Both the Jewish Museum and the synagogue in Merano in South Tyrol are precious witness of the Jewish presence in Merano and its history.
Jewish settled down in Merano and in the surrounding area in precise times and conditions, with clear reasons.
It all started in the second half of the nineteenth century, as many Jews from Hohenems, not far away from Lake Constance, moved to the southern part of Tyrol, after gaining permit of stay. This territory was still undergoing development, and it was already famous to be a good place for holidays.
Many Jewish families and singles started to reach Merano in 1832, but even in the Hapsburg Empire times were not easy for non-Catholics and on 23 April 1847 they were all expelled. The local Officer in Bozen ordered the Jewish community in the entire area to sell their belongings and estates within six months and then leave the district. The decree was abolished thanks to the Emperor’s intercession.
The first Jews settled down in Merano in 1832, developing some trading activities. The Königswarter Stiftung Foundation, established in 1872, had as its first task to buy a piece of land to be used as a graveyard. The purchased land was next to the church of the Holy Ghost.
The Synagogue was consecrated on 27 March 1901. Today the Synagogue of Merano is a precious witness of the story of the Jewish community in this part of South Tyrol, and a proof of the high cultural value Merano experienced through the years.
Among the many intellectuals who dwelt in Merano are Perez Smolenskin, one of the major exponents of Haskalah, the Jewish enlightenment, as one of the first hoping for a return to Palestine. Between the two world wars, people the like of Kafka, Chajm Weizmann, Freud and Arthur Schnitzler stayed in Merano.
Jewish scientists and businessmen played an important role in the economic development of the area. They built the Mendola cableway and some local railways, not to mention the impulse to tourism with the use of spa and the cultivation of grapes.
Inside the Merano’s Synagogue is the Jewish Museo, with many objects telling the story of the community from the late nineteenth century to the beginning of the twentieth and something from Shoah.
Visiting the museum, you may understand how important this community was for the social and cultural development of Merano, providing all the necessary means to give the South Tyrolean location a middle-European flavour and a very well renowned thermal centre.