Czesław drives us back to Wrocław safely. The warm sunshine invites to a personal exploration of the city before we meet for our guided walking tour. Our route leads us to the memorial of the New Synagogue (Neue Synagoge) which was burnt down by SA men on November 9, 1938. 20.000 Jews (approx. 3,5% of the total population) lived in Breslau in 1930. Half of the Jewish population fled Breslau before 1938; the remaining 10.000 Jews were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Memorial stone at the site of the Neue Synagoge, Anger 8 (Łąkowa 8), burnt down on November 9, 1938
“They have cast fire into thy sanctuary, they have defiled by casting down the dwelling place of thy name to the ground.” (Psalm 74,7) is written in Hebrew, German and Polish on the memorial stone.
The New Synagogue was built in the years 1865 to 1872 and seated 2.000 worshipers. It served the Liberal Jewish Congregation whereas the Orthodox remained in the White Stork Synagogue in the old city. It was considered to be (next to the New Synagogue in Berlin) the most splendid and beautiful synagogue in Germany.
Our tour led us across the moat to the old city. The White Stork Synagogue (Synagoge zum Weißen Storch) is located in the Wallstraße Nr. 7/9 (Pawla Włodkowica). The neighboring building was the famous Jewish Theological Seminary of Breslau, where Liberal candidates were taught alongside with Orthodox candidates and the staff had both Orthodox and Liberal teachers. But Breslau’s then chief Rabbi Abraham Geiger was considered to be too liberal even for them, and his application was turned down.
Synagoge “Zum weißen Storch” (White Stork) – Entrance
The Nazis used the courtyard as collection point for the Jews to be deported. After the war the Polish authorities turned over the building to the Jewish community (mainly Jews who were evicted from Galicia and east Poland) in the city. After the heavy anti-Semitic campaign in 1968 and the subsequent emigration of Polish Jews, religious ceremonies were suspended in the synagogue. In 1995 the building was returned to the Jewish community and renovated for more than a decade. The synagogue was rededicated in 2010.
In the court yard
It’s already late afternoon when we arrive on the Ostrów Tumski (Cathedral Island) located between the branches of Oder River. The gothic cathedral allows us just a peek through the door since one of today’s (Pentecost) numerous masses is celebrated. Photographs depicting Breslau in 1945 give an impression of the degree of demolition Breslau suffered especially between February 13 and May 6, 1945. Hitler had declared that the “Festung Breslau” (fortress Breslau) had to be defended at all costs. On 6 May, after 82 days of siege and shortly before the unconditional surrender of Germany in World War II, General Niehoff relinquished Festung Breslau to the Soviets. Concentrating the attention of the Red Army on the siege of Breslau possibly had the side-effect of allowing thousands of German Silesians to flee slightly less threatened. At least that’s known from other German commanders in the region, that they tried to distract the attention of the Red Army from refugee tracks.
The way back to the hotel allows us to explore the trams of Wrocław, a very popular means of transportation and a beautiful way to discover the city, at least if you know which line to choose. We dearly miss any map giving an overview of the route network.