Architecture and residents
The Villa Heimann-Rosenthal receives the visitors with the pleasant atmosphere of a middle-class residential house from the 19th century. Built in 1864 according to plans of Swiss architect Felix Wilhelm Kubly, the villa is named after Clara Heimann-Rosenthal, the daughter of the builder, textile manufacturer Anton Rosenthal.
In 1936, Clara Heimann-Rosenthal, the daughter of Anton and Charlotte, sold the villa to the then Hohenems community physician Dr Oskar Burtscher. By amicable agreement with Dr Burtscher and his sister Katharina, Clara continued to live in the house until 1940. In July 1940, she was forcibly relocated to Vienna together with the last Jewish inhabitants of Hohenems and in 1942 she was killed in the Theresienstadt concentration camp.
The Burtschers kept Clara’s belongings in the attic of the villa and after the war ended they gave them to her son Jean, who, hidden by his Christian wife Laure, had survived the persecution by the National Socialists in Belgium. In the mid-1980s, the heirs of Dr Burtscher and his sisters sold the house to the market town of Hohenems.
Since the opening of Hohenems Jewish Museum in 1991, the residential floor on the ground floor has been the ‘working floor’ – with offices, a library, a media room, a museum café and a foyer. The library, the media room and the museum café are freely accessible during the opening hours. The basement floor is used for temporary exhibitions and the top floor for presentations and other events.
Hohenems Jewish Museum was opened in April 1991 in the Villa Heimann-Rosenthal in the centre of the former Jewish quarter.
The permanent exhibition, which was completely redesigned in 2007, presents areas of tension of Jewish life, focusing on an exemplarily told local story and its relating areas. Confronted with the questions of the visitors, the exhibition develops the concrete living reality of the diaspora in the context of a European story of migration and cross-border relationships, networks and globalisation. It places people in the foreground, their contradictions and subjective experiences, their life plans and customs; people such as Salomon Sulzer, the founder of modern European synagogue music, as well as peddlers and innkeepers, rabbis and teachers, merchants and manufacturers, like the Rosenthal family, in whose villa, built in 1864, the museum is housed.
Since the museum was opened, thanks to contact with the descendants of the Hohenems Jews throughout the world and due to many donations, a large collection of everyday objects and personal documents has come into being that can now be shown for the first time. Modern audio guides and video stations allow new access to a “history from within”.
The exhibition is offered in German, English and French for an international audience. The museum’s own children’s exhibition by Monika Helfer and Barbara Steinitz opens up to a young audience of 6 years of age and older a new perspective of history and encourages dialogue between the generations.
The exhibition architecture of Erich Steinmayr and Fritz Mascher, the design by design office stecher id and the new exhibition concept purposefully transform the previous residential house into a museum: a house in which we can perceive the old villa itself as an exhibit. Thus, today, the Villa Heimann-Rosenthal is a place where we can get close to the variety of stories and objects and consciously perceive ourselves as “observers” – a place of encounter with past but still challengingly current experience.