The Jewish settlement in Hohenems dates back to 1617, when the Graf Kaspar of Hohenems allowed Jewish families who had been expelled from Günsburg in Swabia to settle there. A community seems to have existed since 1633 and in 1642 a synagogue is first mentioned. The Jews of Hohenems seem to have been temporarily expelled in 1663 and again in 1676 from where they moved to Sulz and back to Hohenems in 1688. Three families were allowed to stay in Sulz where they formed the core of a flourishing community with a rabbi, chazzan (cantor) and shochet. In
1744 hundreds of men from Rankweil attacked the local small Jewish community plundering and demolishing their houses. The victims were able to flee and eventually settled in Hohenems. The Jews of Hohenems were not allowed to rest; thet continued to face severe limitations and threats of expulsions. After the last Reichsgraf (the ruler) of Hohenems died in 1759, Hohenems fell under the authority of the Habsburgs. Although the community did not face expulsion again, it endured severe restrictions, but managed to develop community life with a synagogue, a school, a hospice for the sick and elderly, a ritual bath and a cemetery in the south of the town. Jeanette Landauer (1789-1867) was the popular inn-keeper of the inn “Zur Frohen Aussicht” which was a meeting place for Jews and Christians alike and was run by the Landauer family well into the 20th century.
Only in 1867 did the Jews in Hohenems, like all the Jews in Austria, gain legal equality and personal freedom. At the end of the 19th century Hohenems lost its economic importance and more and more Jews left it for other places. At the beginning of the 20th century, there were around 90 Jews living in Hohenems; in 1932 only 24 community members (14 of them paying taxes) were left. The community maintained several institutions, a synagogue that was built in 1770-1772 and a cemetery established in 1617.
After the Second World War several hundred DPs, most of them camp survivors from Eastern Europe, spent some time in Hohenems. They ran communal institutions such as a Talmud school in Hohenems. After they left for other countries, Jewish community life in Hohenems came to an end; former Hohenems Jews did not return to Hohenems.
The cemetery was taken care of by the “Verein zur Erhaltung des Jüdischen Friedhofs” (Jewish organization) in Hohenems, and put under a preservation order in 1967. The existing buildings in the Jewish quarter date from the 18th and 19th century. In 1991 a Jewish museum was opened in the former villa of the Heiman-Rosenthal family.
Among the prominent rabbis of the community were Rabbi Dr. Aron Tänzer (1871-1937), born in Pressburg (Bratislava), who came to Hohenems in 1896. He published scholarly articles and wrote a history of the Jews in Hohenems (1905). After leaving Hohenems in 1905, he served as a rabbi in Meran and from 1907 to 1937 in Göppingen. During World War I, he volunteered as an army rabbi serving for three years on the Eastern front. Dr. Josef Link was, from 1912 to 1914, the last rabbi of Hohenems. He moved to Innsbruck in 1914 and the religious needs of Hohenems were taken care of by the IKG (Jewish community organization) of Innsbruck.
Salomon Sulzer (1804-1890) is the most famous Jewish personality of Hohenems. Born in the Jewish community of Hohenems (Vorarlberg), he was invited to Vienna at the age of 22 to officiate as a cantor for the consecration of the new synagogue in the Seitenstettengasse where he continued to officiate for 55 years. The music composed by the most famous child of the Jewish community of Hohenems found its way into synagogues all over the Western world and became a standard part of the cantoral repertoire. Together with R. Isaac Noah Mannheimer (1973-1865), he was responsible for the reshaping of the liturgy for the Viennese community. Jews and non-Jews came to the “Stadttempel” (Central Synagogue) to hear Sulzer sing and Franz Schubert said, after hearing Sulzer sing one of his German songs, “now for the first time I understand my own music and what it is that gives significance to the words of my songs.” The composer Franz Liszt was another of his admirers. Sulzer published his own compositions and the works he had commissioned in two volumes of Shir Zion.