© Heidelberg Marketing / Steffen Schmid

Places of Jewish life

in Heidelberg

The Judengasse with the Jewish Gate

(today's name: Dreikönigsstraße)

Memorial stone Judentor at the lower end of Dreikönigsstrasse© Steffen Schmid / Heidelberg Marketing GmbH
Gedenkplatte Judentor am unteren Ende der Dreikönigsstraße

The Dreikönigstraße leads through the former "Judentor" uphill to the main street. The gate regulated access to the alley, which was called Judengasse until 1832. It was renamed Dreikönigstraße because no one wanted to settle here under the old name.

The residents had probably been entrusted with the operation of the Jews' Gate, which opened onto the Neckar River. From this task, which was after all very important, one can see the acceptance and esteem in which the Jewish community was held at times. Such a gate towards the river was immensely important for the movement of goods and also for security in the medieval city.

A sign at the end of Dreikönigstrasse keeps the memory of the Jewish Gate, which was demolished in the 18th century, alive to the present day.

Jacob Israel (1621-1674), Jew, German physician, city physician and professor in Heidelberg
Jacob Israel (1621-1674), Jude, deutscher Arzt, Stadtphysikus und Professor in Heidelberg

The house with the number 10 bears the nickname "Judenschule". It had very different occupants and uses, including a prayer room and a normal school, but no school for Jews alone.


Among others, Jacob Israel (1621 - 1674) lived here. In 1651, he was the city physicist, i.e. city doctor, responsible for public health and hygiene in Heidelberg.

In December 1652, he was appointed professor at Heidelberg University by Elector Karl Ludwig. He taught physiology, anatomy, and surgery, then from 1672 medical practice, pathology, and pharmaceutics. In 1658 he held the office of secondary rector of the university and in 1662, 1670, and 1673 that of a rector.

He is the only Jew who became a professor and even rector at a German university in modern times without converting.

Memorial plaque commemorating the burning of books on University Square

In Heidelberg, there was not one book burning, but two - and always on a 17th: The first time the books of unpopular authors were burned on May 17, 1933, and again on July 17. Each time, according to contemporary witnesses, it must have been a kind of public festival on University Square; the "Heidelberger Tagblatt" described the atmosphere as "Palatine exuberance": there was even a real funeral pyre into which the books were thrown. Not only the Nazi student body joined in, but also many Burschenschaft members - their associations were not dissolved until the following year; the professors present held back on speeches, but did not intervene against them either.


On May 17, 2011, a memorial plaque commemorating the book burning was unveiled between the Old and New Universities in the presence of 112 former Jewish residents of Heidelberg.

It bears as an inscription a Lessing word: "What is once printed belongs to the whole world. No one has the right to destroy it."


Synagogues in Heidelberg

The first synagogue

In the middle of the 14th century, the synagogue of the medieval community was built at Dreikönigstraße 25/corner of Untere Straße (on the site of today's building at Untere Straße 24). It had an extension of 8.4 by 14 m in its interior and was probably designed as a hall building. It included a walled courtyard, a garden, and another building.

Shortly after the expulsion of the Jews in September/October 1390 under Ruprecht II, the synagogue was consecrated as a church to the glory of God, Mary, and St. Stephen by the Bishop of Worms in a solemn service on Christmas Day (December 26, 1390). For a long time it was the university chapel and the auditorium of the Faculty of Theology and Law, later also of the Faculty of Medicine. In 1689, the chapel burned down during the destruction of Heidelberg in the Palatine War.

The destroyed synagogue of Heidelberg

On April 12, 1878, the then new synagogue was consecrated in Große Mantelgasse on what is now Synagogenplatz. Right next to the synagogue was the community centre.

On the night of the pogrom on November 9, 1938, the synagogue was set on fire by SA people. The synagogue was completely destroyed. The Torah scrolls and ritual objects stolen from the synagogue were taken to the police station. National Socialist-minded Heidelberg citizens and especially students burned them on the University Square about a week after the destruction of the synagogue.

In 1978, the synagogue square, which was initially used as a parking lot, was transformed into a park; another complete redesign was undertaken in 2001. Since then, the layout and various details of the former synagogue have been highlighted in the paving. A memorial stone has also been placed in the area of the former Torah shrine. In 2004, plaques with the names of the 292 people deported from Heidelberg to Gurs in 1940 were placed on the north wall of the house at Große Mantelgasse 3 (former rabbi's house).

The Orthodox Synagogue

After the First World War, an Orthodox congregation ("Association of Law-abiding Jews in Heidelberg") had also formed due to the influx of numerous Jews from Eastern Europe; it was officially constituted in 1921. Since 1932, it had a prayer room in a rear building on Plöck. This synagogue room, furnished with the help of donations, had room for about 50 men and 30 women; there was also a ritual bath in the building.

The Orthodox synagogue was also vandalized on November 10, 1938, but was rebuilt. In February 1939, the synagogue was demolished at the expense of the Jewish community.

The new synagogue in Heidelberg

The new synagogue in Heidelberg© Heidelberg Marketing / Steffen Schmid
Neue Synagoge in Heidelberg

In January 1994, the congregation was able to move into a new community centre with a synagogue in Häusserstraße in the western part of the city. According to the design of the architect Alfred Jacoby, the building was composed of geometric elements, the centre of which was the circular synagogue.


Jewish cemeteries in Heidelberg

First Jewish cemetery

The cemetery of the medieval community was located in front of the Klingentor, between Sandgasse and Theaterstraße on Plöck; it was first mentioned in a document in 1344 and 50 years later - in the course of the expulsion by Ruprecht II of the Palatinate - it was forcibly dissolved, cleared and levelled.


The Jewish cemetery "Klingenteich"

© Heidelberg Marketing GmbH / Steffen Schmid
Jüdischer Friedhof Klingenteich in Heidelberg

The old Jewish cemetery is located on Klingenteichstraße, just above the Klingentor in a picturesque setting. It dates from 1701 and was used as a burial place until 1876.

The wrought-iron entrance gate shows a dove of peace with a palm branch in its beak as a sign of life, but also an arm with a sickle sword as a sign of death. According to their faith, those buried here enjoy the right of rest until the resurrection. Therefore, the graves must not be violated.

Not only Jews from Heidelberg but also from the surrounding area found their final resting place here. The old graves are all written in Hebrew language and characters, the newer ones are bilingual (Hebrew and German).

The cemetery is already closed, no more funerals take place and it is not freely accessible.

The Jewish cemetery "Bergfriedhof"

The Jewish cemetery
Jüdischer Friedhof auf dem Bergfriedhof in Heidelberg

The Jewish Cemetery at the Bergfriedhof in Heidelberg is an independent cemetery and is owned by the Jewish Community.

The cemetery was opened in 1876 and is still available for burials today. In 1904, the cemetery was extended to the higher slopes.

Finally, in 1907, the mortuary was built.

The new Jewish cemetery in Handschuhsheim

Since 2016, Heidelberg's Jewish community has had a new cemetery in Handschuhsheim.

Since space at the Jewish part of the Bergfriedhof became scarce, a 4,000-square-meter area at the cemetery in Handschuhsheim was laid out as a new Jewish cemetery and consecrated in September 2016.

Ethnological museum of the J. & E. von Portheim Foundation Heidelberg

The VPST (von Portheim Foundation) Ethnological Museum in the Palais Weimar dates back to 1921; the first exhibition was on view in 1924.

In 1919, Victor and Leontine Goldschmidt, née von Portheim, established the Josefine and Eduard von Portheim Foundation for Science and Art (J. & E. von Portheim Foundation), named after Victor Goldschmidt's mother and Leontine Goldschmidt's father.

The seat of the foundation and the museum is the Palais Weimar, one of the oldest city residences in Heidelberg. Built around 1710, the baroque palace between the main street and the Neckar River looks back on an eventful history. Named after its last owner, Prince Wilhelm of Saxony-Weimar-Eisenach, it was acquired in 1921 by the founders of the foundation, Victor Goldschmidt and Leontine Goldschmidt.

They brought their extensive private collections of European and non-European art and ethnographica into the foundation, housed them in the Palais Weimar, and thus intended to permanently guarantee the research activities of the scientific institutions they had established. Thus they stand in the great tradition of Jewish support for art and science in Germany.

Of these institutions, only the Ethnographic Institute survived the Nazi era and continues to exist today as the Ethnological Museum. Despite the considerable material and immaterial damage that the Nazi period left on the foundation and its collections, the Ethnographic Museum has excellent holdings. In addition to historical photographs and manuscripts, they include exquisite works of art and ethnographic objects from Asia, Africa, and Oceania, which have been expanded in recent decades through targeted acquisitions and extensive donations. Today, these collections are not only the basis for current museum work but also an essential working foundation for scholars from all over the world.

Changing exhibitions present aspects of art and culture from different regions on the basis of selected themes.

In the 1980s, the main building was extended by a modern annex. The museum's boat collection can be seen in the arcades on Neckarmünzplatz.

Victor Goldschmidt, although baptized, was forced to immigrate to Austria after the Nazis seized power in 1933 because of his Jewish background. He died during a stay at a health resort in Salzburg on May 8, 1933. He found his final resting place in Heidelberg, the site of his scientific work and the whereabouts of his life's work. His grave is located at the Bergfriedhof in Heidelberg.

Leontine Goldschmidt committed suicide on August 25, 1942, after learning of her impending deportation to Theresienstadt.

"Stolpersteine" (Stumbling blocks) in Heidelberg

Stumbling blocks in Heidelberg for the Durlacher family
Stolpersteine in Heidelberg für Familie Durlacher

In 2010, after years of discussion, the first laying of so-called "Stolpersteine" began in Heidelberg.

After further installations throughout the city, there are currently more than 200 stones (as of 2020) dedicated to victims of Nazi tyranny, primarily Jews.

University for Jewish Studies Heidelberg

University for Jewish Studies Heidelberg© Steffen Schmid / Heidelberg Marketing GmbH
Hochschule für Jüdische Studien in Heidelberg

The University of Jewish Studies is the largest European location for Jewish Studies - in association with the humanities and social sciences in Heidelberg and other cooperation partners. It is an academic teaching and learning centre for Jewish and non-Jewish students.

In 1979, the Board of Directors of the Central Council of Jews in Germany decided to establish a Jewish Theological College in Heidelberg. Two years later, it was recognized by the state, thus laying the foundation for the independence of the course of study, which was unique in Germany at the time. With the award of the right to confer doctoral degrees in 1995, the Hochschule für Jüdische Studien was finally established in the academic landscape of Germany.

Since 2001, the Hochschule has held the right to train Jewish religious teachers, the first institution in Germany's history to do so.

In 2009, the new building of the Hochschule für Jüdische Studien was completed.

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