Hamburg's Jews to begin rebuilding synagogue destroyed after Kristallnacht

'This moment is a turning point for our Jewish history in Hamburg', a local community member declared


The Jewish community of Hamburg is to begin rebuilding what was once one of Germany’s most prominent synagogues more than 80 years after it was destroyed following Kristallnacht – the Night of Broken Glass.

Dedicated in 1906, Hamburg’s Bornplatz Synagogue was the city’s main synagogue, and the first in the city to openly face a public street. Its visibility and impressive stature – it accommodated 1,200 worshippers and its dome rose 40 metres into the sky – meant it came to symbolise the legal equality of Hamburg’s Jewish community with its members' non-Jewish contemporaries.

On November 9 1938 it was desecrated during Kristallnacht, the series of pogroms that saw Nazis destroy synagogues and Jewish-owned stores across Germany.

Unlike many other sites targeted by the Nazi forces, Bornplatz was not burned down. Instead, In the spring of 1939, the Jewish community was forced to sell the building to the city of Hamburg for far below its market value and to pay for its subsequent demolition. 

Now, 84 years on, Hamburg officials have cut up a copy of the Nazi-era Aryanisation document that ordered the demolition in a ceremony to officially mark the restitution of the site, and the local community is preparing to rebuild the synagogue.

“We apologise for coming to the decision so late to give them back their property,” Dirk Kienscherf, a local official from the centre-left Social Democratic Party, said to representatives of the Jewish community at the ceremony.

Daniel Scheffer, an Israeli-born Hamburg-based entrepreneur, spearheaded the rebuilding campaign, which began in 2020.

He previously told the JC of how he had been “overwhelmed” to discover a silver Torah crown engraved with a dedication to Markus Hirsch, the first rabbi of the Bornplatz, in the shop of a local antique dealer.

But, he said, “I also felt embarrassed and ashamed and angry, because I was being asked to buy back what was stolen from my ancestors. That feeling lasted for days.”

After purchasing the crown Sheffer brought it with him to dozens of meetings with public officials and other potential supporters of his campaign, “No to antisemitism. Yes to the Bornplatz Synagogue.”

While some have expressed concern that the rebuilding could make it possible for the atrocities of the Holocaust to slip out of public consciousness – currently a mosaic at the site commemorates the synagogue’s destruction – Sheffer has hailed the restitution of the site as a major turning point.

“This moment today is a turning point for our Jewish history in Hamburg,” a local radio station quoted him as saying.

“It is the victory of justice and Jewish life in Hamburg over the barbarism of the Nazis.”

The site is currently being excavated. When this process has been completed an architectural competition to determine the designer of the new synagogue will be held. A bunker standing next to the synagogue will be demolished.

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