Church to become first synagogue in German state since Kristallnacht


(JTA) — A former church will become Germany’s newest synagogue and the first in the state of Brandenburg since 1938.

In ceremonies on Sunday, Ulrike Menzel, who has led the Evangelical parish in Cottbus since 2009, handed a key for the Schlolsskirche, or “castle church,” to the Jewish Association of the State of Brandenburg.

The actual dedication of the synagogue is planned for Holocaust Remembrance Day, Jan. 27.

“It’s wonderful to see this house of worship returned to its intended use,” Menzel said at the ceremony, according to the Nordkurier online newspaper. For decades, the building has been used for social and communal events.

Sunday’s ceremony comes almost 76 years after Kristallnacht, or the “Night of Broken Glass,” a Germany-wide pogrom in which Jewish property and synagogues — including the one in Cottbus — were destroyed. A department store stands on the site today.

The state of Brandenburg contributed the full purchase cost for the decommissioned church, $730,700, and will contribute about $62,400 per year for maintenance, according to a statement on the community’s website. The city of Cottbus oversaw the removal of the cross and church bell from the steeple. All other costs of renovation were to be borne by the state Jewish association.

The Cottbus Jewish community has pledged to use the structure as a synagogue for at least 25 years.

Cottbus traces the first mention of Jewish residents to 1448. Its first Jewish house of prayer was established in 1811 in the inner courtyard of a cloth maker. At the time, there were 17 Jews in Cottbus. In 1902, a larger synagogue was dedicated. Nazi hooligans set it afire on the night of Nov. 9-10, 1938.

The Jewish community was not formally reestablished in Cottbus until 1998. Today it has some 350 members, all from the former Soviet Union.

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