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Documenting Synagogues in Germany

In 1994 the Center for Jewish Art initiated a pilot project in conjunction with the Institut fuer Baugeschichte headed by Professor Dr. Harmen Thies of the  Braunschweig University, to document all extant synagogues built before 1933 in the German state of Lower Saxony. By studying the documentation of over forty 18th to 20th century synagogues, it will be possible to analyze the architecture of the synagogues, ritual baths and cemetery halls in this area. This project is due to be completed by the end of 1997.

The project has been such a success, that efforts are  now moving ahead to document in other regions of Germany. One such project will be the documentation of synagogues, ritual baths and cemetery halls in eastern Germany (Mechlenburg-Vorpommern, Brandenburg, Sachsen-Anhalt, Sachsen and Thueringen).  In preparation for this next stage of documentation a conference was held at the Frankeschen Stiftungen in Halle (Sachsen-Anhalt) in November 1996.  Attending the conference were members of the Conservation Departments of art and architecture of the different states, members of museums, universities, archives and private institutions interested in Jewish culture. The participants of the conference viewed the  results of the Lower Saxony project, and agreed that it was necessary to start a similar project in eastern Germany.

With the aid of archival research, approximately 90 of these buildings in Eastern Germany have been located to date. While in 1933 these were still functioning synagogues, today they are in private hands and some in danger of being totally destroyed. We expect to find at least another one hundred synagogue buildings in this region.

In February 1997, the Center organized another architectural workshop in Wolfenbüttel with experts working in computer-aided documentation  who can expand this project to a national level. By carrying out the project throughout Germany, the Center for Jewish Art will be bringing to light the remnants of the countries rich Jewish architectural heritage.

The Center also participated in a conference on "The Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Berlin and Hannover", which took place in Hannover in October 1996. Funds have been donated by the Environmental Department of the Republic of Germany to preserve deteriorating tombstones in Jewish cemeteries.  A pilot project has been started to analyze the cause of dilapidation of tombstones in these cemeteries and other stone monuments throughout Germany.

Research has revealed that the caretakers of the cemeteries used to coat the stones with a certain preserving material. However, the Jewish  communities were not allowed to tend to their cemeteries after 1933, and the tombstones began to deteriorate. It has been determined that part of the deterioration is caused by industrial pollution from metal factories and also by micro-organisms which erode the stone. Part of the project will be devoted to preserving these monuments.  Since the preservation process is very expensive, it has been decided that 60 of the most important tombstones in three Berlin and Hannover cemeteries would be preserved.

Dr. Aliza Cohen-Mushlin delivered a lecture at the conference on the Center's documentation of synagogues and tombstones. She explained the Center's philosophy is to document sites, especially those which cannot be restored, in order yto have this information of our past on record. Documentation of tombstones consists of photographing, measuring, writing down all inscriptions and making a plan of the cemetery.  Using this method of documentation the cemetery will be preserved forever on computer.

The Center is now planning an architectural workshop in which its German partners and other experts from around the world will share innovative techniques used in computer aided documentation and presentation of synagogues.

The project to document synagogues in Lower Saxony is supported by the Ministry of Sciences and Culture of Lower Saxony, Germany.


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Last Updated: 21 October, 2014
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