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Synagogues of Dresden

and their communities

A look back at the Dedication of the Dresden-Neustadt synagogue on September 3, 2023

On the occasion of the consecration of the Dresden-Neustadt synagogue on September 3, 2023, it is worth looking back at the development of the Dresden synagogues and their congregations. Today there are three Jewish communities in Dresden - not always without tensions among each other. Nevertheless, 78 years after the Holocaust, this is a welcome development towards a future-oriented Jewish life. Why it is like that? That is what this post describes.


On May 8, 1840, the Old Synagogue (also known as the Semper Synagogue after its builder) was inaugurated.

It was a brilliant, uplifting celebration! The synagogue was densely occupied, in the nave by the invited guests of honor, again the highest state officials and representatives of the authorities, in the other places by the community...

(Emil Lehmann, "Ein Halbjahrhundert in der israelitischen Religionsgemeinschaft zu Dresden. Erlebtes und Erlesenes." Gustav Salomon, Dresden 1890)

1840: The old Synagoge. A milestone on the way towards equal rights.
1840: The old Synagoge. A milestone on the way towards equal rights.

The Dresden synagogue was built after a long and tough fight by the Dresden Jews for equal rights with Christians. Some of the Jews' demands of 1834 were: The right to practice various trades; the right to acquire land; the abolition of the obligation to escort Jews in the mountain towns, the abolition of special payments for newly married couples, the right to live in the suburbs and the provision of fire extinguishers by the Jewish community instead of the ten thalers in case of fire.

Finally, on May 18, 1838, King Friedrich August allowed:

Jewish communities may be established in Dresden and Leipzig. Land for the construction of synagogues may be purchased. Jews are allowed to own property.

A plot of land on the outskirts of the city center, which was of inferior quality at the time, was made available for the construction of the synagogue. Constricted by the surrounding buildings, the synagogue had to be entered from the side. Externally, it resembled a Romanesque church (according to Heidrun Laudel: round arch style). This shows the efforts of the congregation to adapt to the Christian majority society. Only the Stars of David on the low towers indicated a synagogue from the outside. Only the interior design with its echoes of Moorish architecture, and thus of the heyday for the Jews in medieval Spain, expressed the difference to the Christian churches. At the time of its completion, it was the largest synagogue in Germany.

Today the architecture of the famous master builder Gottfried Semper is praised. For the Jews at the time the synagogue was built, their synagogue was a visible milestone on the way to equality.


1938: Destruction of the Old Synagogue

Foto of the destruction of the Sempersynagogue at Dresden in 1938
The Synagogue built by Semper is destroyed in 1938

During the pogrom night of 1938 (8/9 November, also known as Kristallnacht), the Nazis burned down the synagogue. The ruin was blown up; the stones were discarded, used for road construction or sold to private individuals. Nothing reminded of the synagogue anymore. For the destruction of their synagogues, the German Jews had to pay an "atonement payment" of one billion Reichsmarks to the state treasury.


The Jews, who had still believed that they could hold out in Germany despite the great restrictions and humiliations, finally realized that they would have no future in Germany.


1950: The synagogue on Fiedlerstrasse. The beginning after the end.

Before the Holocaust, the Dresden community numbered about five thousand members. In 1945, around 200 people who were being persecuted – Jews or people with a Jewish background – gathered in Dresden. They came from the concentration camps or as returnees from emigration. Some had been able to hide in the chaos after the bombing of February 13, 1945, and thus escaped deportation at the last minute.

These survivors reestablished the Jewish Community in 1945. As a unified community, it tried to give its members a home, regardless of their Jewish orientation. At the same time, it was a shelter: Here you were among your own kind, there were no former Nazis here.


Foto:  The synagogue on Fiedlerstraße
The synagogue on Fiedlerstraße

The mortuary in front of the cemetery, which was converted in 1950, served as a synagogue for the community. It is on a side street and is hardly noticed by the public.


The inauguration in 1950 was influenced by the Holocaust. The commemorative plaque on the front of the interior reminds us of this today:



„In 1950, the Jewish community in Dresden dedicated this plaque to their numerous brothers and sisters who succumbed to the murderous hands of fascism between 1933 and 1945 as a memorial to the living and as a memorial to the dead.“

2001: The New Synagogue on Hasenberg

Fot der Neuen Synagoge Dresden
Die Neue Synagoge Dresden am Hasenberg seit 2001

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, many Jewish immigrants came to Germany and thus also to Dresden. The synagogue on Fiedlerstrasse became too small for the growing Jewish community.


In the mid-1990s, considerations began to rebuild the Dresden Frauenkirche and at about the same time to build a synagogue. However, the initial conditions for the construction of the two places of worship were very different:


The Frauenkirche, once a landmark of Dresden, later THE symbol for the destruction of the city, was always present in the consciousness of the Dresdeners. In contrast, the Dresden Jews and their destroyed synagogue were largely pushed out of consciousness and forgotten after 1945.


The fact that the New Synagogue was built is essentially the merit of Christians. You have brought the Jews of Dresden back into the consciousness of many Dresdeners: since 1981 through the working group "Encounter with Judaism", which later became the Society for Christian-Jewish Cooperation. Regularly held events to educate about Christian anti-Semitism, the history of the Jews, Jewish resistance during the Nazi era, but also on "euthanasia", the persecution of the Sinti and Roma or the trial of the Dresden Gestapo boss Henry Schmidt contributed to the memory to the Jews. It was Christians who in 1988 commemorated the fate of Dresden's Jews (and the failure of the church during the Nazi era) with a plaque on the Kreuzkirche in the center of the city. At that time there were no stumbling blocks or memorials in Dresden that publicly commemorated former Dresden Jews.


So the new building is not a miracle, as is sometimes heard. Just as little as the support of many Dresdeners and those responsible in the city, such as the Mayor at the time, Herbert Wagner. Around 25 years of work to commemorate Jews bore fruit. The new construction of the synagogue was a gesture of private and state actors: If the crimes against the Jews during the Nazi era could not be undone, then at least - through the construction of the synagogue - an unmistakable sign of welcome to the Dresden Jews, represented by their community.


It is easy to overlook the fact that the increased attention and support that the Jewish community (unified community) and its representatives received and are receiving is not aimed at their achievements, but primarily expresses traditional respect for the victims of the Holocaust.

Everything has its time. And every plan under heaven has its hour...

(Ecclesiastes 3:1)

Two communities of new type


2003: Chabad Lubawitsch Dresden. The first step to normality.


Foto: The Mikve
Chabad Lubawitsch is the only Jewish community in Dresden that operates a Jewish kindergarten and a mikveh (ritual bath).

With the opening of the Chabad Lubawitsch Dresden community center in 2003, it became clear that there are also different forms of Jewish life in Dresden. That was an important step towards normality: Jews are just as little a homogeneous group as Christians and have different needs!


Like the Jewish religious community in Dresden, this community is independent: it is not represented by the Central Council of Jews in Germany. It is not financed through state contracts, but from private and/or regional funds. Their influx confirms that there is a need for such congregations.


2023: Consecration of the Dresden-Neustadt synagogue to the Besht Yeshiva and the Dresden Jewish Community


The synagogue room was mainly rebuilt and repaired by hand (by hand) and with the help of friends of the community. Until the completion, celebrations took place on the construction site, in friendly Christian communities, in the tent or at the neighbors (Haus der Künstler, Hanse 3).


In order to be able to classify the significance of the synagogue consecration of the Dresden religious community, one has to go a little further. Your Rabbi Akiva Weingarten comes from the ultra-Orthodox Hasidic community of the Satmars. This was re-established in New York after the Holocaust by the few survivors of the Satmar community (today: Satu Mare in Romania) and today has tens of thousands of members in the USA and Israel. In this community, after the Holocaust, its members found solace, solidarity and a new purpose in life: a life in the strictest possible religious form, in which almost every human action is governed by extremely narrow religious laws. Rabbi Akiva Weingarten broke out of this community in 2014, studied Jewish studies in Berlin and Potsdam and was employed as a rabbi by the Jewish community in Dresden (unified community) in 2019. He wanted to set up a liberal Hasidic yeshiva (school) to pave the way for other dropouts to lead a normal middle-class life. In order to be able to realize this project, Rabbi Weingarten, together with other people who had left Orthodoxy, founded an independent Yeshiva in Dresden and a little later, with the same tribe of activists, the Hasidic-liberal Jewish religious community in Dresden. The latter now has many more members than the activists.


What are the special features of the religious community?

  • The crucial difference to the unity community is that its self-image does not derive from the past, even though most of its activists have a Holocaust family background. The focus is on a lively and happy Jewish life, to which everyone is invited.

  • She is tolerant of all Jewish religious currents - as long as the feelings of others are not hurt.

  • Despite its short existence (founded in 2021), it maintains a wide range of contacts: to state institutions, to Christian communities, to local residents, etc. Non-Jews take part in the life of the community in various forms: as volunteer supporters or as participants on holidays and Shabbat evenings ...), to which they also bring friends of all (or no) denominations.

  • Within a very short time, it has developed into a Jewish place that has an impact on Dresden's urban society.

  • The renovation of the community rooms and the repair of the synagogue room were mainly carried out independently.

  • The synagogue Dresden-Neustadt is not a symbol that has an effect on the outside: it is a simple space that revives the original function of the synagogue: a space for prayer, for gathering, for social exchange.

Summary

The history of Dresden's synagogues and their Jewish communities reflects the role of Dresden's Jews in urban society. The synagogue of 1840 was a first visible symbol on the way to full equality. The synagogue from 1950 and the associated community organization primarily served as a place of protection and retreat for the survivors. The New Synagogue of the Unified Community was a sign of respect from private and public donors for the 6 million murdered. It brought Dresden's Jews back into the consciousness of urban society.

The founding of the communities Chabad Lubawitsch Dresden (2003) and the Jewish community Dresden (2021) are important steps on the way to normality: Jewish life is stepping out of the shadow of the Holocaust and turning towards the present and the future.


Besht Yeshiva/Kultusgemeinde: There are various further education and leisure offers, e.g. B. the workshop Printing and Linocut.
Besht Yeshiva/Kultusgemeinde: There are various further education and leisure offers, e.g. B. the workshop Printing and Linocut.





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