Jews in the Russian city of Kaliningrad want to reconstruct a grand synagogue on
the same spot where it stood before the Nazis destroyed it, but first they have
to evict the current tenants: the local circus.
Rabbi David Shvedik told
The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday he has been trying for years to relocate the
circus from the vacant plot where the majestic Konigsberg Synagogue once stood
but to no avail.
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“We own the land but they won’t leave,” he said on the
phone from Kaliningrad. “They’ve threatened us by saying if they were forced to
leave and then all the children will be angry at the Jews because there’d be no
more circus in town.”
The Chabad emissary said members of the local
Jewish community have tried to pay the circus to move.
“We don’t want a
war,” Shvedik said, “which is why we’ve offered them 400,000 euros to go but
they said no.”
Kaliningrad is the capital of an eponymous Russian exclave
bordering Poland to the south, Lithuania to the north and separated by hundreds
of kilometers from the rest of the country. The city was formerly known as
Konigsberg and was part of Germany until 1945 when it was conquered by the
Soviets who expelled its German inhabitants renaming it Kaliningrad in honor of
a communist politician.
Before the Nazis rose to power the city was home
to a relatively small but influential Jewish community. Political theorist
Hannah Arendt, Leah Rabin, the late wife of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, and
Moshe Smoira, the first president of the Supreme Court, were born there. Many
members of the community fled Nazi persecution before World War II. Most of
those who remained were killed in the Holocaust.
Shvedik said the new
synagogue in Kaliningrad would be an exact replica of the Konigsberg Synagogue
destroyed on Kristallnacht in 1938. Besides religious services, the rabbi said
it would house a nursery and community center serving 2,000 Jews in the
Despite the deadlock, Shvedik laid a cornerstone for the
synagogue last month in a ceremony attended by Kaliningrad Mayor Alexander
Yaroshuk as originally reported by chabad.org
“I believe it will take two years to build,” he said
Asked if he were willing to consider another location,
Shvedik categorically refused.
“We are continuing the tradition from when
Jews lived here when it was Konigsberg,” he said. “There was a rich Jewish life
here and we want to renew it.”