Monday, April 10, 2017

Germany: Simple Sign Marks Berlin's First Purpose-Built Synagogue

Berlin, Germany. Informational sign at the site of the Heidereutergasse Synagogue. Photo: Samuel Gruber (2003).
Berlin, Germany. Informational sign at the site of the Heidereutergasse Synagogue. Photo: Samuel Gruber (2003)
Germany: Simple Sign Marks Berlin's First Purpose Built Synagogue
by Samuel D. Gruber

Here is some more on the memorial landscape of Berlin. 

Adjacent to the green space where the Rosenstrasse Monument is dramatically arranged is the plot formerly the site of the first purpose-built synagogue in Berlin. It was known as the Heidereutergasse Synagogue, after the street on which is erected, but after the Neue Synagogue at Oranienburger Strasse was inaugurated in 1866, it was referred as the Alte Synagoge (Old Synagogue). The synagogue was the only one in which religious services were permitted after the outbreak of war in 1939 and services were held there until 1943. The synagogue was bombed in later air raids but survived in poor condition. The ruins were torn down under Communism in the 1960s. 

Today, there is a informational sign at the site. This is very different from the commemorative monument erected at the location of the Muncher Strasse Synagogue in the 1960s. In this commemortive cityscape, the former synagogue is very much an afterthought to the Rosenstrasse monument. In a way this is unfortunate, since the monument commemorates the resistance to the detainment of Jewish men in a former Jewish building that existed here because of the synagogue. 

The original Heidereutergasse Synagogue, built in 1712-14 was substantially altered in the 19th century. The original form is best known from a series of 18th century illustrations by A. M. Werner and F. A. Calau. The building was in the tradition of the hall type synagogue erected as a single large rectangular vaulted sanctuary. This type was common from at least the Middle Ages, and German versions can be seen in the woodcuts published by the Jewish apostate Johannes Pfefferkorn.  In the 17th century, however, adjustments were made to provide more and better space for women often in a gallery above the entrance vestibule as was the case  at the Izaak Synagogue in Krakow Poland) and in Lancut (Poland), and elsewhere. In the 18th-century in Berlin and in some other German towns the form was fulfilled in some splendid spacious and well-lit interiors.

Possibly already in the 18th century, and certainly in the 19th century, the synagogue was too small Berlin's rapidly growing Jewish population.The growth of Reform Judaism and the building the first Reform Temple in 1846, and then the monumental New Synagogue in 1859-66, eased pressure and, after failure to build a new synagogue in the 1840s, forced the old synagogue to modernize its facility in two extensive mid-19th century remodelings in 1853 and again in 1881. By the end of the 19th century the early form would have been unrecognizable. 

Heidereutergasse hardly exists today, it is just a little blind alley next ot some modern office buildings the lead to a small paved area with an historical sign located in a position which would have been list in front of the old building. In 2000, some fragments of the structure were identified in situ but underground level ground but there has been no talk of excavating or rebuilding the synagogue as has been the case in L'viv, Ukraine; Vilnius, Lithuania; and elsewhere. 

Berlin, Germany.  Heidereutergasse Synagogue as seen in an etching by F. A. Calau of ca. 1795.
Berlin, Germany.  Heidereutergasse Synagogue interior as seen in an engraving by A. M. Werner of ca. 1720. of ca. 1795.
The building, which owes much to contemporary German Protestant church design, is described in detail in English by Carol Herselle Krinsky in Synagogues of Europe (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1985), pp. 261-263:
The synagogue in Berlin was built about forty years after the definitive settlement of Jews in the city (1671). Michael Kemmeter of Regensburg, a Christian architect, built it on a center-city site not far from the church of St. Mary, on land which had been owned by the bishops of Havelberg. The synagogue occupied part of a large courtyard hidden from the street by the house of a government official. The synagogue was a substantial one, apparently about 10 m. high, made of masonry covered with stucco, and crowned by a peaked roof with dormers. Five tall, round-headed windows filled the eastern wall, and six more lighted the north and south walls. A rusticated main portal and a door to the right of it led to the main floor where the mens' area was located, while women entered by a modest door in the west bay of the north side and climbed interior stairs up to the gallery.
The main room was oblong and tall, although the engraver of a view of the interior exaggerated its height and proportion. About half of each wall seems to have been given over to the long windows. The ceiling’s coved panels rose to a slightly depressed elongated octagonal panel which emphasized the center of the room, where the large bimah was placed. Each of the pews along the central axis could seat only about three or four men because the squarish bimah took up so much room. The bimah lacked a canopy but had seats attached to its western side, a feature familiar from the bimahs at Prague-Altneuschul, Metz (pre-1845), and Volpa. The ark was tall and lavishly carved with two tiers of columns and undulating cornices; dense foliage projecting at each side ...
In 1853 the congregation engaged the Protestant architect, Eduard Knoblauch, to remodel the building. A decade later Knoblauch designed the Neue Synagogue at Oranienburgerstrasse synagogue and the Jewish hospital. At the Heidereutergasse building "he added anterooms, galleries, and pews, and changed the decorative style to an eclectic classical-Romanesque mixture which was in fashion around 1855." [Krinsky, p. 263].
Berlin, Germany. Site plan on informational sign at the site of the Heidereutergasse Synagogue. The red dot shows the location of the sign and viewing area. 
Berlin, Germany. Aerial view of rosenstrasse and Heidereutergasse area. Green area in central is the memorial space. The former synagogue site was to the left. Heidereutergasse is a small alley at the "top" pf the green space. Photo: Google Earth.

Berlin, Germany. Informational sign at the site of the Heidereutergasse Synagogue. Photo: Samuel Gruber (2003)
Berlin, Germany. Interior of the Heidereutergasse Synagogue in 1930, shown on informational sign.
Berlin, Germany. Heidereutergasse Synagogue in 1946. Photo from informational sign.
See also: 

Rebiger, Bill. “Synagoge Heidereutergasse.” Das jüdische Berlin. Kulur, Religion und Alltag gestern und heute. Berlin: Jaron Verlag, 2000. 76-77

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Germany: Berlin's Dramatic Rosenstrasse Monument

 
 Berlin, Germany. Rosenstrasse street sign. photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2003.

 
 Berlin, Germany. Rosenstrasse Protest Monument, Ingeborg Hunzinger, sculptor, 1995. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2003.
 
Germany: Berlin's Dramatic Rosenstrasse Monument
by Samuel D. Gruber

Since a recent visit to Berlin  I've been posting about some of the less well known Jewish and Holocaust-related monuments and memorials in the city. I've already posted about the Münchener Strasse Synagogue monument, the Jewish cemetery on Grosse Hamburger Strasse, monuments and markers at U-Bahn and S-Bahn stations, and the monument and burial section at the Weissensee Cemetery for Jewish soldiers who died in World War I.
Today, because it is International Women's Day (shouldn't every day be?), I introduce the very dramatic sculptural ensemble commemorating the Rosenstraße.demonatrations of 1943, when hundreds of German women who were wives and mothers of Jewish men, protested for a week to have their men released from Nazi custody. 

First a new street kiosk (known as a Litfass column) was erected close to the site of where the men were detained. This new information kiosk, which provides history of the events, recalls an earlier kiosk on the site in 1943. We know this from photos taken at the time by who was among those imprisoned men subsequently released. Read more about the memorial here. 

The main work - is the sculptural group "Block der Frauen" ("Block of Women" monument), carved by sculptor Ingeborg Hunzinger (1915-2009), and dedicated in 1995. Hunzigern, a communist who has studied in Berlin in the 1930s until she was forced to emigrate, had worked with the prominent East German sculptor Fritz Cremer in the 1950s, probably  when he designed the monument at Buchenwald. Hunzinger designed the Rosenstrasse monument in the 1980s, but policies in the GDR (East Germany) prevented its acceptance and installation.  In 1995, after German unification, the new Berlin Senate vote for its creation.

  
Berlin, Germany. Rosenstrasse Protest Monument, Ingeborg Hunzinger, sculptor, 1995. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2003


Cremer's heroic Buchenwald work is primarily a Communist national monument collecting all inmates as anti-fascists, and celebration the Communist struggle agaisnt the Nazi regime. despite the presence of Jews early in the history of the Buchenwald camp and again in its last months, there is nothing specifically Jewish in any of Cremer's designs.  Hunzinger, however, even though she is celebrating the bravery of German Christian women, fills her carved blocks with Jewish symbols. She also allows her work to express both collective anger on near mythic scale as well as more intimate personal grief. Hunzinger's work calls up the dram of Greek tragedy in the massive blocks of soft red stone that spill across the plaza - much as the demonstrators themselves must have slowly and bravely come forth first as individuals and then en mass. 

The sculptural group of sculptures is located near the site of the former Jewish administrative building in which the Gestapo held the men captive, which was subsequently destroyed in the war. 

The inscription on the rear of the monuments reads: "The strength of civil disobedience, the vigor of love overcomes the violence of dictatorship; Give us our men back; Women were standing here, defeating death; Jewish men were free."

Berlin, Germany. Rosenstrasse Protest Monument, Ingeborg Hunzinger, sculptor, 1995. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2003.

Berlin, Germany. Rosenstrasse Protest Monument, Ingeborg Hunzinger, sculptor, 1995. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2003.

Berlin, Germany. Rosenstrasse Protest Monument, Ingeborg Hunzinger, sculptor, 1995. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2003

Berlin, Germany. Rosenstrasse Protest Monument, Ingeborg Hunzinger, sculptor, 1995. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2003.

Berlin, Germany. Rosenstrasse Protest Monument, Ingeborg Hunzinger, sculptor, 1995. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2003.

Berlin, Germany. Rosenstrasse Protest Monument, Ingeborg Hunzinger, sculptor, 1995. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2003.

Though the Rosenstrasse protest is now more well-known (there is even a movie), when the monument was deigned in the 1980s and then finally installed and dedicated in 1995, the story was little known.  In fact, it is the rare instance where German civilians actively protested Nazi policies and actions. In ten years of Nazi rule, after the first brutal crackdowns in 1933 until 1943, such public resistance in Berlin and elsewhere was unknown. The women risked their lives to successfully gain the men's release and many of the prisoners managed to survive through various means until the end of the war. Read more about the protest here.

Adjacent to the sculpture is also the site of  Berlin's now-destroyed oldest purpose-built synagogue, the Heideruetergasse Synagogue opened in 1712. The synagogue was damaged on Kristallnacht and during Allied bombing, and the remains were demolished in the 1960s.

For further reading:

Nathan Stoltzfus, Resistance of the Heart: Intermarriage and the Rosenstrasse Protest in Nazi Germany, Rutgers University Press (March 2001)

 

Sunday, February 26, 2017

USA: Charleston's Holocaust Memorial in Shadow of Calhoun Monument

Charleston, South Carolina. Marion Square. Holocaust Monument. Jonathan Levi, architect, 1999.  Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2015
Charleston, South Carolina. Marion Square. Holocaust Monument. Jonathan Levi, architect, 1999.  Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2015
Charleston, South Carolina. Marion Square. Holocaust Monument. Jonathan Levi, architect, 1999. The Calhoun Monument towers in the background. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2015

USA: Charleston's Holocaust Memorial in Shadow of Calhoun Monument
by Samuel D. Gruber

A few months ago I wrote a post about a certain genre of Holocaust Memorials that I called "Things left Behind."  To the several memorials I discussed then I could have added the large Holocaust Monument  in Charleston, South Carolina, completed in 1999, where the central element is a lonely discarded tallit, the Jewish prayer shawl used by men in the synagogue and also in which for some it was customary to be wrapped for burial. Cast in bronze, the tallit lies on the floor of a rectangular space that can been seen as a synagogue, a prison, or even perhaps a gas chamber. Left behind, the tallit indicates prayer and life cut short, but also the rites of proper burial denied.

This one recognizable ritual object is set in the midst of a symbolic architecture which itself is inserted into an urban memorial field - Marion Square - rich and deceptive in the layers of history it chooses to reveal and hide. Designed by Jonathan Levi, the Holocaust Memorial was commissioned by the Charleston Jewish Federation. You can see more photos, drawings and models on the architect's website here.

Charleston, South Carolina. Marion Square. Holocaust Monument. Jonathan Levi, architect, 1999.  Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2015
I've made several visits to Charleston in recent years and in traveling around the historic city I've been attentive to markers and memorials that recognize and commemorate the Jewish history of the city, including the historic Jewish cemetery and the Francis Salvador marker. I've also been attentive to those markers, such as that at a former Brown Fellowship cemetery, that acknowledge - even in a small way - that for centuries Charleston was a majority African-American city where black slaves and then black citizens outnumbered whites. It can truly be said that slaves built Charleston - their sweat and toil, blood and struggles are mixed in the very bricks and mortar of the streets, churches, houses, and public buildings. Sadly, there are still too few markers commemorating and celebrating African-American history in the city (though the number is growing).  And none of these are in the three main ceremonial and commemorative spaces in the city - White Point Gardens, Washington Park, and Marion Square. These public parks have several monuments, however, that celebrate in some way the confederacy and slavery, and none is more prominent than the enormous Calhoun Monument that dominates Marion Square. Calhoun, a great defender of slavery, stands atop a tall monument fully visible from historic black churches in the area, including Mother Emanuel Church - where the terrible shootings took place in 2015. 

The Calhoun monument also towers over Charleston's and South Carolina's official Holocaust Memorial Monument. While the city's Jewish community was able to erect a memorial to the >injustices of Nazi Germany, no monument in the square explicitly mentions slavery or any of South Carolina's long history of crimes against African-Americans. A push to erect a monument in the square to Denmark Vesey, who threatened white rule, was rejected by the two private organizations, the Washington Light Infantry and the Sumter Guards which own the square and have final approval on all monuments even though the square is maintained by taxpayer dollars. Despite intensive lobbying, both organizations refused a Vesey statue. The armory (later the Citadel)which overlooks part the square was built in response to the failed Vesey slave rebellion. Nonetheless, memorials to the South's own rebellion against the United States, in which South Carolina was a leader, are legion.

Charleston, South Carolina. Marion Square. Holocaust Monument. Jonathan Levi, architect, 1999.  Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2015
In 2015
architect Levi said the memorial was originally designed in three parts; the sanctuary, a place of reflection meant to “transcend even the terrible events of the mid-twentieth century;” the place of assembly; and then the place of remembrance. These three divisions recall the purposes of a synagogue - a house of gathering, a house of prayer and and study. The north side is a rectangular, sunken lawn framed by graded steps, intended as a place of contemplation and a meeting ground for the annual Yom Ha Shoah (National Day of Holocaust Remembrance) ceremonies. The west side faces Calhoun Street and features a concrete and bronze inscription wall detailing the Holocaust history and now also lists names of survivors living in South Carolina. The center of the memorial, or sanctuary,is formed by a two-story high screen of mill-finish stainless steel. If the metal screen doesn't replicate any known synagogue, it does remind me of the metal bimah in Prague's Altneushul. 

Charleston, South Carolina. Marion Square. Holocaust Monument. Jonathan Levi, architect, 1999.  Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2015
Charleston, South Carolina. Marion Square. Holocaust Monument. Jonathan Levi, architect, 1999.  Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2015
Prague, Czech Republic. Altneushul. Looking up from bimah. Photo from Arno Parik et al Prague Synagogues (Prague: Prague Jewish Mus., 2000).

On the pavement within the four sided 25 feet wide, 60 feet long, and 17 feet high metal screen lies a 12-foot bronze tallit. This reads as a quasi-sacred space - separate from the viewer, who must decide his/her own physical, emotional, and moral distance from the crimes and the victims' suffering. The abandoned tallit calls to mind all those synagogues of Europe whose congregations were dispersed and murdered.
 
While the original design was meant to generalize by presenting broad symbols and big ideas. In 2015, h shortly before I visited the site, it was refurbished, and specific names of 24 camps and survivors were included.

 
Texts of the plaques are transcribed on the invaluable Waymarking website and I include them here:
The Plaque for the monument reads as follows: 



From 1933 until 1945, the National Socialist (Nazi) regime in Germany implemented a racial theory declaring the “German Aryan Race” superior. The Nazis used this perverse Theory and their military and industrial might to dominate Europe and to separate, imprison and ultimately destroy millions of human beings. Those who the Nazis deemed undesirable and sought to eliminate included political dissidents, homosexuals, the mentally and physically disabled, Roma (Gypsies) and Jehovah’s witnesses. But their chief victims were six million Jews.


What began as racial laws to strip Jews of their livelihood, their property and their civil rights accelerated into a campaign to systematically slaughter millions of men, women and children. By 1942, the machinery of mass murder was in full operation. Jews and other victims from all over Europe were sent to some 9000 concentration and labor camps throughout Europe, and to the killing centers at Auschwitz-Birkenau, Sobibor, Majdanek, Treblinka, Belzec and Chelmno located in Poland.

The denial of Human Rights with advanced technology and a pitiless will to dominate, caused the death of innocent millions and the annihilation of most of the Jews of Europe.
 
Charleston, South Carolina. Marion Square. Holocaust Monument. Jonathan Levi, architect, 1999.  Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2015
Charleston, South Carolina. Marion Square. Holocaust Monument. Jonathan Levi, architect, 1999.  Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2015


In 2015 additional plaques were added listing the names of Shoah survivors who settled in South Carolina.