Felix Klein, Germany’s commissioner for the fight against anti-Semitism, believes the country is witnessing a resurgence of Jewish life.
“There is still a thriving, growing Jewish life in Germany. I think society should take a much closer look at Jewish life today,” the commissioner said in an interview with German Catholic news agency KNA.
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Klein pointed to a newly-built synagogue in the southern city of Constance, and another that is soon to be opened in Lübeck, in northern Germany. The flourishing community, he said, meant Jews from abroad, but especially from Israel, wanted to make Germany their home.
“This is a great development — that Jews trust in our country is something very special after the horror of the Shoah,” he said, referring to the Holocaust by its Hebrew name. “We should make this diversity even more tangible by holding Jewish cultural days, exhibitions and joint celebrations.”
Klein told KNA there would be an opportunity to do this in 2021, which marks 1,700 years of Jewish life in Germany. To celebrate the occasion, the commissioner said a special stamp was planned, as well as the world’s largest celebration of the Jewish holiday Feast of Tabernacles.
Rise in anti-Semitism
Recent surveys have found that Germans believe anti-Semitism is rising in their communities. In 2019, police recorded 1,839 hate crimes committed against Jews nationwide — the highest tally in almost two decades.
In one of those cases, a gunman killed two people outside a synagogue in the eastern city of Halle while the Jewish community was observing Yom Kippur.
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The Jewish community in Berlin with more than 11,000 members is once again the biggest in Germany. Its main synagogue is on the Rykestrasse, a red-brick building in a Neo-Romanesque style dating from 1903/04. With seating for over 2,000 it is the second largest synagogue in Europe after the Dohány Street Synagogue in Budapest.
It’s thought to be one of the oldest synagogues still standing in Europe. It was by chance in the year 1100 that the Erfurt Synagogue survived a medieval pogrom as well as repeated phases of persecution. It was converted into a storage hall and later even used as a ballroom, so its true purpose remained hidden until the 1990s. It was eventually restored and re-opened in 2009 as a museum.
The first settled Jewish communities were established along a north-south passage following the Rhine river between Speyer, Mainz and Worms. The oldest surviving Jewish cemetery in Europe can be found in the synagogue compound in Worms. The tombstones with over 2,000 still legible inscriptions, some dating back to the 11th century, are well worth seeing.
Cologne was one of the largest Jewish communities in Germany during the Weimar Republic. In 1933 there were seven synagogues. On November 9, 1938, during the nationwide pogroms of Kristallnacht, all houses of prayer were destroyed. After the war, the synagogue in Roonstraße was the only one to be rebuilt. Today it is once again a lively center of Jewish culture in Germany.
The first Jewish community in Bavaria was based in Regensburg. In the Middle Ages it was one of the most important in Europe. The first synagogue, which was destroyed in 1519, is today commemorated by a work of art in white stone marking the outline of the synagogue. In 1995, during excavation work, the old remnants were found, leading to the creation of an underground information center.
The synagogue in Bayreuth has a very different history. The building, from 1715, served as an opera house and was only later converted by the Jewish community into a synagogue. Today it is the only surviving Baroque style synagogue in Germany, which is still used today as a place of worship.
The Jewish community in Ulm has had a synagogue again since 2012. Former German President Gauck attended the inauguration, at which he spoke of “a day of joy for all people of good will”. The building, which is oriented towards Jerusalem, is to be the central contact point for Jews in the east of Württemberg and in the Bavarian part of Swabia.
It is the only synagogue in Bavaria to have survived National Socialism almost unscathed. Opened in 1917, the Art Nouveau building is considered one of the most beautiful prayer houses in Europe. The eye-catcher is the 29-meter-high dome, which is decorated with oriental elements. The synagogue also houses the Jewish Cultural Museum, which documents the history of the Jews in Augsburg.
In this region of Germany, Jews were only granted permission to build synagogues in 1737. This simple, timber-framed building dates from this period. The opulent, Baroque-style interior, like so many synagogues in Germany, fell victim to the Nazi “Kristallnacht” pogrom in November 1938. Since 1974, the building has been used once again as a synagogue.
The early 20th century rang in an economic boom for Jews in Germany, which, in turn, inspired a more liberal movement within the Jewish community. This synagogue dates from this era and resembles Assyrian–Egyptian architecture. Neither Nazi pogroms nor the Second World War could fully destroy it. So, to this day, it stands as a testament to the glory days of German Jewish life.
The Old Synagogue in Essen was built between 1911 and 1913. It was one of the largest and most important Jewish centers in prewar Germany, but was severely damaged by the Nazis in 1938. After the war it served first as a museum for industrial design and later as a place of commemoration and documentation. After elaborate reconstruction work it is now home to the “House of Jewish Culture” museum.
The Old Synagogue in Dresden, designed by Gottfried Semper and part of the city’s famous skyline, was destroyed in 1938. More than half a century later, at the same location, this award-winning new building was opened in 2001. Inside the sanctuary, is a cube containing a square worship space, curtained off on all sides, intended to evoke an echo on the scale of the Temple at Jerusalem.
Munich also set out to architecturally mark a new chapter in German Jewish history. The Ohel Jakob, or Jacob’s Tent, synagogue was inaugurated in 2006. The building is part of the new Jewish Center consisting of the synagogue, the Jewish Museum of Munich and a community center funded by the city. With its 9,500 members, the Jewish community in Munich is one of the biggest in Germany.
Klein said there was certainly a growing “brutalization,” especially in online attacks, but added that he would continue to fight for these offenses to be “punished more quickly and more consistently,” for example by ensuring that police stations, prosecutors’ offices and courts were “adequately staffed.”
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