top of page

The Friends of the Hebrew Sites around Reichshoffen and Niederbronn-les-Bains .

The territory of ASHERN

A S HERN – the Friends of the Hebrew Sites of the Surroundings of Reichshoffen and Niederbronn-les-Bains – is an association created in December 2017. Its purpose is the preservation of what remains of Jewish culture in the territory, as an integral part of local history and culture, in a secular and interreligious spirit.

The acronym which constitutes its name is a nod to Ascher Levy from Reichshoffen who left us his 

“Memoirs (1598 – 1635)”, one of the main sources of knowledge of the local events of the Thirty Years' War (1618 – 1648).

Its activity consists in giving life to places, whether consistorial or not,  through research, articles, conferences and guided tours.

ASHERN now has more than a hundred members, 40% of whom are Jews, and works in close collaboration with several associations working in the same field.

In this regard, we keep a heartfelt thought in memory of two valuable people who recently passed away:

Patrick Blum and Brigitte Kahn, who need no introduction.

The surviving consistorial sites:

  • The Jewish cemetery of Oberbronn,

  • Reichshoffen Synagogue,

  • Gundershoffen Jewish Cemetery.

I - Oberbronn and its Jewish cemetery.

The Jewish community in the village dates back to at least the 17th century, as evidenced by the dates engraved on certain half-timbered houses – with mezouzot notches -  of this magnificent Alsatian village._cc781905-5cde-3194 -bb3b-136bad5cf58d_

The 1841 synagogue was destroyed by American bombardments when the village was liberated on March 16, 1945.

A previous 18th century synagogue has long been privatized, as has the mikvah, in a house dated 1572.

If the community had more than 200 Jews out of 1,200 inhabitants in the  census of 1860, the synagogue was sold 64 years later, testifying to a rather dazzling rural exodus.

The cemetery is quite small: it has 170 graves. The oldest dates from 1814 and the last from 1937. Before the creation of this necropolis, the place of burial was in Ettendorf, which is at a certain distance. It is surprising to note the vitality of this community far from the centers, and which knew how to create its cemetery barely 23 years after the emancipation of the Jews in 1791.

This necropolis also served for the smaller communities of the surrounding villages: Zinswiller, Offwiller and even Baerenthal in near Moselle, with the Fraenckel and Hirsch families. One can find there tombs of the maternal family of Léon Blum, among others.

A testimony collected from a villager who has now disappeared relates that she laid down arms for Alsatian resistance fighters who deserted the Wehrmacht in the cemetery in 1944.

About 50% of the stelae were knocked down or broken as a result of war, during the Liberation battles. Being located at the edge of the Ingwiller road by which the US army arrived, one can imagine, sinisterly, that the stelae could have served as a shield for the soldiers of the Wehrmacht, as the numerous bullet holes seem to attest. visible from the road side.

Abandoned, this cemetery became an inextricable and impenetrable jungle in the first decades after the war. Several attempts at cleaning  followed one another in the 1970s, led by the IS, then by the Protestant association "Understand and engage", without much success. It was finally a military detachment from Bitche that did the work in 1980, under the aegis of my late father Robert Lévy, the last President of the Community of Niederbronn, and within the framework of army-nation relations.

Since then, the CIBR has ensured its regular maintenance. The wooden fence has aged badly and has largely fallen, leaving the cemetery within reach of everyone. Its repair is urgent.

The Vosges sandstone stelae are inexorably fading away. They were cleaned and scraped in 2019 by a team of young European volunteers from the ICE-RF association (Christian Institute for Europe-French Network), then photographed as a precaution by ASHERN. The translation of the texts is pending.

Few families still come to meditate there, so that no Selihot ceremony has been organized there since the post-war period.

Our cemetery has been under close surveillance by the local gendarmerie – whom we thank – since the sinister desecrations of Quatzenheim and Westhoffen.

II - A republican synagogue in Reichshoffen

between past, present and future project(s).



Une synagogue républicaine - Copie 1.jpeg
Une synagogue républicaine - Copie 2.jpeg
Une synagogue républicaine - Copie 3.jpeg

III- The Jewish cemetery of Gundershoffen

Little is known about the origins of the community in this village, which dates back to at least the 18th century. The 19th century synagogue has now been transformed into accommodation. Certain elements of this synagogue, including the Tables of the Law which surmounted it, were deposited in the cemetery.

The necropolis currently contains more than 1,000 tombs, the oldest of which is dated 1815. Barely a year later than that of Oberbronn, this cemetery bears witness to the same vitality of the Jews who created this place barely 24 years later. the emancipation of 1791. Asher Levy attests in his Memoirs that before this date of 1815, the Jews of the territory were buried in the centralizing cemetery of Ettendorf.

The Gundershoffen cemetery is divided into two parts.

The old one from 1815 to 1932 has 739 graves and 294 vacant sites. These are empty spaces between the tombs which probably correspond to as many missing stelae, without us being able to be certain. Only presumptions can be advanced, according to the testimonies collected  on the Nazi period:

  • The small wooden building that served as a mortuary was set on fire by the Hitlerjugend. It probably contained the burial register  which is therefore lost. This building was rebuilt after the war.

  • During this same Nazi desecration raid, the stelae would have been destroyed, but the group would have been put off by the magnitude of the task….

  • A local peasant was authorized by the Nazi administration to collect tombstones to build his pigsty!!

  • Finally, during the Liberation battles of March 1944, a German panzer positioned itself in the cemetery located at the top of the hill to fire on the Liberation Army arriving in the valley. So he plowed up part of the old cemetery, destroying everything in his path. For the record, the tank ended up folding, but ran out of fuel less than a kilometer away. Its occupants fled on foot…

The stelae of this old part are all in Vosges sandstone, red and gray. They form a conservatory of the know-how of the stonemasons of the periods concerned, some of which are true works of art. There are many hands of Cohanim and ewers of Levites, but also shofars of Hazanim and knives of Mohelim, all more or less sophisticated, in neo-Gothic style or even Jugendstyl.

A rectangle of children contains 61 graves, sometimes complete siblings, alas.

A separate row of eight steles is dedicated to women who died in childbirth.

Majestic old oaks and a very old pine shade the site in summer. Combined with the color of the sandstone and the dominant view of the landscape, the whole gives an impression of grandeur and serenity, according to the general opinion.

In this same old part, we find the deceased from Niederbronn-les-Bains, Reichshoffen and Gundershoffen, but also from smaller communities in the surrounding area that have long disappeared, such as Frœschwiller, Langensoultzbach and Goersdorf.

The necropolis is protected by an infra-red alarm barrier, the work of our late President Claude Kahn in the 2000s.

It appears to be unique among Jewish cemeteries, but it has proven effective, notwithstanding its cost.

Since 2016, the 739 steles have been cleaned and photographed, first by the well-known JP Kleitz, then by a group of young European volunteers from ICE-RF and ASHERN. The translations by Yochoua Lilti are in the final phase, so that the whole will soon be published on the Judaism of Alsace and Lorraine website, available to families, genealogists and historians.

The new part from 1932 to the present day contains around 250 tombs. Since the post-war period, the stelae have been replaced by slabs, for obvious reasons of desecration. Granite, much colder in appearance, replaces sandstone. Double tombs are becoming widespread. A monument to the Deportees recalls this unbearable part of our history. The plot is 60% occupied; many locations therefore remain available.

The origin of the deceased currently admitted – in a non-exhaustive way: Bitche (Moselle), Niederbronn-les-Bains, Reichshoffen and Gundershoffen.

The cemetery is currently managed by a consistorial commission made up of two members: Dr. Michel Cahen and Raymond Lévy.


By way of conclusion, for the three sites, guided tours are regularly organized by ASHERN for a local and always numerous public. They contribute effectively to demystifying these places fantasized by some, but also to strengthening interreligious dialogue and knowledge of the secular history of religions, for an adult and school audience. 

We also see non-Jews come to meditate at the grave of a former Jewish colleague, which is particularly moving.

In this sense, this place and these necropolises contribute to the fight against anti-Semitism.

Thus, our deceased and their history continue to protect us, us, their descendants.





Text and photos: Raymond Lévy for ASHERN - 06/06/2021 

Guided tours on request.


bottom of page