Jewish life ‘flourishes’ in Munich, 85 years after Kristallnacht

Shoah survivor Charlotte Knobloch said that, contrary to the world's expectations, 'the heart of European Jewry beats in Bavaria today'


MUNICH, GERMANY - SEPTEMBER 19: Charlotte Knobloch, President of the Jewish Community Munich and Upper Bavaria, (L) and Chief Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, the President of the Conference of European Rabbis (CER) and exiled former Chief Rabbi of Moscow, Russia, speaks the opening of the new European CER headquarters on September 19, 2023 in Munich, Germany. The Conference of European Rabbis is the umbrella organisation representing hundreds of mainstream Orthodox Jewish communities across Europe. (Photo by Leonhard Simon/Getty Images)

Eighty-five years after Munich’s main synagogue was demolished in a prelude to Kristallnacht, a leading Jewish organisation has moved its headquarters to the city.

Charlotte Knobloch, 90, a Holocaust survivor who leads the community in Bavaria, said that after the Second World War nobody believed that Jewish life could be revived in the Germany.

But this week the Conference of European Rabbis (CER) opened new offices in Munich and hailed the progress made by Germany and the state of Bavaria in tackling antisemitism.

“There were times in my life when no Jewish person would have volunteered to stay or live in Munich,” Knobloch told attendees at the office’s official opening.

Knobloch lived in hiding throughout the Shoah, protected by her family’s Christian housekeeper, who claimed that she was her illegitimate daughter.

After the fall of the Nazi regime, she stayed in Germany and helped to rebuild her community.

Now, she said, “the heart of European Jewry beats in Bavaria today”.

The CER, which represents around 1,000 rabbis from across Europe, was previously based in London.

CER president, Pinchas Goldschmidt, who served as Moscow's chief rabbi for three decades until 2022, said that his organisation was moving in part due to Brexit.

“Brussels is the centre of Europe today,” he said.

“We believe our headquarters should be in the European Union… but we have not forgotten Britain.”

Munich has “time and time again” been the key to German Jewish relations “for better or worse,” Goldschmidt added. “The war against the Jewish religion started near here.”

Twenty-six years ago, the CER was first invited to hold a conference in Munich and its leaders were forced to decide whether Jews could return to the city.

As Knobloch’s community remained, however, he decided, “it is our duty to come back”.

Goldschmidt added: “The relocation of the headquarters to Munich and the opening of the Centre for Jewish Life of the CER is a symbol of hope and a message to all the dark forces that threaten the Jewish people.

“Munich, a place with a tragic history, today shows a flourishing Jewish life. This development is proof that antisemitism will not succeed.”

Despite the CER’s arrival, Jews in the region face significant challenges that include the rise of the far right, however.

There are “more than enough challenges” for European Jewish communities, Knobloch said.

These include growth in support for the hard right Alternative fur Deutschland (AfD) party, demographic issues, and maintaining a high standard of religious offerings, she said.

Thuringia AfD state leader Bjorn Hocke is currently on trial for allegedly using a banned Nazi storm trooper slogan at a 2021 meeting.

In a previous speech, the former teacher criticised the Holocaust memorial in Berlin and suggested Germans should reject historical "shame".

Across the continent, Jews face terror threats from the far right and radical Islam, Goldschmidt said.

The fight to maintain the right to practise shechita, Jewish ritual slaughter, is also ongoing.

Florian Herrmann, head of the Bavarian State Chancellery, added that the rabbinical group’s move was a “a genuine milestone and an important sign”.

He said: “For the first time since the Shoah, an international Jewish organisation has decided to move to Germany. [This is] not just any organisation, it has an historic dimension.”

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