New Synagogue, Berlin

Neue Synagoge
Basic information
Location Oranienburger Straße 29-31, Berlin, Germany
Geographic coordinates 52°31′29″N 13°23′40″E / 52.52472°N 13.39444°E / 52.52472; 13.39444
Affiliation Conservative Judaism
Year consecrated 1866
Status Active
Leadership Gesa Ederberg
Architectural description
Architectural type Synagogue
Architectural style Moorish Revival
Groundbreaking 1859
Completed 1866
Capacity 3200 seats
Interior view from Berlin und seine Bauten, published by Wilhelm Ernst & Sohn 1896
The plaque on the front of the Neue Synagogue, outlining the building's history

The Neue Synagoge ("New Synagogue") was built 1859–1866 as the main synagogue of the Berlin Jewish community, on Oranienburger Straße. Because of its splendid eastern Moorish style and resemblance to the Alhambra, it is an important architectural monument of the second half of the 19th century in Berlin.

The building was designed by Eduard Knoblauch. Following Knoblauch's death in 1865, Friedrich August Stüler took responsibility for the majority of its construction as well as for its interior arrangement and design. It was inaugurated in the presence of Count Otto von Bismarck, then Minister President of Prussia, in 1866. One of the few synagogues to survive Kristallnacht, it was badly damaged prior to and during World War II and subsequently much was demolished; the present building on the site is a reconstruction of the ruined street frontage with its entrance, dome and towers, and only a few rooms behind. It is truncated before the point where the main hall of the synagogue began.


The front of the building, facing Oranienburger Straße, is richly ornamented with shaped bricks and terracotta, accented by coloured glazed bricks. Beyond the entrance, the building's alignment changes to mesh with pre-existing structures. The synagogue's main dome with its gilded ribs is an eye-catching sight. The central dome is flanked by two smaller pavilion-like domes on the two side-wings. Beyond the façade was the front hall and the main hall with 3,000 seats. Due to the unfavourable alignment of the property, the building's design required adjustment along a slightly turned axis.

The Neue Synagoge is also a monument of early iron construction. The new building material (iron was previously not used in building construction) was visible in its use for the outside columns, as well as in the dome's construction. (Iron was also a core component for the now-lost floor structure of the main hall.)


New Synagogue, Berlin, 1865: now at the Märkisches Museum

The New Synagogue was built to serve the growing Jewish population in Berlin, in particular, immigrants from the East. It was the largest synagogue in Germany at the time, seating 3,000 people. The building housed public concerts, including a violin concert with Albert Einstein in 1930. With an organ and a choir, the religious services reflected the liberal developments in the Jewish community of the time.[1]

During the November Pogrom (9 November 1938), colloquially euphemised as "Kristallnacht", the Neue Synagoge was broken into, Torah scrolls desecrated, furniture smashed and other combustible furnishings piled up and set on fire. Lieutenant Otto Bellgardt, the police officer of the local police precinct on duty that night, arrived on the scene in the early morning of 10 November and ordered the Nazi mob to disperse. He said the building was a protected historical landmark and drew his pistol, declaring that he would uphold the law requiring its protection. This allowed the fire brigade access to extinguish the fire before it could spread to the actual building, and the synagogue was saved from destruction.[2] Senior Lieutenant Wilhelm Krützfeld, head of the local police precinct, Bellgardt's superior, later covered up for him. Berlin's police commissioner Graf Helldorf only verbally reprimanded Krützfeld for doing so and, partly in consequence, Krützfeld has often mistakenly been identified[3] as the rescuer of the New Synagogue.[4]

The New Synagogue, like the synagogue in Rykestrasse, remained intact and was subsequently repaired by the congregation, who continued to use it as synagogue until 1940. Besides being used for prayers, the main hall was also used for concerts and lectures since other venues were blocked for Jews. The main prayer hall was last used by the congregation on Sunday, 31 March 1940, this time for the final concert of a series of benefit concerts for the Jüdisches Winterhilfswerk (Jewish winter aid endowment) in favour of poor Jews, who had been excluded from government benefits.[5] On 5 April 1940 the Jüdisches Nachrichtenblatt had to announce that services in the New Synagogue were not to be held any more until further notice.[5] This was the usual way Nazi prohibitions were publicised. Congregants were requested to evacuate their belongings from their shelves in the prayer hall by Monday April 8.[6] Thereafter the Heeresbekleidungsamt III (uniform department No. III) of the Heer (German Army) seized the main hall as storage for uniforms.

The Rykestraße Synagogue was closed and seized by the Heer just a week after. The Jewish Community of Berlin continued to use the office rooms in the front section of New Synagogue, including the Repräsentantensaal (hall of the assembly of elected community representatives) below the golden dome. The congregation occasionally held prayers in this hall until September 1942, when it had to evacuate the front section as well.<ref =name"Matthes 59">Olaf Matthes, Die Neue Synagoge, Markus Sebastian Braun (ed.), Berlin: Berlin-Edition, 2000, (=Berliner Ansichten; vol. 16), p. 59. ISBN 3-8148-0025-7.</ref> During World War II the New Synagogue was heavily damaged; it was completely burned after Allied bombing during the Battle of Berlin, a series of British air raids lasting from 18 November 1943 until 25 March 1944. The strike on the New Synagogue was recorded in the Berlin police commissioner's bomb damage reports, regularly issued after attacks, for the raid on the night of 22–23 November 1943.[7]

The building to the left from the New Synagogue and the second one to the right at Oranienburger Straße 28 (odd and even numbers on the same street side), also property of Berlin's Jewish Community, survived the war intact, and it was in the latter that surviving Jews formally reconstituted Jüdische Gemeinde zu Berlin, Berlin's mainstream Jewish congregation, in 1946. Following the anti-Semitic atrocities in Czechoslovakia (Slánský trial, November 1952), arrests and interrogations of Jews in East Berlin and East Germany in January 1953 and the Soviet Doctors' plot (started on 13 January 1953), members of the Jüdische Gemeinde in East Berlin formed a new provisional executive board, competent only for the eastern sector, on 21 January, hoping to spare themselves from further persecution, and thus divided the Jewish community into an eastern and a western one.[8]

In 1958 the Jewish Community of East Berlin, then proprietor of the site, was prompted to demolish the ruined rear sections of the building, including the soot-blackened ruin of the main prayer hall, leaving only the less-destroyed front section.[9] The damaged, but mostly preserved, central dome on top of the front section was also torn down in the 1950s. East Berlin's Jewish Community, impoverished and small after the Shoah and the flight of many surviving members from Communist anti-Semitism, saw no chance to restore it.[9]

It was not until the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989 that reconstruction of the front section began. From 1988 to 1993, the structurally intact parts of the building close to the street, including the façade, the dome, and some rooms behind were restored as the "Centrum Judaicum" ("Jewish Center"); the main sanctuary was not restored. In May 1995, a small synagogue congregation was reestablished using the former women's wardrobe room.

Together with the New Synagogue, the whole Spandauer Vorstadt neighbourhood (lit. "suburb towards Spandau", often confused with the Scheunenviertel) experienced a revival, with chic restaurants and boutiques opening up in the area, catering to an increasingly bourgeois clientele.

In 2007 Gesa Ederberg became the first female pulpit rabbi in Berlin when she became the rabbi of the New Synagogue.[10][11][12][13] Her installation as such was opposed by Berlin’s senior Orthodox rabbi Yitzchak Ehrenberg.[10]


Jewish services are now held again in the New Synagogue;[14] the congregation is the Berlin community's sole Masorti synagogue.[15] Most of the building, however, houses offices and a museum. The dome may also be visited.

See also



  1. Rebiger, 26
  2. Regina Scheer, „Im Revier 16“ (In precinct No. 16), in: Die Hackeschen Höfe. Geschichte und Geschichten einer Lebenswelt in der Mitte Berlins, Gesellschaft Hackesche Höfe e.V. (ed.), Berlin: Argon, 1993, pp. 74–79. here p. 77. ISBN 3-87024-254-X.
  3. Knobloch, passim and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
  4. Regina Scheer explains that Heinz Knobloch popularised the story that Wilhelm Krützfeld rescued the New Synagogue. Knobloch learned about the rescue from the report of an eyewitness, the late Hans Hirschberg. Hirschberg, who was a boy in 1938, observed the fire with his father, the tailor Siegmund Hirschberg. He recalled that his father and a police officer, who was one of his father's clients and whom Hans assumed to be the head of the police precinct, got into a conversation, while the police officer was supervising the work of the fire brigade, about their experiences in the same sector of the front in World War I. When Knobloch did research for his book Der beherzte Reviervorsteher about the rescue of the New Synagogue, he learned that the head of the precinct was Krützfeld and identified him as the officer. But Krützfeld was never conscripted in that war. After Knobloch's book appeared another neighbour, Inge Held, Hirschberg, and Hirschberg's sister in Israel all confirmed that the rescuer was Otto Bellgardt. Cf. Regina Scheer, „Im Revier 16“ (In precinct No. 16), in: Die Hackeschen Höfe. Geschichte und Geschichten einer Lebenswelt in der Mitte Berlins, Gesellschaft Hackesche Höfe e.V. (ed.), Berlin: Argon, 1993, pp. 74–79, here p. 78. ISBN 3-87024-254-X.
  5. 1 2 Olaf Matthes, Die Neue Synagoge, Markus Sebastian Braun (ed.), Berlin: Berlin-Edition, 2000, (=Berliner Ansichten; vol. 16), p. 58. ISBN 3-8148-0025-7.
  6. In the original: "Die Platzinhaber werden hierdurch aufgefordert, ihre Gebetutensilien bis Montag, den 8. April, mittags 12 Uhr, aus den Pulten herauszunehmen." Quote from 'Jüdisches Nachrichtenblatt' after Cf. Olaf Matthes, Die Neue Synagoge, Markus Sebastian Braun (ed.), Berlin: Berlin-Edition, 2000, (=Berliner Ansichten; vol. 16), p. 58. ISBN 3-8148-0025-7.
  7. It says: "Heeresbekleidungsamt III Bln. C2, Oranienburger Str. 30 Totalschaden." Quote after Olaf Matthes, Die Neue Synagoge, Markus Sebastian Braun (ed.), Berlin: Berlin-Edition, 2000, (=Berliner Ansichten; vol. 16), p. 59. ISBN 3-8148-0025-7.
  8. Hermann Simon, Die Synagoge Rykestraße (1904-2004), Berlin: Hentrich & Hentrich and Stiftung Neue Synagoge Berlin / Centrum Judaicum, 2004, (Jüdische Miniaturen; vol. 17), pp. 49seq. ISBN 3-933471-71-0
  9. 1 2 Olaf Matthes, Die Neue Synagoge, Markus Sebastian Braun (ed.), Berlin: Berlin-Edition, 2000, (=Berliner Ansichten; vol. 16), p. 62. ISBN 3-8148-0025-7.
  10. 1 2 "A lone groan for female rabbi in Berlin | Jewish Telegraphic Agency". Retrieved 2014-02-21.
  11. "MERCAZ USA Newsletter". Retrieved 2014-02-21.
  12. "After Long Path Female Rabbi Installed in German Community - InterfaithFamily". Retrieved 2014-02-21.
  13. "Oranienburger Strasse Synagogue | The team of the Oranienburger Strasse Synagogue". Retrieved 2014-02-21.
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Coordinates: 52°31′29″N 13°23′40″E / 52.52472°N 13.39444°E / 52.52472; 13.39444

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