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A new synagogue for Magdeburg

December 9, 2023

Magdeburg is getting a synagogue again, the last state capital in Germany to do so. A reason to celebrate – despite difficult times.

Gedenkort an die 1938 zerstörte alte Synagoge in Magdeburg
The New Synagogue in Magdeburg. The stones in the façade are reminiscent of the "Wailing Wall" in JerusalemImage: Christoph Strack/DW

Magdeburg is the last German state capital to once again have a synagogue. 

The city's growing Jewish congregation counts around 400 members, according to its own estimates. A villa just outside Magdeburg, which was provisionally renovated and made available by the city has long served as their place of worship. "It was practically a never-ending process," says Maria Schubert from the Synagogue Community of Magdeburg: It took ten years from the initial planning stages for the synagogue to its opening this Sunday, December 10.

It will not be the only synagogue in the state of Saxony-Anhalt. In October, a few weeks before the opening of the synagogue in Magdeburg, a new synagogue was opened in the state's third-largest city, Dessau.

The synagogue in nearby Halle became the site of a 2019 antisemitic attack on the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur when a German far-right extremist with Nazi sympathies tried to enter and kill members of the congregation inside. His plan to commit a massacre was foiled when the door refused to open, and he killed two non-Jewish passersby.

street view of the Dessau synagogue with police officer
Many police officers protected the inauguration of the new synagogue in Dessau in OctoberImage: Hendrik Schmidt/dpa/picture alliance

More than a thousand years of Jewish life

Jewish life in Magdeburg dates back over centuries. Time and again, Jews were driven out and persecuted. The first synagogue was opened in 1851. This house of worship, which was later expanded and beautifully decorated, fell victim to the destruction of the 1938 pogrom when Jewish citizens were killed, synagogues and Jewish shops and institutions throughout the German Reich were attacked, looted, and set on fire.

The "New Synagogue" building in Magdeburg is located at the city center, less than 250 meters away from "At the Old Synagogue," a small square surrounded by GDR-style high-rise buildings that features two slabs of stone that commemorate the 1,521 Magdeburg Jews who were murdered by the Nazis in the Holocaust.

"It's a fantastic achievement that we have our own building, which is large, beautiful, and inviting," says Maria Schubert.

Germany commemorates destruction of synagogues 85 years ago

According to the municipality, the total cost of the building was expected to be around €3.4 million ($3.6 mil). The state of Saxony-Anhalt provided €2.8 million, while a charitable association contributed just under €500,000. The land for the new building was provided by the city.

In the end, the total cost was more than twice as high, due to the increase in construction costs, and — following the 2019 terrorist attack in Halle — numerous security measures which were added and paid for with federal funds.

From the outside, the windowless facade of the synagogue is reminiscent of the "Wailing Wall" in Jerusalem, the Western Wall of the destroyed Jewish Temple. But there are also surveillance cameras and strong fences. Above it all is a quote from the Bible in Hebrew: "For My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations."

The long-awaited opening, which was supposed to mark a new beginning, now comes after the Hamas terrorist attack against Israel on October 7, while the Israel-Hamas war continues and during a wave of antisemitic attacks and assaults in Germany.

Maria Schubert from the synagogue congregation told DW that she believes the situation in a city like Magdeburg is "more stable" than in larger cities. However, she says she knows of community members who have become more cautious and who, for example, will not be bringing their children to the festive and public procession of the Torah scrolls from the memorial site "At the Old Synagogue" into the new building.

Schubert says she is grateful for the efforts of the authorities: "We feel very well protected and in good hands."

Memorial site with stone slab and inscription
Memorial site: Remembrance of the Old Synagogue of Magdeburg destroyed in 1938Image: Christoph Strack/DW

In 2023, Jewish life in Germany has indeed become more visible. In a few months, a prominent Jewish house of worship is also due to open in Potsdam's city center. The scaffolding has already come down.

For Maria Schubert, the move to the new synagogue in Magdeburg is a sign of normalization. A sign that Jewish life is simply part of a secular city. Something that simply exists, just like all other religious life. "We are no different," she says. "We are just as integrated into the life of the city."

Magdeburg may one day get another synagogue. For the past 20 years, the city has also had a smaller liberal Jewish community with 120 members. They are pushing for their place of worship. 

This article was originally written in German.

While you're here: Every Tuesday, DW editors round up what is happening in German politics and society. You can sign up here for the weekly email newsletter Berlin Briefing.

Deutsche Welle Strack Christoph Portrait
Christoph Strack Christoph Strack is a senior author writing about religious affairs.@Strack_C