Everything You Never Knew You Wanted to Know About Berlin
On the eve of one of the most important Jewish holidays, Pessach (Passover), in the afternoon, the orthodox synagogue in Fraenkelufer holds its re-opening ceremony.
Designed by Alexander Beer and finished in 1916, the synagogue was erected in three years in what then was known as Kottbusser Ufer (first called Kohlenufer, then Luisenufer, Kottbusser Ufer, and between 1937-1947 Thielschufer to commemorate a young Nazi killed during a street fight with communists in 1931). It was not only a house of prayer but also a huge social and cultural centre of the Gemeinde: the community centre housed a religious school, a kindergarten, a help desk, a youth welfare centre and a welfare kitchen and canteen.
It was also the third biggest synagogue in Berlin: with over 90.000 Jews living in the city, the capital was in dire need of more temples. According to some of the sources around 10% of the Jewish population – 10,000 – lived in Kreuzberg (more modestly inclined sources quote 6,000 as the correct number) so the choice of the location was by no means random.
The first attack on the what is known today as Fraenkelufer Synagoge took place already in 1930. On the night 15/16 February a group of SA troops returning from another amusing evening at their Stammkneipe in Wiener Strasse, from Wiener Garten, decided to show some initiative and give vent to whatever it was that was bothering them at the time. They closed the street to avoid being disturbed by those other-minded and for an hour painted swastikas and antisemitic scrawlings on the façades of the houses. Unlike many other such acts of violence this attack, however, did not go unnoticed or without being condemned.
The next attack, though, was to be the beginning of the end. On the so called Kristallnacht (Crystal Night) between the 9th and the 10th of November 1938 another SA group sets the synagogue on fire. And although the fire brigades and police troops were able to extinguish it before it reached the neighbouring school, the interior of the main house was so badly damaged that no services could ever take place there again. From now on only the smaller house, Jugendsynagoge, could be used.
The last services in the former Thielschufer took place on the 23rd and the 24th of October 1942. The rabbis holding them, Rabbi Georg Kantorowsky from Neukölln, (female) Rabbi Elisabeth Jonas and Rabbi Martin Riesenburger each met different fate. Rabbi Kantorowsky managed to flee Germany and safely reach Shanghai. Rabbi Elisabeth Jonas, one of the pupils of the first rabbi of the synagogue and a widely respected Jewish scholar Isidor Bleichrode, was taken to concentration camp Theresienstadt – she eventually died in Auschwitz. Rabbi Riesenburger survived the war and was to hold the very first Rosch Haschana (Jewish New Year) service after the war, on September 8th, 1945.
Between 1942 and 1944 the place will be used by Wehrmacht as a military vehicle car park, while the synagogue itself will be turned into a storehouse for the expropriated Jewish possessions and belongings.
The re-opening of the synagogue in Fraenkelufer (Fraenkel was the first head of Krankenhaus am Urban – the street was named in his honour in 1947) took place in the renovated smaller Jugendsynagoge. The main house or rather its ruins (it was hit by a bomb in 1944 and almost completely destroyed) had to be torn down. It was never re-built.
After the war the official number of Jews living in Kreuzberg was estimated at 400. There was no longer any need for a big temple again.
For those interested in the place, here is an English link: Fraenkelufer Synagoge, Jewish Community of Berlin.