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all photos by Rhonda Spivak

On top of the entrance to the Hotel Alstadt there was a fresco of a devilish face with a large hooked nose and beard and two horns

Editor's Report from Salzburg: The House of Jews Becomes the House of Brews- Why the Devil is this Fresco on the Alstadt Hotel of Jew Alley?

by Rhonda Spivak, September 7, 2015


I was walking through the beautiful old town of Salzburg, Austria rather aimlessly, when I came across the five star Radisson Blue Alstadt Hotel on 15 Judengasse St., a narrow street near what is now the shopping district of the old town. Since Judengasse means "Jew Alley" I realized I was in the old Jewish district of Salzburg. I suddenly became curious to learn what the building that was now this luxury boutique hotel had been when it was part of the Jewish "ghetto."


After searching on the internet I found that the earliest documentary evidence of a Jewish district in Salzburg dates back to 1284 and that 15 Judengasse used to be a synagogue in medieval times. In these times, Christendom ruled, and it was believed that Jews were responsible for killing Jesus.  During this period, Jews were forced to become moneylenders (since “usury” was prohibited for Christians) and although the government took much of the interest the Jews charged, the average person didn’t know this, and thus hated the Jews. The Salzburg archbishops transacted business with Jewish merchants and bankers, but by 1498 following persecution and mass executions, Jews were expelled from Salzburg


Returning to the Radisson Blue Alstadt Hotel the next day, I went inside to ask the front desk clerk more about the history of the hotel. She explained that in a document from 1370, the house at Judengasse 15 was referred to as a synagogue, which is the first written proof of the synagogue's existence. After further researching this, I learned that the synagogue existed up until 1404, and by 1449, the building was reported to house the Höllbräu, a well-known brewery.  (I began thinking to myself that in essence the "House of Jews” had turned into the "House of Brews"), and after that it became an Inn for travelers.


It was on my way out as I stopped to take a photo of the front entrance to the hotel; I noticed that on top of the entrance there was a fresco of a devilish face with a large hooked nose and beard and two horns. It first appeared to me to be a depiction of a devil with horns. But as I looked again, I began wondering if this was an anti-Semitic depiction of a Jew?

I remembered what I had learned from Dr. Catherine Chatterley, founding director of the Canadian Institute of Antisemitism. She had explained to me that in medieval times, "Jews were associated with the Black Arts (sorcery and magic) in the European imagination. They were believed to be in league with the devil and engaged in a conspiracy to destroy Christendom."

I went back into the hotel and asked if this fresco on the front entrance would have been from medieval times, and the desk clerk said it was-it was hundreds of years old and had not been touched.

I wondered if this fresco had been something that was put up at the time by authorities to indicate that this had been where the synagogue was, the "house of the devil".

Maybe there is another explanation for this fresco that is not at all related to Jews, but to the fact that the location was a brewery and later became an inn. Maybe it's pure coincidence. I do not really know one way or another.

What I do know is that a couple of young Austrians from Salzburg who were in the hotel came outside to see the fresco that I was speaking about.

They looked at it and said, "Yes, it could be a Jew." They said it in a matter of fact way and then moved on.

I walked down the rest of Judengasse St. to see if I could find another fresco like this, but I could not. For some reason it is unique to 15 Judengasse

I have since read a book by Stan Nadal "Salzburg and the Jews" and have learned why the synagogue ceased being a synagogue in July 1404. In May of that year the archbishop at the time confirmed the privileges of Jews in Salzburg, including ownership of the synagogue in exchange for a substantial payment. But, as Nadal writes,

"… about a month later, on July 6th, a charge of Host desecration (that is, desecration of the consecrated communion wafers used in the Roman Catholic Mass) was raised against the Jews. A thief caught stealing valuables from the Mullner Church just north of the town (now part of Salzburg) claimed that he had been paid by the Jews to steal communion wafers so that they could desecrate them in their synagogue. Late medieval Christians believed that this would produce the blood of Christ from the wafers--blood that the Jews would then use in satanic rituals. As a result, the Jews were rounded up, their synagogue and houses were searched (no communion wafers were found) and some of the men were tortured."

Then, according to Nidal, when the body of a Christian baby was found in the nearby Cathedral, "possibly by a guilt ridden unwed mother" two Jews gave forced confessions of buying  a  Christian child for the purpose of ritually draining its blood, and all Jews over ten were burned to death. As Nidal writes,

"The burning of the Jews was presided over by the Archbishop and his brother, who was then rewarded with the ownership of the synagogue property at Judengasse 15."

I noticed that there was no plaque inside the renovated Alstadt Hotel anywhere that indicated this had once been a synagogue. Nidal's book explains why:

"In its later years the Höllbräu had a wall-plaque inside commemorating the old synagogue, but it was taken down during the Hotel Alstadt renovations and never replaced." 


Leaving Judengasse St., I walked down Getreidegasse ("Grain Street") which is the main thoroughfare of the Old City of Salzburg. It is the street where Jews historically had businesses whenever they were allowed to live in Salzburg. When Adolf Hitler came to Salzburg in April 1938, after the Anschluss, he was enthusiastically received on Getreidgasse, which was all decked out with Nazi flags.  In 1938, Jewish shops on the street (such as Fleishmann and Company at 14 Getreidegasse, Fuchs and Company, a fashion accessory store at 21, and Orenstein's Clothing Store at 24) were all "Aryanized." (i.e. they were turned over to Nazis).


According to Nidal, Salzburg claimed the 'honour' of being the first city in the Third Reich to be "Judenrein"- (Nazi terminology meaning "cleansed of Jews").

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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