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Background on Altdorf

Although Jews are first mentioned in the 1570s, they first settled there in 1716 after expulsion from nearby Ettenheim.  Although Altdorf was more tolerant of the Jews than many other areas of Baden, few Jews lived there in the early 18th century; by 1752 only 16 Jewish families were recorded in tax records.  The number increased significantly after the Edict of Toleration in 1781; Jews were allowed to deal with non-Jews, to learn many trades, establish their own schools and attend a University.  However Jewish poverty did not abate and Jewish peddlers roamed the countryside. Since they were forbidden to deal directly with Christians, many sought refuge among the Jews in Altdorf, leading to further increases in population. Jews attained a population of 313 in 1855.
Altdorf held special attraction to the Jews.  In this small rural community, they could make a living as traders, especially in livestock or artisans.

Altdorf's religious profile was somewhat unique among other Baden villages.  It did not convert to Lutheranism and remained predominantly Catholic with only a few Protestants.  The Jewish population was significant in the 19th century. From 1813 to at least 1871 it ranged from 20 to 21 % of the total population.

The 20th century was a different story. By 1933 (Hitler's appointment as Chancellor of Germany) the Jewish population had declined to just 51.  Between 1937-1939 many of these emigrated or moved to other German communities.  On Kristallnacht (9-10 November 1938) the synagogue and Jewish homes were vandalized.  Eight Jewish men were detained in the Dachau concentration camp. On October 22, 1940 the last 12 were deported to the Gurs concentration camp, eight perishing in the Holocaust. Another 15 of the Jews also died who previously left the town.

The arch in Altdorf is all that remains of the home of Leopold and Leoni Dreifuss of Altdorf.  Leopold had been the Kosher butcher for the community.  Until the Nazi's deported the couple and burned down their home, the arch was the doorway to their home.  The Kippenheim synagogue was built in 1850-1851 and served as a local congregation until its desecration in November 1938. From 1986 to 1989 its beautiful exterior was restored to original condition and its former interior is being preserved. Other synagogues were destroyed or remain as altered structures, including one in Altdorf.  The Jewish cemetery in Schmieheim was established in the 17th century and many stones remain legible, still recounting Jewish heritage and family lineage.  Extensive remedial work has restored the cemetery and the beautiful grounds are well maintained to this day.  However, the beautifully colored sandstone headstones are beginning to deteriorate from time and perhaps the pressure of rubbings from visitors to the site.

The above information was obtained largely from two primarily sources of information. "The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before and During the Holocaust,” New York University Press, Copyright 2001 by Yad Vashem Jerusalum, Israel, and "Determinants of Change and Response Among Jews and Catholics in a Nineteenth Century German Village", by Alice Dreifuss Goldstein, Jewish Social Studies Mongraph Number 3, New York 1984.

Compiled by Pete Dreifuss (
Last updated 26 August 2012
Copyright © Peter A. Dreifuss 2012
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