Pieces of Munich Synagogue, Destroyed on Hitler’s Orders, Found in River

Eighty-five years ago, Munich’s main synagogue was demolished on direct orders from Adolf Hitler — a terrible harbinger of the destruction to come.

The synagogue was among the first Jewish places of worship to be destroyed in Hitler’s Germany. Five months later, the Nazis organized countrywide pogroms and laid waste to most of the country’s synagogues, as well as Jewish cultural institutions and businesses.

The Munich main synagogue was lost to history, or so it seemed. But this week, during a project to refurbish old underwater infrastructure, a construction crew found pieces of the synagogue in a river five miles from where it once stood in Munich. The discovery was a shock, but a joyful one for Munich’s Jewish community.

The items construction workers found, including columns and a large piece of the synagogue’s Torah shrine, were 15 to 25 feet below the surface of the Isar River at a site south of Munich. The building’s remnants were used as landfill material when workers rebuilt an underwater structure after flooding in 1956.

“I knew the imposing building as a child before it was torn down, and I never thought that parts of it could have survived the destruction, much less for them to resurface almost a century later,” said Charlotte Knobloch, the president of the Jewish Community of Munich and Upper Bavaria, in an email.

Though Munich’s leaders are glad to see pieces of the synagogue reappear, the discovery also shines a spotlight once again on the horrifying actions of the Nazis, who murdered six million Jews and systematically destroyed Jewish life.

The newly found relics illustrate important points, Bernhard Purin, the director of the Jewish Museum in Munich, explained in an interview. “On the one hand, they document the blossoming Jewish life in Munich before 1933,” he said. “On the other, they are a monument to its destruction.”

Completed in 1887, the synagogue was designed to blend in with Munich’s architectural style. A newspaper review at the time called it an “ornament of the city.”

Hitler ordered it destroyed in June 1938 after visiting the neighborhood days before. Officially, it was removed to make room for a parking lot. The company in charge of the demolition stored the rubble in its yard until using it to fortify the river infrastructure in the mid-1950s.

Now, a stone sculpture tucked between a high-end department store and a BMW museum reminds passers-by where the synagogue stood.

“Today, we are as much amazed to see fragments of the old main synagogue turn up again as we are in shock at the lack of respect with which they were treated even after 1945,” Ms. Knobloch wrote.

Before 1938, nearly every significant German town 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 so the remnants of many destroyed synagogues are gone forever. Fragments of another synagogue in Frankfurt in the 1980s led to sustained protests to prevent the city from building on the site. Eventually the remains in Frankfurt were put under glass to be viewed by visitors.

This week, Munich’s mayor, Dieter Reiter, said in a statement that the destruction of the Munich synagogue was the “beginning of exclusion, persecution and destruction” of German Jews. “The fact that today we find remains of the once cityscape-defining magnificent building is a stroke of luck and moves me very deeply,” he continued.

Now that officials know what was hidden in the underwater rubble, an estimated 150 tons of it will be transferred to a city yard to be carefully scrutinized for more pieces of the synagogue — a job that could take years.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *