BERLIN – Eighty-five years ago, Munich’s main synagogue was demolished on the direct order of Adolf Hitler, a terrible harbinger of destruction to come.
The synagogue was one of the first Jewish places of worship to be destroyed in Hitler’s Germany.
Five months later, the Nazis staged pogroms across the country, razing most synagogues, cultural institutions, and Jewish businesses.
Debris found in the river will now be sifted for more remains of the synagogue. Photo Jewish Museum Munich
Munich’s main synagogue is history, or so it seemed.
But this week, during a project to rehabilitate ancient underwater infrastructure, a construction crew found pieces of the synagogue in a river 5 miles from where it once stood in Munich.
The discovery was a surprise, but also a joy for the Jewish community in Munich.
The objects found, including columns and a large piece of the synagogue’s Torah altar, were found between 4 and 7 meters below the surface of the Isar River, in a location south of Munich.
The remains of the building were used as fill material when workers rebuilt an underwater structure after the 1956 flood.
r”I knew about the imposing building as a child, before it was torn down, and never thought that parts of it could have survived the destruction, let alone resurfaced nearly a century later,” Charlotte Knobloch, president of the Jewish Community of Munich and Upper Bavaria.
While Munich leaders welcome the reappearance of pieces of the synagogue, the discovery also highlights the horrible actions of the Nazis, who not only murdered 6 million Jews, but systematically destroyed Jewish life.
Bernhard Purin, director of the Jewish Museum in Munich, stated in an interview that the newly found relics illustrate important points.
“On the one hand, they document the flourishing Jewish life in Munich before 1933,” he said.
“On the other, they are a monument to their destruction.”
A construction crew found pieces of Munich’s main synagogue in a river during a rehabilitation project for an ancient underwater structure. Photo .Sueddeutsche Zeitung.
Completed in 1887, the synagogue was designed to blend in with the architectural style of Munich.
A journalistic review of the time described it as an “ornament of the city”.
Hitler ordered its destruction in June 1938 after visiting the neighborhood days before.
Officially, it was removed to make room for a parking lot.
The demolition company stored the rubble in its yard until it was used to fortify the river infrastructure in the mid-1950s.
Now, a stone sculpture nestled between a department store and a BMW museum reminds passersby where the synagogue once stood.
“Today we are astonished by the reappearance of fragments of the old main synagogue and by the disrespect with which they were treated even after 1945,” Knobloch wrote.
Before 1938, almost every major German city had a synagogue.
Most of these temples were destroyed in November 1938 during the pogroms, known as Kristallnacht.
The few that survived were spared because they were too close to buildings owned by non-Jews to be demolished by the Nazis.
Aerial bombardments during World War II reduced many German cities to rubble, leaving the remains of many destroyed synagogues gone forever.
Fragments of another synagogue in Frankfurt in the 1980s sparked sustained protests to stop the city from building on the site.
Finally, the remains of Frankfurt were placed under glass so that they could be viewed by visitors.
This week, the mayor of Munich, Dieter Reiter, said in a statement that the destruction of the Munich synagogue was the “beginning of the exclusion, persecution and destruction” of German Jews.
“The fact that today we find remains of the magnificent building that once defined the urban landscape is a stroke of luck and deeply moves me,” he said.
Now that authorities know what the underwater debris was hiding, an estimated 150 tons will be moved to a city shipyard to be carefully examined for more pieces of the synagogue, a job that could take years.
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