The Jewish cemetery in Hohenems is as old as the first settlement of Jewish people, dating to 1617, when Earl Kaspar of Hohenems welcomed 12 Jewish families from Southern Germany and Switzerland (Rheineck) into his dominion. He assigned them a piece of land to them in the so-called ‘Schwefel’ (sulphur) quarter at the end of the town which they could use for Jewish burials.
The cemetery is located at a timbered slope of the ‘Schwefelberg’ (sulphur hill, named after a well). There might be more than 500 graves in total. 370 gravestones remain preserved today. In contrast to Christian tradition, a grave may only be allocated once in Judaism. The soil surrounding the deceased person is respected as the property of that person. The fact that Jewish graves are meant forever, makes Jewish cemeteries of particular cultural and historical interest.
In 1938, the cemetery was confiscated by the National-Socialist authorities. And in November 1938 some of the gravestones were vandalized.
After the war, the cemetery, having survived the era of the Nazi regime without substantial damage, was restituted and then bought from the Jewish community of Innsbruck by a group of descendants of Jewish families from Hohenems who lived near the Austrian border in the canton of St. Gall, Switzerland. This group founded the ‘Verein zur Erhaltung des jüdischen Friedhofs in Hohenems’ (association for the maintenance of the Jewish cemetery in Hohenems) in 1954. Although the Jewish community of Hohenems was dissolved, the Jewish cemetery still exists. Various people have been buried here since then and some descendants and Jews living in Vorarlberg today have already reserved graves for the future.
The cemetery is maintained and regularly restored by the “Friedhofsverein” under the supervision of the Federal Office of Preservation with funds from various families, the Federal state, the municipality of Hohenems and the State of Vorarlberg.
The Jewish cemetery today
In recent years, the Jewish Museum of Hohenems has compiled a detailed survey of the cemetery, a photographic documentation of all still existing gravestones, a registration of the German and Hebrew inscriptions (with translation in German) and an artistically historical description of the most interesting gravestones. On the basis of this data, an electronic database ► was compiled, containing the name, grave number and inscription (including the translation) of all existing gravestones.
Visitors wishing to see the cemetery are kindly ask to show up at the museum’s desk in order to borrow the key.