Landeshauptstadt Dresden - 21.10.2016 14:03:26 Uhr 19.07.2024 14:38:03 Uhr

The historical Dresden Synagogue

The foundation stone for an impressive synagogue building was laid at the foot of the Brühl Terrace in Dresden in 1838. The plans were drawn up by the famous architect Gottfried Semper, who was also entrusted with supervision of the construction work.

The Bible saying "My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples" adorned the outer gate in the Hebrew language.

Consecrated with great public participation on 8th May 1840, the Dresden Synagogue was able to serve the Jewish community of Dresden as a central place of worship for less than a century.

Building of the Synagogue between 1838 and 1840

The historical roots of the Jewish communities in Saxony can be traced back to the 13th century, but are limited to the two cities of Dresden and Leipzig. Between 1500 and 1700, all the Jews living in the Saxon region had been banished from the country, and it was only with the ascent of Saxon elector Friedrich August II to the throne that a few selected Jewish families were allowed to settle in Dresden and Leipzig.

Well into the 19th century, the Dresden Jews continued to struggle for equality and integration. In May 1837, finally, a law was passed which permitted them to form a religious congregation, clearing the way for construction of a communal synagogue within the walls of Dresden. The 682 members of the community had for a long time been split between four private synagogues.

The planning for the new building was placed in the hands of the famous architect Gottfried Semper. Under his guidance, a powerful, but for the most part stylistically neutral design was realised. Decorative elements of the interior demonstrate a blending of Oriental and European cultures.

Gottfried Semper (1803-1879)

The Dresden Synagogue was the only religious building designed by Gottfried Semper. Even though only a modest fee was offered, he promptly accepted the challenge. Most likely, as a convinced democrat, he had recognised the symbolic meaning of the building.

The task demanded Semper's whole creativity, because there was at that time still no standard architectural form for a synagogue. The plans, however, were prepared unbelievably quickly,  and the foundation stone was already laid just two months later.

Even though Semper was required to ensure that the new building harmonised with its existing surroundings, he was able to give the synagogue its own unmistakeable appearance, drawing upon the basic design of a Byzantine church with crossed cupolas. The square interior in the Moorish style possessed two levels of balconies and provided seats for 300 male and 200 female visitors. A further 500 visitors were able to stand.

November pogroms 1938

After the National Socialists came to power, anti-Semitism became increasingly prevalent. In Dresden, too, from 1933 onwards, Jewish citizens were persecuted, expelled, conscripted for forced labour and thrown into extermination camps.

During the pogrom night from 9th to 10th November 1938, the Dresden Synagogue was set on fire by SA stormtroopers. Firemen who rushed to the scene were prevented from extinguishing the flames. They were merely permitted to stop the fire spreading to the surrounding houses.

The burnt-out ruins were demolished shortly afterwards, and some of the stone was used for road-building. Most cynically, the costs for clearance of the ruins were imposed upon the Jewish community itself.

The only remaining witness to the original synagogue is one of the two Stars of David which adorned the towers of the building. A courageous fireman hid it in his attic, where it survived the Second World War undamaged.

Survival and a new beginning in 1945

In January 1945, there were 174 Jewish men, women and children still living in Dresden. Some lost their lives during the February bombing raids on the city, but others survived because the last planned deportations no longer materialised in the aftermath of the attacks.

In autumn 1945, this small group ventured a cautious new beginning. The Jewish community was refounded and already counted more than 200 members in Dresden by the end of the 1940s.

A stele in the form of the menorah has kept memories of the destroyed synagogue alive since 1975. It stands in the immediate vicinity of the original site at the eastern end of the Brühl Terrace.