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Inauguration of the Judeo-Alsatian Museum

From left to right: Dr. Ernest Luft, Ms. Buchi, Gilbert Weil

Speech by Dr. Ernest Luft
Mayor of Bouxwiller from 1971 to 1995

The Judeo-Alsacien Museum of Bouxwiller, housed in the old synagogue, was inaugurated on June 28, 1998.


This former place of worship abandoned in 1983 is destined for demolition.

An association is born then, led by the architect Gilbert Weil, and proposes a solution

positive: the creation of a museum retracing the history and showcasing the culture of the Jews

from Alsace.

Ladies and gentlemen,

First of all, thank you to the Mayor, thank you also to Mr. President Gilbert Weil for having invited me and for giving me the floor on the occasion of the inauguration of this museum which is so close to my heart.

This synagogue, for a century the place of worship of a large, lively and perfectly integrated community, threatened ruin when, in 1971, I was elected mayor of Bouxwiller. And from the beginning of my mandate, at that time it was a question of transforming the synagogue into a youth center, I had sworn to myself never to harm this building whose state of disrepair deeply distressed me; an oath that I renewed a few years later when, during a stay in Israel, I was able to meditate within the confines of the moving Yad Vashem memorial built in honor of the victims of the 'Holocaust.

I felt that any action on this building should either come from the Jewish community or be done with its full consent.

Indeed, too many memories, happy and less happy, attached me to this community which, from my early youth, held my attention. Speechless, I watched the endless palaver between my father and the horse dealers when buying a horse or a dairy cow, haggling that invariably ended with a clap in the hand: deal done.


Happy memories still when for Passover, the Jewish Passover, the Weil family - the parents of our president who took the milk from us - offered us a pile of unleavened bread, the famous "Matze", golden and crispy whose kid that I was crazy about.


Later, by virtue of my profession - in particular as a meat inspector - I was in almost daily contact with livestock dealers and meat professionals. Thus I was able, not only to familiarize myself with the technique of ritual slaughter fairly regularly practiced at the Bouxwiller slaughterhouse and with the post-mortem examination carried out by the sacrificer, but also with the Yiddish vocabulary in use in the environment.


Finally, I would not like to fail to have a grateful thought for the late Mr. Maurice Weil, Gilbert's father, who guided my first steps as a young municipal councilor in the 1959s, early 1960s.


Among the less happy memories, and which marked me forever, I will remember the expulsion of the Jewish community from the city in July 1940 - the 15th I believe - and the desecration of the synagogue.


The image that has remained to me of this forced exodus is that of resigned men and women, their faces closed, frozen, piled up on trucks with their meager luggage. In a few hours, they had to leave their house, their home, their family intimacy to be evacuated to an unknown destination and not knowing what the next day would be like.


There was among them a classmate, first cousin of our president, a beautiful young girl and the best student in the class, torn unceremoniously from her familiar environment. Her face, red with tears, but very dignified, had broken my heart: innocence in the face of barbarism. Fortunately, the fate reserved for Tsipouka, Elie Wiesel's little sister with golden hair, who disappeared in a death camp, was spared him.


After this manu militari eviction, the Nazis who belonged to us were quick to occupy the places left vacant and to appropriate furniture and other property.

As with the Vel d'Hiv roundup, the Germans had servile henchmen on the spot, as zealous as they were interested.


Contrary to what happened in other towns - I am thinking in particular of Strasbourg - where burnings were committed amid popular jubilation, in Bouxwiller it was rather indifference, an indifference certainly culpable, but which finally made it possible to save the synagogue of destruction, not of desecration. At the beginning of 1941 I entered the building, curious as all kids are. The door was open to the winds, the panes of the windows broken. Inside it was desolation: vandals and other well-meaning “Juddehasser” (who hates Jews) had, little by little, ransacked everything. And the local authorities, on purpose, had allowed it to happen. The Aron Hakodesh, that sacred cupboard where the Torah scrolls are carefully stored, had been gutted, desecrated.


Everything was lying on the floor among the shards of glass and the torn boards: parchments and manuscripts of biblical texts, phylacteries with their leather strips, mapoth and other religious objects, trampled on, crumpled, torn, soiled. Despite my young age, I had understood the abomination, the monstrosity of this sacrilege.


And this in a Europe of so-called Judeo-Christian culture! This is what fanaticism leads to wherever it comes from. The incidents on the sidelines of the World Cup remind us of this if need be.


In 1942, the Germans set up a cardboard workshop there.


Between the two wars, there were many Jews in our villages and towns in Lower Alsace. Their uninterrupted presence since medieval times - the first Jews, it seems, came with the Roman legionnaires - meant that they cohabited perfectly with the communities of Christian faith.


No one better than Claude Vigée was able to relate - in his Basket of Hops in particular - the fortunes and misfortunes of this community and the place it occupied in the rural landscape of our region, a well-structured community, proud of its religious heritage. , cultural and linguistic.


I was always fascinated by Judeo-Alsatian, this tasty and colorful, melodious and colorful language that characterized the lively and busy temperament of the itinerant traders who criss-crossed our countryside. After the war few Jewish families returned to Bouxwiller. The Holocaust had been there. Currently Yiddish, an idiom if we can call it that, born in the ghettos of eastern European countries and which through its Hebrewisms has enriched our dialect and contributed to its diversity - for Raymond Matzen it has discreetly and delicately perfumed our local dialects - currently Yiddish, I say, has completely disappeared from the Alsatian countryside. We can only be saddened! When will the disappearance, in our villages, of our dialect and our double culture which makes, or rather who made, our wealth?


Standardization, in any case, is on the right track!


Let 's  now come to the genesis of the museum. In 1983-84 the situation concerning the synagogue, of which the Weil family held the keys, can be summarized as follows:

  • a building in poor condition, little or no longer used as a place of prayer by a community reduced to a few members;

  • a Jewish Consistory, owner of the premises, who was in a hurry to get rid of a building which was becoming cumbersome for him;

  • a local trade which sought to acquire it to shave it in order to arrange a carpark in its place, and that with the downstream, not to say the blessing of the departmental services concerned;

  • January 1984 - first deliberation of the Municipal Council which, I quote "is not opposed to the decommissioning of the synagogue, and gives its full support to a project for an eco-museum of Judaism".  The project - at the time it was rather an idea, an intention - came to us, you understood, from Gilbert Weil. It was he who, in the years 1984-85, was able, and I am infinitely grateful to him, to block the sale and therefore the planned demolition of the building.  Thanks to his tenacity and his intervention at the highest level in Paris, he obtained registration in the Inventory of Historic Monuments in record time. The synagogue, which had miraculously survived the Nazi occupation, was now completely safe.

  • July 1986 - by emphyteutic lease the Consistory rents the synagogue to the City for a period of 30 years and a symbolic rent. A major obstacle had been removed;

  • finally, on December 4 of the same year, the Municipal Council adopted   the Judeo-Alsatian museum project for an amount of 1,343,000 F TTC  nearly 12 years later we are able to inaugurate it.

I would like to express my warmest thanks to Gilbert Weil, designer of the project, for the service he rendered to the City, first of all by saving a remarkable building, which, like our churches, has its place in our city , then and above all by creating this museum, a place of memory and, I would say, of contemplation  which will allow future generations to know and understand the way of life through the ages of a community well rooted in the Alsatian countryside and which, although long excluded from certain professions, had known how to make a place for itself in the sun and contributed significantly, far beyond what one could expect from a minority group, to the development economy and culture of the region.


Mr. Gilbert Weil who takes care of other

synagogues in the Lower Rhine has been spent without counting the cost

to complete his museum.

He deserves our applause.












Overruns in this area often result in excess volume.

The birth, laborious and quite painful, could, however, be done by natural means, without forceps or bistoury, instruments which could have been harmful to the newborn. The latter, vigorous and healthy, as you have seen, makes the designer and those who wore it forget all the pain it caused them. And we all have the joy and the happiness - in spite of some postpartum troubles in connection with the Regional Chamber of Accounts - to be able, today, to wish her health, prosperity and longevity.


As for Gilbert Weil, I'm sure he'll forgive me for that little pinch of Attic salt which, like the spices that spice up the dishes of Jewish cuisine and give them all their flavor, wants to bring a cheerful note to a ceremony. rather austere. Let Elie Wiesel have the final word: 

May this museum ''prevent the past from being extinguished, may it revive fragments of existence and push back the sand that covers the face of things''.

My thanks also go to the Mayor who had the task of completing the project and dealing with amendments as numerous as they were important.


Finally, I must thank the operation architect, Mr. Jean Marc Mehl, who did a remarkable job in conditions that were not always easy for him, placed as he was between a rock and a hard place, between the demands of an ambitious project and the City's financial constraints.

To conclude, I would say that the Judaism ecomuseum project was strewn with obstacles from conception to childbirth. Between the two, a too long gestation caused the product to gain considerable weight, which is not surprising.

Mr. Gilbert Weil and Ms. Buchi

Photographs: © Michel Rothé


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