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Die Synagoge

Synagoge in der Wollenweberstraße, Postkarte zwischen 1870 und 1899 ©Stadtarchiv Frankfurt Oder

Gedenkstein der Synagoge am Brunnenplatz

Postkarte Synagoge Tuchmacherstraße ©Sammlung Gerd Knappe

Ever since the first Jewish merchants settled in the city, they were subject to the goodwill of the Kurfürst (Prince Elector). Jews were required to pay high taxes in Brandenburg. Arbitrary restrictions or revocation of their rights and forced expulsions from the city were the order of the day. Thus, at the beginning of the 16th century after a Pogrom, the site of the first Synagogue came into the hands of the Viadrina University which subsequently built its Collegienhaus there. As for the old Synagogue, there is no known historical documentation on it.

It was first in the 19th century when the legal situation changed fundamentally: The Emancipation Edict of 1808 granted the Jewish population of Frankfurt (Oder) civil rights for the first time in history. Further restrictions on housing rights and professions were also lifted. Jewish men and women were thus considered equal citizens of Frankfurt (Oder) and were also granted Prussian citizenship. These reforms brought security and prosperity to the Jewish population. A liberal environment developed between the Jewish and non-Jewish community. As a result of ever increasing educational and professional opportunities, many Jews migrated from the countryside to urban centers. In Frankfurt (Oder) too, the Jewish community expanded significantly during this time. In 1822, the community decided to build a new Synagogue located on Tuchmacher Strasse.

One year later in September 1823, the single-story building in classicist style was ceremonially dedicated. The holy arc was located on the eastern side of its unpretentious interior. It was framed by two Corinthian columns with a triangular gable set upon them. The western side along Tuchmacher Strasse featured four windows. The main entrance went through the Jewish cultural house located on Richt Strasse. It was not until 1882 that a second entrance for women was built to the elevated women’s gallery. The liberal congregation even had an organ installed by the firm Sauer, something that can gives evidence of the community’s proximity to their Christian neighbors. The house of worship was thereafter known as the “Organ Synagogue”.

The open-minded attitude towards the non-Jewish population is also evident in the opening ceremonial address of Rabbi Baschwitz. He stated “Even if a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes and prays in this house, hear him in heaven, your permanent throne, and do everything he asks of you, so that no one leaves this place broken and desolate.” However, not all of the Jewish community in Frankfurt (Oder) agreed with this reformed movement within their religion. In particular the Jews who migrated from Eastern Europe continued to practice the Orthodox traditions. These differences led to a communal divide in 1840. The adherents to Orthodox Judaism left the liberal Synagogue and continued to meet at differing locations for prayer, and after 1924 at Grosse Scharrnstrasse 34.

The Synagogue during National Socialism

The liberal climate and peaceful coexistence between all confessions in Frankfurt (Oder) ended abruptly with the start of the Nazi rule. The anti-Semitic propaganda increased to the point when in November 1938 Jewish businesses and Synagogues were destroyed across Germany.

The November Pogrom had been meticulously prepared by the National Socialists. One Frankfurt resident later recalled how the fire fighters preemptively sprayed the houses adjacent to the Synagogue on 9 November. Hours later the interior of the Synagogue was in flames. Until the end of the Second World War the National Socialists used the building for paper storage.

The Synagogue in the Postwar period

When exactly the Synagogue was torn down after the war, today cannot be determined. In an aerial photograph of the city dated 1953, which depicts the widely demolished old-town of Frankfurt, it is already gone.

On the 50th anniversary of the November Pogrom, a commemorative stone was dedicated at the former site of the Synagogue. Among the guests at the ceremony in attendance was the last Rabbi of the Frankfurt community, Curtis Cassel, who traveled from Great Britain at the mayor’s invitation. The initiative to commemorate the former Jewish community came from the city of Frankfurt (Oder) together with the Catholic Holy Cross community; and supported by the local Ecumenical group. During the construction of the Lenné -Passage in the early 2000s the memorial stone was moved across the street, where it can be seen today. A small plate was inlaid in the ground before the stone, depicting the location of the old Synagogue upon a modern-day map of the city.

Lisa Frach and the Editors