterházys.
In 1720 Michael Esterházy issued a letter of protection for the Jews of Deutschkreutz. In this document, the restrictive orders and prohibitions were considerably milder, compared to those Paul Esterházy had issued towards the Jews of Eisenstadt, Mattersdorf and Kittsee. The administration of the estates was obligated to a “favorable fulfillment of the articles concerning the letter of protection towards the Jews” (Spitzer), which made an important distinction between this letter and the letters of other communities. The Jewish community received not only absolute religious autonomy but also political autonomy. In the letter of protection from 1813 the Jewish community was ordered not to admit new immigrants without informing the main administration. “To provide a more efficient control every members of the community had to have a personal letter of protection….” (Spitzer)
During the 18th century and the first half of the 19th century, the Jewish community of Deutschkreutz evolved into one of the largest Jewish communities of the Burgenland. In 1735, 222 Jews had lived in the village and in 1857 the ultimate peak was achieved when 1200 Jews accounted for 38% of the total population of Deutschkreutz. In 1880 the number of community members had already dropped down to 476. Despite of challenging events such as pillages and fire disasters, from this point on the Jewish community was quite able to maintain its possessions. In 1934, 433 Jews lived in Deutschkreutz.
The original area of settlement was
located in the small Neugasse on the edge of the village close to the castle. A
Synagogue, a Mikwa, a cemetery, an elementary school and a Talmudic school (‘Yeshiva’)
together with their relevant functionaries, belonged to the Jewish religious
“..Zelem’s ‘Yeshiva’ has 90 students; most of them coming from Czechoslovakia or Hungary. Horrible, how these adolescents are living! Large, starving families live even closer together, only to be able to offer these students a ‘home’. The ‘Bachurim’ (students of the Talmudic school) had to sleep in these wet and neglected rooms, and even worse, their studies and the Rabbi’s zeal won’t allow them to sleep longer than 3-4 hours per day…”
Source: Abeles Otto, Deutschkreutz der sechste Erdteil, in: Wiener Morgenzeitung vom 13. Februar 1927, S. 4, aus: Reiss Johannes (Hrsg.), Aus den Sieben-Gemeinden. Ein Lesebuch über Juden im Burgenland, Eisenstadt 1997, S. 218.
Besides the Talmudic school, there was also a private kindergarten and a Jewish elementary school. Graduates from this school attended secondary modern school together with Christian children. The building of the Jewish elementary school remained there until 1962 and only then it had to be destroyed due to its poor condition.
The head of the Jewish community was, as
usual, the community leader (‘Rosch Ha-Kahal’). During decision-making
processes, concerning internal community issues, various bodies were involved.
Several times the Rabbi took part in the discussions. Final decisions were made
by a committee consisting of the community leader and four board members, who
presented the issues of the community intern and extern. Yearly elections made
possible personnel changes on the board of the community.
The majority of the Jewish population in Deutschkreutz came from a deprived background. The Jewish shops in the village served as the trading center for the peasant population, where they could make all their purchases, starting from food and clothing to iron ware. The Jewish merchants, however, bought their products from the regional farmers.
The Jews from Deutschkreutz were told to leave within two weeks. The arrested Jews had to sign a declaration stating they would agree to emigrate. They were to take only as much of their belongings with them as they were able to carry by themselves. The Jews tried to sell their goods and belongings at a low price to the local people, but they feared reprisals and most of them abandoned their property. At the same time, looting of the shops and homes was started by members and followers of the party organizations. Anti-Jewish riots had already started beforehand; some threw stones at Jewish houses. By the beginning of May all Jews had left Deutschkreutz and moved to Vienna.
After the expulsion of the Jews, the Jewish quarter was almost entirely destroyed.
Returned after 1945
Today visible traces
In 1746, the construction of the Synagogue had started. In 1834 it was replaced by a new building. This building had a rectangular ground plan, measuring 12 x 18 meters. Massive stone walls sustained a roof which was slanted on the narrow sides and piled up with bricks. The Synagogue was placed in the center of the village (Rausnitzerstraße 89) and overlooked the surrounding houses.
On February 16th 1941 the Synagogue had been detonated; a 16 year old girl was hit by a stone from the powerful explosion and died. Documents and religious books were burned on the site.
In 1949 the former place of the Synagogue had been fenced in and a marble memorial stone was built. In the 1970s the construction of a Konsum discounted subsidiary shop replaced the memorial stone.
The Esterházys allowed the Jews of Deutschkreutz to establish a cemetery in 1759. Until 1938 it had served the large Jewish community and the surrounding communities as a burial ground. The last entry in the death register was the death and funeral of ‘Gitel Feigelstock from 29 Tewet 5698 (2nd of January 1938)’ (Steines/Lohrmann/Forisch)
Most of the grave stones had been destroyed or dislodged during National Socialism. They were used as bricks for houses or used for the fixation of the so-called Ostwall. Part of the gravestones had been used for the construction of a terrace in front of the nearby castle of Nikitsch. In order to save at least the last grave stones, after 1945 the Viennese Jewish religious community took 38 of them to the area of the central cemetery of Vienna at Gate IV.
Following a private initiative, these stones were brought back to Deutschkreutz in 1992/93 and fragments of grave stones were integrated into the cemetery wall.
Thanks to financial support from the government of the Burgenland and the World Society of Burgenland Jews, the cemetery could be renovated and surrounded by a wall in 1991.
In the area of the cemetery there also existed a mass grave from the Nazi era, in which 265 Hungarian Jews, who were murdered by the Nazis, were buried.
With the help of Heaven"
by Johannes Scholem Graf