Deutschkreutz – Zelem

Synagogue built in: 1834
Earliest record of community: 1671
Community members: 1730: 95 Familien/families; 1857: 1200; 1911: 764; 1934: 433; 1938: 420
Today: Memorial stone
Summary: Jews in the Burgenland market town of Deutschkreutz were under the protection of Count Esterházy in the 17th century. In 1671, the Holy Roman Emperor (and King of Germany), Leopold I, ordered the expulsion of Jews from Vienna. As a result, refugees flowed into Deutschkreutz in numbers large enough to enable the establishment of an official Jewish community in the town. In Jewish circles the community was referred by the name of “Tzeilem” (Jews avoided using the name Deutschkreutz because of the Christian connotations of “Kreutz,” which means “cross” in English).

In 1720, Count Michael Esterházy issued the most generous letter of protection a Burgenland Jewish community could have hoped for; granting the town’s Jews religious and political independence with minimal obligations. The community flourished under these conditions, reaching a peak population of 1,200—representing 38% of Deutschkreutz’s total number of inhabitants—in 1857. The town’s Jewish population stabilized in 1880 at between 400 and 500 residents.

Deutschkreutz’s official Jewish community identified with the orthodox, separatist Jewish movement originating from Hungary, and was the center of community life for Jews in the surrounding towns and villages of Baumgarten, Girm, Loipersach, Moerbisch, Schattendorf and Unterpetersdorf.

In addition to a synagogue, Deutschkreutz was home to a Talmud Torah and a yeshiva that had approximately 30 students. The community’s synagogue, initially built in 1747 and replaced in 1834, was situated in the center of the town and stood out among the neighboring buildings. The synagogue’s distinctive painted ceiling was an unusual feature. Rueben Goldmark served as the community’s cantor for many years. His son Carl went on to achieve fame as a composer.

The Tzeilem community produced a succession of learned rabbis who furthered the cause of Torah study and Jewish tradition in Austria’s Burgenland region. The best known was Rabbi Menachem Katz, who led the community for 50 years, and was head of its yeshiva. Rabbi Menachem was a student of Rabbi Moshe Sofer (the famous “Chatam Sofer” of Pressburg); this fact drew many students to Tzeilem. After the death of Rabbi Moshe Sofer’s son—known as the “K’tav Sofer”—in Pressburg, many students left Pressburg for Tzeilem, hoping to imbibe the true spirit of the Chatam Sofer’s teachings through Rabbi Menachem. Rabbi Menachem’s son-in-law, Rabbi David Friedman, eventually took over as head of the yeshiva. After Rabbi Menachem’s death in 1891, David also filled his rabbinical position. When Rabbi Friedman passed away in 1905, his own son-in-law, Mordechai Rottenburg, was due to take up the position, but for reasons that have never been properly explained, failed to do so. Instead, Rabbi Eliezer David Gruenwald was appointed rabbi of Tzeilem in 1906, but to widespread regret he left the congregation after only six years of highly successful service, and took up a position in Vişeu de Sus in the Maramureş region of northern Romania.

Rabbi Eliezer’s nephew, Yakov Yecheskel Gruenwald, was the next to sit the rabbinate; when he left in 1923 the Tzeilem community was once again left with the task of finding a successor. By now, the size of the congregation had diminished and the financial compensation for the job was not particularly tempting. Nevertheless, there was no shortage of candidates, as Tzeilem’s reputation for strict religious observance and the prospect of building up a prestigious yeshiva outweighed such disadvantages. In the end, Rabbi Yosef Elimelech Kahana of Rossnowitz was the successful candidate; he officiated until 1938.

The very last rabbi to serve in Tzeilem was Rabbi Moshe Gruenwald; hence the connection to the Gruenwald dynasty was reestablished. From the beginning of the 20th century to the destruction of the community in 1938, the rabbinate in this prestigious community was mostly in the hands of the Gruenwald family.

The Jewish community in Deutschkreutz was expelled shortly after the annexation (Anschluss) of Austria to Germany. The town’s Jews were loaded onto trucks and transported to Vienna. They were permitted to take with them only as many possessions as they could carry. In 1941, the S.S. blew up the synagogue. After the Second World War, a commemorative plaque was erected at the synagogue’s former site.
Sources: - Zur Geschichte der Juden im Burgenland. Österreichisches Jüdisches Museum Eisenstadt 1993
- M(oshe) A(lexander) Z(ushe) Kunstlicher, & S(hlomo) Y(ehuda) Spitzer: The History of the Jewish Community of Zelem (Deutschkreutz ) and its Sages. Bne-Brak 1999
- Shlomo Spitzer: Die jüdische Gemeinde von Deutschkreutz. Wien 1995.
- Philip V. Bohlman: Deutschkreutz – Zwischen den Grenzen.
Fate of the synagogue: Blown up by the SS in 1941
Located in: Burgenland