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Around the Jewish World in Former East Germany, Synagogue Rises from the Ashes of Kristallnacht

November 7, 2001
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Germany’s annual commemoration of Kristallnacht has a uplifting side this year, as Dresden prepares to open the first newly built synagogue in the former East Germany.

The building stands on the grounds of the original synagogue, one of hundreds destroyed during the pogrom against Jewish property that took place on the night of Nov. 9-10, 1938, in Germany and Austria.

The dedication of the new synagogue — which has space for 300 worshipers — will take place on Friday morning, exactly 63 years after the original synagogue was destroyed by Nazi arsonists.

Among the guests expected are the U.S. ambassador to Germany, Daniel Coats; German political leaders; and Jewish and Christian leaders. The ceremony is to be broadcast live across the country.

Paul Spiegel, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, called the building of the synagogue “a miracle” that he never could have imagined 10 years ago. The Jewish population of Dresden — as in all of Germany — has grown since the fall of communism, with the arrival of Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

With some 350 members today, the Dresden Jewish Community no longer could be served by the communist-era synagogue, which had room for just 90 worshipers.

The project, which cost more than $10 million, was supported by the city of Dresden and the state of Sachsen, as well as by $2 million in private donations collected by the ecumenical Foundation for the Rebuilding of the Dresden Synagogue.

According to the foundation’s treasurer, Juergen Mueller, the foundation was created in 1997 by locals who felt the synagogue should be rebuilt as part of the renovation of the city after the 1990 reunification of east and west Germany.

“It was a scandal,” Mueller said. “The Jewish community expressed the wish, that if everything was being restored, including the frauenkirche” — a historic church — then “the synagogue should be rebuilt.”

The reconstruction of the famous frauenkirche of Dresden, destroyed by Allied bombing in 1944, is expected to be completed in 2005, Mueller said.

The Dresdner synagogue may be the first new synagogue planned for the former eastern states, but it is not the last. In March, 2002, the city of Chemnitz will dedicate its new synagogue.

Spiegel told the Dresden News that he can imagine more synagogues being built in the former east, following the trend of former West Germany of the 1970s and 1980s.

In Dresden, the synagogue dedication will include commemoration of Kristallnacht. Alfred Neugebauer, an 87-year-old resident of Dresden who as a young firefighter saved the original synagogue’s Star of David, is to place that star in the new building.

Meanwhile, cities across Germany will hold programs remembering the pogrom that today symbolizes the radicalization of the Nazis’ anti-Semitic campaign.

Schools, churches and Jewish and non-Jewish organizations have invited citizens to meet eyewitnesses to discuss the past’s relevance to present. Newspapers also are publishing articles about the events of 63 years ago.

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