Munich Jews look forward to new JCC, mourn Kristallnacht destruction

munich | The laying of the cornerstone for a new Jewish community center here, where Hitler attempted his failed coup in 1923, represents a milestone in postwar Jewish life in Germany.

The event, both solemn and joyful, marked the 65th anniversary of the Kristallnacht pogrom of Nov. 9 and 10, 1938, when hundreds of synagogues and Jewish-owned businesses were destroyed across Germany and Austria by Nazi-inspired thugs.

“Those who build, stay,” Charlotte Knobloch, president of the Jewish community of Munich and Upper Bavaria, told some 700 guests Nov. 9 under a tent at the construction site.

Recalling the terror of Kristallnacht, Knobloch, who survived the war in hiding, said, “The tears that I shed as a 6-year-old girl have never stopped.”

Today, many Jews here still say they live with a packed suitcase always at the ready.

But Knobloch said she was ready to unpack her symbolic bags. “Because today, exactly 65 years later, I have really come home.”

The event contrasted with what happened in Austria, where clashes erupted at a Vienna ceremony marking Kristallnacht’s anniversary after protesters waved Palestinian flags and yelled anti-Israel slogans.

At the German commemoration, clergy and politicians from across the spectrum agreed that the building of a Jewish community center in the middle of the Bavarian capital was a sign of confidence in the future. That’s despite recent scandals involving anti-Semitism in the Parliament and army, and despite the arrest in September of 14 neo-Nazis who allegedly planned to detonate a bomb at the ceremony.

“We can feel how contradictory the feelings and thoughts are on this day,” German President Johannes Rau said, adding that it is the duty of Germans “to do everything possible to ensure that such things will never happen again.”

Then the day of remembrance “can also be a day of joy and optimism,” Rau said.

As neighbors watched from windows and balconies, three small boys in yarmulkes placed memorial items in the triangular cornerstone, which was lowered into place at the construction site.

Since 1990, the number of Jews in Munich has doubled to 8,000. (Munich’s prewar Jewish population was about 9,000.) Also in the last decade, the overall Jewish population in Germany tripled to 100,000, thanks to the influx of Jews from the former Soviet Union.

Unlike many prewar Jewish venues, the center will not be located in an interior courtyard, out of view of the public.

The cost for the land and the complex is estimated at approximately $82 million and will be covered by the Jewish community, the state of Bavaria, the semiprivate Bavarian state trust, the city of Munich and private donations. Construction is expected to be completed by the end of 2006.

Toby Axelrod

Toby Axelrod is JTA’s correspondent for Germany, Switzerland and Austria. A former assistant director of the American Jewish Committee’s Berlin office, she has also worked as staff writer and editor at the New York Jewish Week and published books on Holocaust history for teenagers.