The decade's most triggering comedy
In 1938, the main synagogue in the German city of Munich was demolished on direct orders from Adolf Hitler. Eighty-five years later, construction workers came across pieces of it in a river just a few miles away.
The synagogue, built in 1887, was leveled by the Nazis because Hitler believed it was an “eyesore” for the city, the BBC reported. A construction crew uncovered columns from the synagogue as well as a partial stone tablet with the Ten Commandments inscribed on it while working on a dam.
“I knew the imposing building as a child before it was torn down, and I never thought that parts of it could have survived the destruction, much less for them to resurface almost a century later,” 90-year-old Charlotte Knobloch, the president of the Jewish Community of Munich and Upper Bavaria, told The New York Times in an email.
The synagogue, one of two in Munich at the time, was one of the first synagogues in Germany that was destroyed by the Nazis, according to The World Holocaust Remembrance Center.
The construction crew discovered the remnants of the synagogue on June 28 during a job to refurbish a small dam on the Isar River, according to the BBC. The artifacts were roughly five miles from where the building once stood. The Times reports that the artifacts were 15 to 25 feet below the service. The crew immediately contacted German heritage officials to inform them of the find.
A construction crew found pieces of Munich’s main synagogue in a river during a project to refurbish an old underwater structure. The synagogue was among the first Jewish places of worship to be destroyed in Hitler’s Germany. https://t.co/gsZKqEpl3g pic.twitter.com/Prhmk2kaMQ
— The New York Times (@nytimes) July 6, 2023
“[That was a] day which is very unusual in my professional career, because we don’t usually find a synagogue in a river,” Jewish Musem Munich director Bernhard Purin told NPR. Purin added that the discovery of the tablet with the Ten Commandments is “especially touching” because “all worshippers look to it” during services.
The rubble from the synagogue was placed in the yard of the company that carried out the demolition, the Times reports. In 1956, it was used — along with other debris from bombed buildings — to reinforce a dam in the river.
“These stones are part of Munich’s Jewish history,” Knobloch said. “I really didn’t expect fragments to survive, let alone that we would see them.”
Upon learning of the orders to destroy the synagogue, the Jewish community in Munich worked through the night to preserve items, including Torah scrolls and ritual objects, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center says. Just a few hours later, the synagogue was demolished.
Five months after the Munich synagogue’s destruction, the Nazi pogroms known as Kristallnacht occurred, also known as “the night of broken glass,” in which Jewish synagogues, homes, and businesses were destroyed.
Today, a department store occupies the space where the “beautiful” synagogue once stood. Authorities say the remains of the place of worship will be returned to the Jewish community.
“The extermination of Jewish citizens during the Nazi era began with the destruction of Jewish culture,” Munich Deputy Mayor Katrin Habenschaden said. “The demolition of the main synagogue on Hitler’s orders marked the beginning of exclusion, persecution and destruction. The fact that today we can find remains of the once cityscape-defining magnificent building is a stroke of luck and touches me deeply. Jewish life was and is an integral part of our city’s history, present and future.”