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The gentle Aargauer countryside around Baden holds a succession of quiet farming villages with little to mark them out as special, other than LENGNAU, 8km north of Baden, and ENDINGEN, 3km further on. These two villages, for centuries up to about 100 years ago, were almost exclusively Jewish. Since the early thirteenth century Jews had lived in Basel and Zürich: Jewish financing, for instance, made it possible for Basel’s bishops to buy Kleinbasel outright in the 1220s and to build the first Rhine bridge shortly afterwards. On January 16, 1349, the Basel government decided to pack the town’s Jews into a wooden house on an island in the Rhine and burn it to the ground; those who escaped were expelled six months later when plague arrived, accused of poisoning the city’s water supply. Jews were allowed back to the city after the 1356 earthquake in order to finance rebuilding work, but in 1397 they were again expelled, this time for good. They took refuge in the Baden countryside, settling at Lengnau and Endingen, where Jewish life in Switzerland was concentrated for more than four centuries. In 1805, a Jewish community was refounded in Basel, but it was only in 1874, after extreme pressure was brought to bear by the US and France, that Switzerland finally guaranteed full religious and civil rights to all religious denominations in its constitution, one of the last European states to do so.
Today, Lengnau and Endingen – despite being largely depopulated of their Jews – still bear many traces of the past. Lengnau’s little village square is overlooked not by a church, but by a large synagogue, and the village has many characteristic old double-doored houses, not seen elsewhere in the country. The great domed synagogue in the middle of Endingen is currently undergoing renovation work. Between the two villages, in a quiet location off the road, is an overgrown Israelitischer Friedhof (Jewish Cemetery), with graves dating back to 1750. All these sites are kept locked, but the Baden tourist office can put you in touch with guides from the local Jewish community, who will take you round and explain some more of the history.
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