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Exhibition recalls Jewish life in Baden

Exhibits include a 1750 edition of the Talmud

(swissinfo.ch)

The history museum in Baden is recalling the town's past as a centre for the Jewish community in Switzerland between 1730 and the end of the 20th century.

The exhibits provide a vivid account of the contribution to local trade and culture made by Jewish people.

Photographs, documentation, items of clothing and a 1750 edition of the Talmud are included in the exhibition, which illustrates their everyday life, celebrations and eventual integration into Baden society.

Museum director Barbara Welter says the exhibition is a tribute to the Jews' importance in the history of Baden and their participation in its social and economic growth.

The story goes back to the 14th century expulsion of Jewish people from Basel and their resettlement near Baden in the small villages of Lengnau and Endingen, where Jewish life in Switzerland was concentrated for more than four centuries.

Today Lengnau and Endingen still bear traces of their Jewish past. For example, Lengnau's small village square is overlooked not by a church, but by a synagogue. Between the two villages is a Jewish cemetery, with graves dating back to 1750.

Forced into ghettos

"Until the 19th century," Welter told swissinfo, "Jewish people were forced to live in the two villages. Then with the advent of democracy they were allowed to stay where they liked, so moved here to a place where they felt more at home than in a small rural community."

In 1900, Baden had a population of about 10,000. But although only some 500 inhabitants were Jewish, this comparatively small community was soon integrated into local society.

Many of its members were textile merchants whose hard-working mentality was readily accepted in the bourgeois atmosphere of the time.

Welter says there was little anti-semitism because the newly established democracy was keen for people from different backgrounds to participate in this period of growth, which in turn led to relative affluence.

Yiddish

The exhibition shows how the Jewish community kept their religious and other traditions alive, speaking a form of Yiddish - now virtually extinct - with a strong resemblance to the Swiss-German dialect.

"Even today," said Welter, "Yiddish expressions are used in our local dialect, for example relating to cookery."

As the Jewish merchants prospered, other Jewish people from abroad visited Baden for its health spas, making a further contribution to the local economy. But as time went on, their numbers dwindled as assimilation grew.

The exhibition, which has strong support from the town's existing Jewish citizens, is an affectionate look back at a part of Baden's history and a tribute to the Yiddish-speaking merchants who played a part in its growth.

The exhibition ends on January 19.

swissinfo, Richard Dawson

In brief

Organisers say the exhibition is a tribute to the Jews' importance in the history of Baden.
Photographs, documentation, items of clothing and a 1750 edition of the Talmud are included in the exhibition.
Jews settled near Baden in the 14th Century after they were expelled from Basel.

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