Destroyed German synagogue hosts Torah for first time since WWII

A local social worker, Dorothea Duersch, spearheaded the effort to return life to the synagogue.

April 12, 2018 17:11
2 minute read.
THE PERIMETER fence of Auschwitz II-Birkenau is enveloped in a thick evening fog during the ceremoni

THE PERIMETER fence of Auschwitz II-Birkenau is enveloped in a thick evening fog during the ceremonies marking the 73rd anniversary of the liberation of the camp and International Holocaust Remembrance Day, near Oswiecim, Poland, January 2018. (photo credit: KACPER PEMPEL/REUTERS)

A synagogue in the German town of Bingen recently hosted a Torah scroll for the first time since its destruction in 1938, the woman responsible for the synagogue’s revival told The Jerusalem Post this week.

Last month, Rabbi Aharon Vernikovsky from Mainz, near Frankfurt, brought a Torah scroll to the community and led prayer services and discussions, renewing a tradition that had been missing in the town since the Nazis stamped it out on the Night of Broken Glass in 1938.

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A local social worker, Dorothea Duersch, spearheaded the effort to return life to the synagogue, which had been turned into a fire station by the municipality.

Duersch developed a connection to the Jewish faith when she and her husband, Klaus, spent 10 years living in Israel, eventually becoming leaders of Moshav Ness Amim, near Nahariya. The moshav was set up by European Christians in the early 1960s as a sign of solidarity with the Jewish people after the Holocaust.

Since their return to Germany, the couple has been active in preserving the memory of the Jews from their area of southern Germany and have organized educational and dialogue projects.

Duersch helped organize a group of local Jews – consisting mainly of immigrants from the former Soviet Union, but also from Hungary, the Czech Republic, Brazil and from Germany – who demanded that the municipality give them the right to use rooms in the former synagogue of Bingen.

“National Socialists set fire to the synagogue,” reads a description of the synagogue’s history, posted to the website of Duersch’s Tiftuf – the Association for the Promotion of Jewish Life in Bingen Today.

“Rochusstrasse [the street of the synagogue] was full of people in the afternoon. The fire brigade hosed the adjacent buildings to prevent them from catching fire. Neither the Jews nor their synagogue were protected. The exterior walls, the facade with the Tablets of the Law in Hebrew, guarded by two lions, as well as both side wings survived.”

“You could still see that it had once been a sacred building,” Duersch told the Post about the building’s condition a decade ago.

There had been elderly residents in parts of the building that had been turned into apartments. After the last one passed away, she asked City Hall to use those rooms to reestablish the synagogue.

The municipality initially declined her request, saying that they needed the room for offices for the fire station.

“And they told me there are no Jews in Bingen, which was not true – lots of Jews immigrated there from Russia in the 1990s,” Duersch explained.

The group turned to the Jewish community in Mainz for help, whose chairman encouraged Duersch to establish an association – and so she established Tiftuf.

After a two-year battle, the community was granted two rooms of the building in 2008, which they have since used regularly for Jewish learning dialogue, cultural events, to observe Shabbat and to celebrate Jewish holidays.

While rabbis have led services in the revived synagogue, last month was the first time a rabbi brought a Torah with him. “It was a warm and nice atmosphere and the rabbi promised to come back and lead services more often in Bingen,” Duersch said.

“Having a service with a Torah after [nearly] 80 years since the destruction of the synagogue is so important,” she said.

As she writes on the Tiftuf website, “Jewish life in this building today wins over its destruction.”

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