Synagogue in Trieste

The Synagogue in Trieste (Italy)

First of all I thought of my recently deceased friend who would have been happy to see me exploring the Synagogue in Trieste. Several times per week the Jewish Community offers tours of the Synagogue that last about 45 minutes. I went on a Sunday morning and found myself in front of the side door with about 40 other visitors (all Italians except two) waiting for the door to open. Our guide asked us to go in and pay € 3,50 for the tour. I was surprised when I asked the older man who opened the door why there wasn’t any security check supported by some Israeli security guards… He answered me that I shouldn’t worry because he had all under control. It turned out that his name was Menachem and he even spoke Hebrew when I started speaking to him in Hebrew.

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I entered the synagogue – it really belongs to the top ten of the synagogues that I have visited worldwide. The synagogue was built in 1912 after years of planning and discussing the building. The Jewish community wished to have a synagogue with similarities to churches, not rectangular any longer but like a Basilica with a lot of light. That explains the big rose window with a Star of David in it. The bimah is so high up to the sky, quite impressive and the Ten Commandments made out of marble from Verona. There are about 1000 seats for men downstairs and around 400 upstairs for women.

The synagogue has an organ which is nowadays never played during the services. When I asked Menachem about it, he answered: “We don’t need it, you can take it home.”

Before World War II Trieste had about 5000 up to 6000 Jews living in town. New to me was the fact that the Trieste community did not only help other Jews to escape during Italian fascism and the German occupation but also at the beginning of the 20th century when Jews came from Poland and Russia after pogroms there to get out of Europa to Palestine and South America.

Remarkable is the story of Carlo Morpurgo who in summer 1943 put Thora scrolls, ritual silver objects and important documents in a hidden room to save them from the Germans. The door had been walled up and a heavy closet was put up in front. The Germans stored books and art in the synagogue but never found the room. Morpurgo was arrested January 19, 1944 in the synagogue and put into jail near the synagogue. After 8 months of interrogation and torture he was deported to Auschwitz where he died two months later. Shortly after the war the rooms was reopened and still today all the hidden and saved objects are in use.  Today we find a stumbling stone where we entered the synagogue that says: “Here worked Carlo Nathan Morpurgo born in 1890, arrested Jan. 20th, 1944, deported and murdered in Auschwitz Nov. 4th, 1944.”

The big synagogue is only used on special occasions like high holidays or Bar/Bat Mitzvot, men sitting on one side, women on the other. The rest of the time the community uses the oratory where they also sit men on the left and women on the right. Today the community counts about 530 members.

When I travel I always want to learn something about present life of Jews at places I visit. I know that guests are interested in that so I never forget to lecture about this important point during my guided visits of Jewish places in Europe. In Trieste I didn’t learn much about it from the people that guided my group only the fact that the Jewish community is very active and invites people to learn about Jewish life. When I asked about antisemitism in Italy or Trieste specifically I didn’t get a comprehensive answer.

February 2019

 

In memoriam : my friend Noah Klieger went to his world

Next time I will be in Eretz Israel we will not be able to meet at your table in the Mikado shopping mall north of Tel Aviv as we usually did over the last years. Noah can’t come anymore. I met him last time in June and I had the chance to see him even twice because normally he was always so busy planning meetings, lectures, trips abroad or writing articles. Only once in the past 8 years he had to cancel because of a flu.

„In memoriam : my friend Noah Klieger went to his world“ more

Holocaust Museum and Memorial in Paris

The origins of the Memorial go already back to the year 1943 when an underground archive for the documents about the persecution and killing of the Jews was established by Isaac Schneersohn.

In 2005 the Holocaust Memorial was inaugurated in presence of the former French president Jacques Chirac. After a security check you turn left and look at the three walls full of names in alphabetical order of approximately 76000 murdered Jews from France. I watched a French couple looking for some names of relatives.

Next to it stand a big bronze cylinder with name of different concentration and extermination camps as well as the name of the Warsaw Ghetto. It doesn’t seem very logical to me because French Jews as my friend Noah Klieger born in Strasbourg in 1923 was also imprisoned in Dora Mittelbau and liberated in Ravensbrück. It is intended to show where French Jews were murdered or imprisoned but I didn’t understand why the Warsaw Ghetto is mentioned here in relation to the French Holocaust victims.

I was impressed by the Holocaust Memorial that France built in 1958 to remember all six million victims: in the middle a Star of David in which the ashes of the martyrs and from the Warsaw Ghetto are mingled. On the opposite side you find the archive with files of people that the Vichy government and the Police Department collected about Jews arrested in Paris and the Seine region. These are only files without any word about the participation of the Vichy Government in delivering French Jews to the Germans.
I only had a short time to run through the museum itself. At the model of Auschwitz II Birkenau I walked by a French school group that was listening to its guide’s explanation. I would have put another model of Belzec, Sobibor or Treblinka there to compare them. I guess that it is the same like in Germany that high school students don’t visit those places. Next time I will come with more time to study the exhibition.

November 2018

Mainz – its Jews and the New Synagogue

Recently I explored with some friends the „SHuM – communities plus Frankfurt on the Main. It turned out that the most impressive part of our trip was the visit to the new Synagogue in Mainz. When my friends looked at it from outside with a very skeptical and critical view and expressed their disapproval I started asking myself how people that live there or those like us coming to see it think of it. It is strange, it does not fit, it is a foreign body.

I have always liked the building because it provokes and makes you curious to learn more about it but now I wonder if the building despite all the positive intentions evokes a certain distance or negative point in the relationship between the Jews and the non-Jewish citizens of Mainz.

There is of course no continuity of Jewish life like all over Europe. The Jewish community has today about 1000 members mainly of course coming from the former Soviet Union with an Israel born orthodox rabbi. Remember the synagogue that had been standing there was like in Frankfurt – The West End Synagogue – the place of the reform community of Mainz. This community is gone forever.

Manuel Herz the architect just did a fabulous job because he built a synagogue that expresses what Jewish Mainz is famous for: one of the important centers of rabbinic doctrine in the 10/11th centuries. Me’or hagola – reference to Gershom ben Jehuda who lived and taught in Mainz in the 10th century is written at the entrance door to the synagogue. The same you see when you sit inside the synagogue. Definitely a place to visit!!!

October 2018

My visit to Częstochowa

For a long time I have been looking forward to visiting Częstechowa. This wish has been reinforced after I had heard a story about a good friend’s story whose father was in Treblinka and made it as he had participated in the upraising and succeeded in escaping. This is a town that has a special importance for the Poles because of the Black Madonna saving the Poles on different occasions.

Częstochowa has a wonderful Jewish Museum – small but very informative and well presented. As one can imagine I was the only visitor with an extremely high interest in the exhibition. The woman working there was very helpful with the location of several places and gave me a little booklet about Jewish places in Częstochowa for free. For me things like this little booklet are like little diamonds.

The Museum gives detailed information about Jewish life in town: chronologically and in different subjects. The exhibition was designed by former Jewish inhabitants and Holocaust survivors like Samuel Willenberg who created a sculpture “Father helping his son take off his shoes”. It was not only this exhibition but also the powerful Holocaust Memorial on ulica Strażacka 19 created by the same Samuel Willenberg which was initiated by the World Committee of the Jews of Częstochowa and their descendants. Near to it I saw a plastic sheet fencing some ruins and bushes and depicting orthodox Jews marching towards the train (while people on black background).

I have no idea and could not get any information about when and by whom this fence had been put up. While I was taking pictures all of a sudden a young man – hard to say how old he was but I guess a teenager – came and sat down on the bench in front of the memorial playing with his mobile phone leaving the memorial behind his back. Who at all takes note of all these places, who is coming to see them and what does the local population thinks of them?
I was overwhelmed by the poem at the wall to the ruins of the former Pelcery factory where Jews worked as forced laborers.

The poem was written by an unknown in the Ghetto in 1941:

I am a human being
From tomorrow on I will be sad tomorrow
Today nevertheless I am happy
Why to be sad why?
Because of so much unfavorable wind?
Therefore I have to worry about tomorrow?
Maybe tomorrow the sky will clear up
Maybe the sun will already shine
And there won’t be any reason to be sad
From tomorrow on I will be sad tomorrow
But today, today I am happy
And tell every sad day
From tomorrow on I will be sad tomorrow
Not today

I left Częstochowa with a sad feeling because once more I realised that also this Jewish community dating back to 1620 and 1631 is completely gone. Jews will not come back.

If possible stay overnight because there is quite a lot to see especially if you plan to visit the Jewish cemetery which is hard to find and a bit further away from downtown. In case you have only one day we should focus on the highlights.

September 2018