Home International Essen synagogue highlights revival of Jewish life in Germany

Essen synagogue highlights revival of Jewish life in Germany


Berlin : Jewish culture in Germany is being given a boost with an extensive makeover of the Old Synagogue in the industrial Ruhr region city of Essen.

More than seven million euros ($10 million) are being pumped into the refurbishment of the 95-year-old building so it can be ready by 2010 when Essen becomes Europe’s capital of culture.

“We hope the conversion will send out a new impulse for the political discourse about German-Jewish life,” according to Edna Brocke, the synagogue’s director.

The building was gutted by fire during Kristallnacht or Night of Broken Glass in November 1938, when the Nazis looted and destroyed Jewish property.

The city of Essen purchased the synagogue in the late 1950s and allowed it to be used as an exhibition centre for industrial design before it was turned into a memorial in 1980.

More restoration work has just been announced for another synagogue destroyed during the Nazi pogrom in Darmstadt, not far from the banking centre of Frankfurt.

A memorial is to be erected amid the ruins of the former Liberal Synagogue, after liturgical artefacts and parts of its walls were uncovered during excavation work for a new city clinic.

Work was halted after the discovery in 2003 while a new concept was worked out to integrate the remains of the old walls in the new building in the form of a memorial.

“No other contemporary material in the city possesses so much symbolic power or describes so intensely the crimes of the Nazis,” Darmstadt Mayor Walter Hoffmann said of the synagogue.

The new Place of Recollection and Remembrance is expected to open Nov 7, two days before the 70th anniversary of the Night of Broken Glass, following the approval of funds this week.

Some 600,000 Jews lived in Germany before the war, but the figure declined to around 12,000 after 1945. Today, there are more than 110,000 Jews or people of Jewish, giving Germany one of the largest Jewish populations of any country in Europe.

A flagship moment for the burgeoning Jewish community occurred 15 months ago when the newly constructed Ohel Jakob synagogue was dedicated in Munich, a city once at the ideological heart of Nazi Germany.

Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Munich’s new Jewish centre Thursday, praising the way Jewish immigrants from Russia and Eastern Europe were integrating into the country’s Jewish community.

“We are very happy that we once again have Jewish life in Germany after the terrible history of National Socialism (Nazis),” the chancellor said, speaking Russian, which she learned while growing up in communist East Germany.

But it is the capital, Berlin, which is home to one of the fastest growing Jewish communities, largely as a result of immigration from the former Soviet republics.

Its more than 12,000 members have the benefit of some of European Jewry’s most prominent memorials and museums, as well eight synagogues, including Germany’s largest.

The Rykestrasse Synagogue in the former working class suburb of Prenzlauer Berg was destroyed by the Nazis and finally restored only last year at a cost of five million euros.

With room for 1,200 worshippers, the main sanctuary of the neo-Romanesque style building has a lovingly rebuilt interior that has proved immensely popular with visitors.

The Neue Synagogue, which was completed in 1866, is one of Berlin’s most famous landmarks, with its double golden cupolas and Spanish-style architecture.

Other famous sites are the Holocaust Memorial, a field of grey concrete slabs paying homage to the six million Jews killed by the Nazis, and the distinctive Jewish Museum.

Designed by US architect Daniel Libeskind, who was later given the go-ahead for the new World Trade Centre in New York, the museum documents almost two millennia of Jewish presence in Germany and elsewhere in Europe.

The first rabbis to be ordained in Germany since the end of the war took their vows at the main synagogue in the city of Dresden in September 2006.

The trio are graduates of the only rabbinical seminary in Germany, the Abraham Geiger College, a branch of the University of Potsdam. There are 12 students currently studying at the seminary. The next ordinations are due to take place later this year.