Synagoge

 

The synagogue on Halderstraße is one of Augsburg’s most notable historical buildings. The monumental structure, built at the beginning of the 20th century, is an impressive testament to German-Jewish culture, an exceptional record of Jewish history in Bavaria, and today – following the destruction of the Jewish community during the Nazi period – once again the center of a Jewish congregation, one that has grown rapidly with the arrival of Jews from former territories of the Soviet Union.

Damages caused to the synagogue on Kristallnacht were repaired between 1974 and 1985, and the sanctuary restored and rededicated. Since that time the building’s west wing has housed the Jewish Culture Museum Augsburg-Swabia, founded in 1985 as the first independent Jewish museum in postwar Germany.

The domed central structure was built between 1913 and 1917 according to a design by Fritz Landauer (1883 – 1968) and Dr. Heinrich Lömpel (1877 – 1951). In preparation for its construction, a representative location had been found, an architectural competition announced (1912), and a distinctly modern design chosen – all signs of the community’s self-confidence, signs that its members, around 1200 in all, understood themselves to be an integral part of the greater community of Augsburg, looked to the future with hope, and sought to express architecturally their sense of themselves as German citizens of Jewish faith.

The sanctuary, which visitors may view from the women’s gallery, offers an overwhelmingly beautiful setting for prayer. This central room is shaped like a Byzantine cross, with barrel vaults over each of the four cross arms, and is enclosed by a domed ceiling 95 feet high. Green-gold mosaic covers the reinforced-concrete dome, a highly advanced construction for its time. Elaborate tracery windows, two rings of skylights in the dome, and four brass lamp-globes bathe the sanctuary in a hushed, mystical light. The atypical, richly iconographic decoration includes a colored mosaic above the Torah ark, pictorial depictions of the High Holidays in five round panels on the east arch, depictions of the Twelve Tribes on the gallery railings, and four stucco reliefs surrounding the dome which together portray the Torah as the tree of life. The connection between the reliefs is conveyed by Biblical quotes in decorative Hebrew script.

An organ (from Koulen & Sohn, Augsburg) once stood on the east gallery above the Torah ark, evidence of Liberal stance of the original community. In 1940, National Socialist persecution forced the community, by that time reduced to only 400 members, to sell the organ to the Catholic congregation of Weßling am Ammersee, in whose church it still stands today.

The Augsburg Synagogue is often called an Art Nouveau synagogue; this, however, is not entirely correct. The synagogue certainly demonstrates elements of Art Nouveau, but it also combines Byzantine and Oriental details with Jewish-Renaissance influence in a remarkably impartial and self-assured fashion, while accommodating traditional, regional design forms with state-of-the-art building techniques. For both Orthodox and Liberal Jews living at the time of its construction, the synagogue was the epitome of a “New-Jewish temple.”

Further Reading
I
n English:
– “The Augsburg Synagogue – A Building and its History”, published by Benigna Schönhagen and Tatjana Neef, commissioned by the Jewish Culture Museum Augsburg-Swabia Foundation to mark the 25th anniversary of the re-consecration of the Augsburg synagogue and the opening of the Jewish Culture Museum, Augsburg 2010. (German/English),

In German:
– Sabine Klotz, Fritz Landauer – Leben und Werk eines jüdischen Architekten, Berlin 2001.
– Benigna Schönhagen, Augsburg, die Synagoge. (Orte jüdischer Geschichte und Kultur), Haigerloch 2006.
– Cornelia Berger-Dittscheid, Augsburg, in; Mehr als Steine… Synagogen-Gedenkband Bayern, Bd.1, hrsg. von Meier Schwarz, Lindenberg 2007, S. 397-413.
– Richard Grünfeld, Ein Gang durch die Geschichte der Juden in Augsburg. Festschrift zur Einweihung der neuen Synagoge in Augsburg am 4. April 1917, Augsburg 1917 (Nachdruck in: 10 Jahre Wiedererrichtung der Synagoge Augsburg. 10 Jahre Gründung des Jüdischen Kulturmuseums Augsburg-Schwaben, hrsg. von der Stiftung Jüdisches Kulturmuseum Augsburg-Schwaben, Augsburg 2001).