The Jewish Museum of Hohenems maintains close relations to the descendants of Hohenems’ Jews in the whole world.
The network of the Hohenems Diaspora forms an important dimension of the museum’s activities – and for the descendants a meaningful bridge between past and present. Within and between these families intensive communication has emerged since the founding of the museum in 1991 and, in particular, the American Friends of the Jewish Museum Hohenems in 1998. The Museum supports descendants in their genealogical research and in the process of finding relatives all over the world. Since the grand reunion of 1998 with more than 160 participants, and various other family reunions, this close relation with the descendants has also informed the exhibitions and programs of the museum.
The History of the Hohenems Diaspora
From the 17th to the 19th century, the Jews of Hohenems were forced to marry into other communities (from Southern Germany down to Italy) and to migrate throughout Western, Middle and Southern Europe, as the number of allowances to marry and settle in Hohenems was severely restricted to 90 families.
After the 1860s, the legal situation in Switzerland and Austria improved substantially. In St. Gall (1863) and in all of Switzerland (1866), Jews now were allowed to settle, and in Tyrol and the rest of Austria with the new constitution of 1867, Jews were granted equal rights to marry and settle anywhere. As a result, many Jewish families left Hohenems for good. By the end of the century, the Jewish community, once more than 550 souls, melted down to less than 100, while newly founded communities in places like St. Gall, Merano or Triest were formed by many Jews from Hohenems as well as other places.
Many families migrated this way to Switzerland, Southern Tyrol, Germany or Italy. Since the early 19th century, Jews from Hohenems also went overseas in large numbers. Today, their descendants live in the US and Switzerland, in Australia and Italy, in Great Britain, Israel and Spain, France and Belgium, but also in Germany and Austria.
They form a Hohenems Diaspora, that even after persecution, deportation and murder of the last Hohenems’ Jews in the Holocaust, is deeply affected by the memory of 300 years of life in a flourishing community in Hohenems. Many of them aren’t Jews anymore for several generations, but they still feel like part of this Diaspora. In 2008, members of these families met again for the second international descendants reunion. The next reunion is already scheduled, for 2017 when the charter of protection (letter of privilege) from Hohenems will turn 400.