Now that CK has declared my derriere and chest to be sacred and off-limits to non-Jews, I’m somewhat concerned that non-Jewish religious extremists will make territorial claims on either or both just because. All kidding aside, being more than less anonymous on here, I suspect that the odds of parts of my anatomy becoming tourist attractions, places of worship, and the decor of snowglobes and keyring pendants are actually pretty low.
However, with the numbers of Jews and Jewish congregations rising rapidly again also in the more rural parts and smaller towns of Germany, where Jewish life for the most part had been brought to a halt during the Third Reich and has only slowly been recovering over the past years with the arrival of Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union, many German municipalities, that ended up being the “owners” of confiscated Jewish congregational property, find themselves struggling with balancing the municipalities’ interests and the Jewish congregations’ interest in returning to their former synagogues.
The Jewish community of Bingen in Rhineland-Palatinate now counts about 100 people. Back in the day, the Bingen community constituted as one of the largest and most important in non-metropolitan Germany, making up about ten percent of Bingen’s entire population. After a few centuries of having used a synagogue on RheinstraÃŸe – with renovations galore to fit the needs of the expanding congregation – , the number of affiliated Jews eventually grew so large that building a new synagogue became inevitable. The new synagogue on RochusstraÃŸe was consecrated in 1905 after only little more than two years’ construction time, and the old synagogue building went up for sale and profanation.
During the Reichspogromnacht, a band of men tried setting the new synagogue on fire, but the flames could quickly get extinguished and only the rabbi’s room suffered severe damages. On the following day, 10th November, SA-soldiers and Nazi-followers invaded the synagogue, destroyed the entire interior and set the building on fire again at 5pm. The fire brigade only protected the next buildings against the spreading of the flames; most of the synagogue burnt down to its foundation walls.
A forced sale made Bingen’s winegrowers’ association be the new owners of the premises; compensation of 10,000 Deutsch Mark (even at that time rather a symbolic than a realistic amount) was paid to the Jewish congregation of Mainz in the 1950s. In 1962, the city of Bingen at last wound up as the new owner of the former synagogue and turned what was left and and not dilapidated into a residential building. Now the apartment on the top floor, which still contains architectural remains of the synagogue, is vacant, and therefore the Bingen Jewish congregation, which has so far had to improvise when it came to places for religious gatherings (e.g. they were hosted at buildings owned by the Protestant congregation of Bingen or the Catholic charity organisation Caritas), sought the city of Bingen’s permission to use the now-vacant apartment for their get-togethers. Alas, the city of Bingen has got other plans for the building on RochusstraÃŸe: not only has the Bingen Jewish congregation’s growth led to a need for a more spacious facility for their gatherings, but also has the Bingen fire brigade reportedly developed a need for a larger building, and the city has already decided 90,000 Euros would be spent on renovations on the building on RochusstraÃŸe to make it fit for use by the fire brigade. The city of Bingen has, however, promised the Jewish congregation help in finding a place suitable for their gatherings and noted that some sort of co-operation with the Bingen fire brigade was still within the bounds of possibility.
Needless to say, the Bingen Jewish congregation has not been satisfied by this lipservice and has asked the city to reconsider its decision. Apart from that, I don’t quite see how a place of religious worship, teaching, youth work, and community life could ever realistically and (possibly by legal standards even) safely be housed in the same building as the fire brigade. Considering the building’s history and the role Bingen’s fire brigade played in it in 1938, I find the city’s choice not only to be of poor taste but also ironic. I suppose my mother’s comment on the issue says it best, “If the fire brigade ‘failed’ to extinginguish the fire in 1938, then they should shove off now, too.”
On the history of the Jewish congregation in Bingen and the architecture of the synagogues:
Landesamt fÃ¼r Denkmalpflege Rheinland-Pfalz, Staatliches Konservatoramt des Saarlandes & Synagogue Memorial Jerusalem [eds.]. Synagogen. Rheinland-Pfalz – Saarland. Mainz 2005
Schilling, Konrad [ed.]. Monumenta Judaica. Cologne 1963