New Munich synagogue inaugurated

Symbolic ceremony comes on 68th anniversary of Kristallnacht.

munich synagogue 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
munich synagogue 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
Nearly 70 years after Adolf Hitler declared Munich's main synagogue an "eyesore" in the center of his power base and personally ordered it torn down, the city's Jews celebrated a return to the heart of the southern German city. On Thursday, the 68th anniversary of Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass, Torah scrolls were marched, flanked by hundreds of onlookers and secured by some 1,500 police officers, through the winding, cobblestone streets of downtown Munich to a newly built synagogue in the heart of the city. Charlotte Knobloch, president of Germany's main Jewish group and a Munich native who survived the night when synagogues and Jewish businesses across Germany were attacked, praised the new synagogue and community center as a statement that Jews survived and are thriving in Munich. "It has always been my great wish to open the Ohel Jakob synagogue, Munich's new main synagogue, on Nov. 9," Knobloch said, before some 1,200 government and religious officials and others attending the dedication ceremony. "Because today we can show the entire world that Hitler did not succeed in annihilating us. There are Jews in the former capital of the Nazi movement." The completion of the synagogue and its accompanying community center is a milestone for this burgeoning Jewish community of 9,200 members - Germany's second-largest after Berlin's. It not only brings their house of worship, schools and community centers under the same roof, but places them back in the city center, near the landmark Frauenkirche, or Church of Our Lady. For many, that also means that the buildings are close to the heart of German consciousness. "There are synagogues that have been rebuilt, synagogues that have been renovated, synagogues that have been reconstructed, but those are totally different from building a center from scratch for a growing Jewish community," said Rabbi Israel Singer of the World Jewish Congress. "That builds hope." President Horst Koehler expressed hope that such a symbol would help make the Jewish community a normal part of German society again. "The new Jewish Center, to which this synagogue belongs, not only fills a hole left open in the city center since World War II, it also helps to bridge the spiritual and cultural hole ripped open by the expulsion and murder of the Munich Jews," Koehler said. When the US Army marched into Munich in 1945, only several dozen Jews remained. While the immediate postwar years saw an influx of mostly Eastern European Jews, most of them were fleeing their homes and swiftly moved on to Israel or the United States. Those who remained and slowly started to rebuild took up residence in the city's only remaining synagogue, located in the backyard of a far-flung neighborhood. Since then, the city has had no visible Jewish buildings. The new synagogue, which seats 550, is a cubic structure of travertine stone topped by a glass cube aimed at giving worshippers a view of the heavens. The interior walls are paneled with warm cedar decorated with golden psalms. Funding for the synagogue, which cost about $72 million, came from the city of Munich, the state of Bavaria and Munich's Jewish community. It stands on St. Jakobs Square, only a few blocks from where the city's original main synagogue stood until its demise in June 1938. In 2003, authorities thwarted a plot by a group of neo-Nazis to bomb the ceremony to lay the cornerstone for the new synagogue. Security concerns led Jewish leaders to decide to house a memorial to the 4,000 Munich Jews killed in the Nazi Holocaust in an underground tunnel between the synagogue and the community center. Such fears, say Singer, are behind criticism from some Holocaust survivors who argue a new synagogue should not be built in the city that was home to the Nazi party, where Joseph Goebbels gave the orders for Kristallnacht. Yet, as the home to what the World Jewish Congress describes as the world's fastest-growing Jewish community, conservatively estimated at more than 100,000, Germany must ensure that the rights of its new immigrants are respected, he said. "There should be squares in Germany that are secure under the sign of David, not only under the sign of the cross," Singer said.