16. October 2016

Neidenstein, former synagogue

One of Baden’s biggest and most splendid synagogues is the one in Neidenstein. Built in 1831, it was in use for over 100 years. During the Reichspogromnacht, the entire inside was demolished. Luckily, the building itself remained largely undamaged. A local farmer bought it in 1939, tore down the façade and used the structure as a barn. This culturally important building, whose interior contains traces of its original use, is now privately owned and abandoned to a state of increasing detioration.

Neidenstein – a town with a significant Jewish tradition 

The history of the Neidenstein Jews began in the 17th century, a period after the Thirty Years’ war. From this time, one of the largest Jewish communities in Baden developed. Statistical evidence attests to this. In 1842 the Jewish community reached its peak with 281 residents. Likewise, the percentage of the entire population in the 18th and 19th century was very high and reached 33,6 % in 1789, the highest ever. In order to put these numbers into perspective one should consider that the Jewish population in Baden as a whole in 1808 was only 1,5 % of the entire population. There is no evidence of anti-Jewish riots or any other form of animosity before the Nazi period. Jews were recognized and respected fellow citizens and fully integrated in the civic life of Neidenstein.

Reconstruction of the Synagogue

The increasing amount of the Jewish population required the building of a larger synagogue. This was decided in 1820. Disputes internal to the community and unresolved financing delayed the beginning of the construction, until it finally took place in 1831, and finished that same year. The building – which still stands today at the address Kirchgraben 6 – was one of largest country Synagogues in Baden. The high degree of importance of this building is demonstrated by the fact that Siegfried Seidemann, one of the most renowned architects of the time, was commissioned with its renovation in 1930. He had formerly rebuilt the main synagogues of Mannheim and Heidelberg.

The entire interior, as well as part of the ceiling, were destroyed in the Reichpogromnacht. All fixtures and items in the Synagogue were stolen and destroyed. The synagogue  escaped complete destruction because neighbors feared the fire could spill over onto their own priorty.

Shortly thereafter, in January 1939, a local farmer bought the building. The façade was torn down, to set up access to a dung heap. From this point on, the structure has been used for agricultural purposes.

The current status of the former synagogue

In 1945, the former synagogue was confiscated and ownership transferred to the Jewish Restitution Successor Organization. In 1951, its one third interest was sold it back to the farmer who had initially bought it in 1939, thereby definitively resolving the property’s ownership. For some time, the building has not been used, has been left to decay and is  anymore, is partly in a state of dilapidated disrepair.

Building preservation for historical and cultural reasons

Historical and cultural reasons clearly speak for the preservation of this unique building. Already in 1998, within as part of the work of an architectural thesis of the Architectural Faculty Detmold, a proposal was developed on how to save the building and enable its use as a memorial and documentation site. However, years have passed and no concrete measures have been taken, though they become ever more urgent. Many visits to the site revealed that despite

years of use and the by now precarious state of the building, clear signs can still be recognized, vestiges of the synagogues fine history. For example, Professor Dr. Annette Weber from the Institute for Jewish Studies in Heidelberg remarked during a visit on the many preserved remnants of wall paintings with different motifs as well as diverse cornices. Furthermore, arched windows that were closed with masonry remain. What is more, there are several indications that there was a Mikwe – a ritual bath for women – exist under under the building. This must have been filled up, when the structure was used for agricultural purposes.  Should this be true, then this building would certainly be one of Kraichgau’s most remarkable and culturally distinctive buildings, as very few Mikwes remain in the Kraichgau.