As Europe and much of the rest of the world was marking the 50th anniversary of the Allied defeat of Nazi Germany, arsonists set fire to a synagogue in the northern Germany city of Lubeck.
The arson attack, which comes 14 months after a previous fire was set at the Lubeck synagogue, came only hours before Berlin’s Jewish community rededicated their main temple in the city.
The New Synagogue, which was reopened as a cultural center Sunday, had stood in ruins since the end of World War II.
According to German news reports, the fire at the Lubeck synagogue was set near a side entrance early Sunday morning by unknown perpetrators.
An extension to the synagogue was completely destroyed in the blaze. Nobody was injured, though there were people in the building at the time.
The Federal Attorney’s Office has taken over the investigation of the incident, which prompted some 2,000 demonstrators to gather spontaneously in Lubeck to protest the attack.
The synagogue was the target last year of the first firebombing of a Jewish house of worship since the days of the Third Reich.
Four men between the ages of 19 and 24, all of whom belonged to extreme right- wing groups, were convicted of premeditated arson in that incident. They were recently given sentences ranging from 30 months to 4### years in jail.
Ignatz Bubis, chairman of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said the arsonists involved in the latest incident probably timed the attack to coincide with the dedication of the New Synagogue.
But Bubis told reporters that the arsonists represented only a small minority of Germans.
The incident was condemned by several Germans politicians.
Rita Sussmuth, the speaker of the lower house of Parliament, termed the attack “an abhorrent provocation” that came on the eve of Germany’s commemoration of the Nazi surrender.
The rededication of the New Synagogue in Berlin was attended by some 4,000 guests, including German President Roman Herzog, Chancellor Helmut Kohl and leaders of Berlin’s 10,000-strong Jewish community.
Arguably one of the most stunning pieces of architecture in the center of the former East Berlin, the gold-domed New Synagogue was the country’s largest synagogue, boasting a seating capacity of 3,200 for Berlin’s 160,000 pre-war Jewish community.
Berlin Mayor Eberhard Diepgen welcomed the reopening of the 129-year-old building, which survived the Kristallnacht pogrom of Nov. 9-10, 1938 but was badly damaged by an Allied bombing raid on Berlin in 1943.
“We see this not only as an attempt at reparation, but also as an enrichment for the cultural diversity of our city,” said Diepgen.
Jerzy Kanal, the chairman of Berlin’s Jewish community, said in his remarks that he was especially touched by the presence of hundreds of former Berlin Jews who managed to survive the Holocaust and who came back for the ceremonies at the invitation of the city.
Bubis, in his address, said the future of Germany’s Jewish community depends on the support of the country’s non-Jewish population.
He also noted that the synagogue was saved from destruction on Kristallnacht because of the courage of the head of the local police precinct, Wilhelm Krutzfeld, who managed to get the fire department to put out the fire.
“There were such people” as Krutzfeld to help Jews during the days of the Third Reich, Bubis said. “Unfortunately there were too few.”