BERLIN (Aug. 18)
Volunteer efforts were not enough to keep the Elbe River from flooding the basement of Dresden’s new synagogue, as the worst floods in at least 100 years submerged much of the historic center of the eastern German city.
The Elbe River reached new heights last Friday and waters were expected to continue rising at least through Sunday, as overflowing rivers in the Czech Republic rush downstream into Germany.
A spokesman for the Central Council of Jews in Germany told JTA that “numerous volunteers” had shown up to help in the desperate effort to sandbag the synagogue. They lost their battle in the morning hours, when river water overflowed the building’s cellar.
However, the sanctuary remained dry last Friday, and Torah scrolls had been secured.
Israeli President Moshe Katsav phoned German President Johannes Rau, offering assistance and the “sympathy and solidarity of the Israeli people.”
According to the Israeli Embassy in Berlin, Rau expressed his thanks and his hopes that the “catastrophe would soon come to an end.” He invited Katsav to visit Germany.
In Dresden, lack of telephone and e-mail contact made it difficult to determine whether all members of the Jewish community, particularly the elderly or infirm, were high and dry. The Dresden train station was severely flooded, cutting off train access to the city.
Much of the city center, rebuilt after its destruction by Allied bombing raids in World War II, was under water last Friday and at least 30,000 people were evacuated from their homes.
At least 89 people in Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic and Russia have died in the floods
Roman Koenig, president of the Dresden Jewish community, reported via the Berlin-based Central Council that representatives were checking daily on frail or disabled members of the community. While some had to evacuate their homes, all were safe as of Aug. 15, he said.
Reports that Dresden’s new Jewish cemetery had been flooded on Friday could not be confirmed, said the Central Council spokesman, who asked that his name not be used. The cemetery lies in an area that has been evacuated.
Venues normally protected by alarm systems were under increased police guard, the spokesman said.
Dresden’s new synagogue was dedicated on Nov. 9, 2001, exactly 63 years after the original synagogue was destroyed by Nazi arsonists in the Kristallnacht pogrom.
Alfred Neugebauer, an 87-year-old Dresden resident — who as a young firefighter had saved the original synagogue’s Star of David — placed the star in the new building.
With room for 300 worshipers, the synagogue cost more than $10 million and was supported by the City of Dresden, the state of Saxony and the private Foundation for the Rebuilding of the Dresden Synagogue. It replaced the communist-era synagogue, which had room for some 90 worshipers.
Due to an influx of Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union in the past 12 years, Dresden today has a Jewish population of about 1,000. About a third are officially members of the community.
At the synagogue’s dedication in 2001, Paul Spiegel, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, called it “a miracle” that he never could have imagined a decade ago.