The 18th World Congress of Jewish Studies

Presenting Jewish Life in the Rhineland in the Time of a Pandemic

In 2021 we celebrated 1700 years of Jewish life in Germany. In 321 Emperor Constantine issued a decree allowing the magistrate of Cologne to admit Jewish members to the town curia – the first documented reference to the presence of a Jewish community north of the Alps.

Since the LVR Cultural Centre – Rödingen Village Synagogue opened in 2009 its primary goal was to show the few traces that are left of the history, religion, and culture of the Jewish communities of the rural Rhineland. In the 19th century Rhineland two thirds of the Jews lived in villages. The 150 scattered communities were small with less than 100 members and simple synagogues. The Rödingen synagogue is the only site of its kind that survived the November Pogrom of 1938, the bombardments of the Second World War, and the post-war waves of modernization. The systematic persecution and genocide under the National Socialist regime had left no Jews at all in the countryside.

For the anniversary we wanted to show that Jewish life did not only exist in the large cities of Cologne or Düsseldorf. A mobile exhibition was designed, and the plan was to visit festivals in villages and cities with former Jewish communities. The idea was to connect to people who would never visit memorials, to start a dialogue and to combat resentment and stereotypes. Because of the coronavirus pandemic most festivals were cancelled. Fortunately the exhibition fulfilled all covid restriction criteria to be shown in schools.

In the lecture I will present the thought process that went into the design of the exhibition, the constant modifications that were made to meet the requirements of a pandemic and our experience we made in an increasingly heated atmosphere were unvaccinated people compare themselves to persecuted Jews in the Third Reich.