Fotoeins Fotografie

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Alter Synagogenplatz, Altstadt, Heidelberg, Baden-Württemberg, Germany,

My Heidelberg: Synagogue Square and Pogromnacht

It happens every time without fail.

My spirit breaks a little more every time I see a memorial, another example of the depths to which our species have plumbed.

Does feeling this way make me weak? Or am I resembling a human being after all?

I often hear a common chorus:

history is hard, history is boring, why should I care?

I can’t decide what’s worse: the rise of the far-right or blatant willful ignorance.

A Mob of Broken Glass

From the evening of 9 November to the following morning of 10 November 1938, Kristallnacht (“the night of broken glass”) was a “pogrom”, a coordinated series of violent attacks by Nazis against the Jewish people and their property in Germany, Austria, and Czechoslavakia’s Sudetenland. Pogromnacht (or Reichspogromnacht) is a truer description; the “prettier sounding” Kristallnacht hides the brutality of “the night of (broken) crystal” referring to broken shattered glass from windows to synagogues, homes, and stores owned by Jews. Aside from a few who intervened, most stood aside and watched people and property burn.

The word “pogrom” is a late 19th- to early 20th-century Russian word (“погром”), derived from the verb “gromit” (громи́ть) meaning “to destroy with violence.” While “pogrom” is used generally to describe mob violence by one ethnic or religious group on another, the term is used in this post to describe attacks on the Jewish community.

The numbers across the country were appalling: at least 90 dead, hundreds injured, 30000 arrested and detained in concentration camps, up to 2000 synagogues burned, over 7000 Jewish businesses damaged or destroyed. With one more insult, the Jewish community was forced to pay for damage to their own property. The outbreak of coordinated actions against Jewish people marked the beginning of state-sanctioned violence. With the Pogromnacht, the state no longer hid their hate and escalated their savagery as a turning point directly leading to the Holocaust.

The Old Synagogue

In the university town of Heidelberg, the earliest recorded presence of Jews dates back to the 13th-century. Jews gathered in what is now the Old Town and converted the building they were using into a synagogue in the early 18th-century; the community built a new synagogue at the same site in 1878.

The synagogue was torched and burned to the ground on Pogromnacht, and the Jewish community was forced to pay for demolition of the building. Alter Synagogenplatz or Old Synagogue Square is all that remains today. With reconstruction and dedication in 2001, there are: memorial plaques with the names of people arrested, deported, and murdered; the outline of the synagogue’s walls in white marble; the entrance and windows marked in grey granite; twelve sandstone cubes representing pews and the twelve tribes of Israel; and a marble stone platform for the location of the Torah ark.

The square is a memorial commemorating the Jewish community who once thrived in Heidelberg’s Old Town. Information at the “Site of the Heidelberg synagogue, 1714-1938” provided by the City of Heidelberg reads:

Jews have lived in Heidelberg since the 13th century, in spite of having been subject to oppression and persecution time and again. In 1714, the “Blue Lily” house situated on this site was converted to a synagogue. In 1878, the community built a new synagogue in contemporary style.

On the night of 9-10 November 1938, Nazi storm troopers set fire to the synagogue. In 1939, the Jewish community was ordered to pay for the demolition of its ruined synagogue.

On 22 October 1940, the Jews of Baden and the Palatinate were deported to Gurs camp in Southern France. Only few of them survived the Shoah. Between 1941 and 1945, more Jews from the area were deported straight to the death camps.

After the end of the war in April 1945, a Jewish community was re-established in Heidelberg. The present-day synagogue is situated in the Weststadt city district, at 10-12 Häusserstrasse. It was inaugruated in 1994.

During the renovation of this square in 2001, white marble cobbles were used to mark the outline of the synagogue. The memorial stone marks the location of the Ark.

Alter Synagogenplatz (Old Synagogue Square) is located in the Altstadt (Old Town) at the corner of Lauerstrasse and Grosse Mantelgasse. In 1994, a new synagogue and Jewish community centre were inaugurated in Heidelberg’s Weststadt. There are now brass “Stolpersteine” or “stumbling stones” with names acknowledging Jews who once lived in Heidelberg.

Alter Synagogenplatz, Altstadt, Heidelberg, Baden-Württemberg, Germany,

Alter Synagogenplatz: west to Grosse Mantelgasse/Lauerstrasse

Alter Synagogenplatz, Altstadt, Heidelberg, Baden-Württemberg, Germany,

Alter Synagogenplatz: east from Grosse Mantelgasse/Lauerstrasse

Alter Synagogenplatz, Altstadt, Heidelberg, Baden-Württemberg, Germany,

“On 10 November 1938 the Heidelberg synagogue at this location was destroyed by criminals.”

Alter Synagogenplatz, Altstadt, Heidelberg, Baden-Württemberg, Germany,

Proverbs 11:19 – “Truly the righteous attain life, but whoever pursues evil finds death.”

Alter Synagogenplatz, Altstadt, Heidelberg, Baden-Württemberg, Germany,

Memorial candles.


•   Yad Vashem.
•   Jewish Virtual Library.

75th anniversary in 2013:
•   Holocaust survivor Margot Friedlander returned to her hometown of Berlin, where she has her own “Stolperstein” stumbling stone in the pavement. In 2013, she spoke to NPR about remembering Kristallnacht.

I made all photos above on 21 May 2016 and the featured image on 19 Sep 2017. This post appears on Fotoeins Fotografie at as

18 Responses to “My Heidelberg: Synagogue Square and Pogromnacht”

  1. smilecalm

    It’s commendable to remember horrible deeds from a place of inner peace and stability, thus truly find healing and happiness with what is offered to us in the present moment.

    Liked by 1 person

    • fotoeins

      I can’t even pretend what it was like. It’s absolutely true I’m privileged to have been born and raised in a relatively free environment. It’s within this environment and the choice to (truly) understand history that the appreciation of what we have in the present allows us the privilege and freedom to remember the past. In my mind, “never again” has lessons for us to learn, especially now. Thanks for reading and for your comment!


    • fotoeins

      Hi and you’re welcome, Elena. With well-deserved attention in North America to Remembrance Day and Veterans Day in Canada and the US, respectively, as well as the fall of the (Berlin) Wall in Germany, it can be easy to forget the “dubious” anniversary and, quite frankly, the ugliness surrounding Kristallnacht. I’ve written about Remembrance Day and the Berlin Wall, and it was time I wrote about Kristallnacht. Thanks again for reading and for your comment.


    • fotoeins

      Hi, Bronwyn. Thank you for reading and for writing. There’s much to remember this weekend, and I didn’t want Kristallnacht to fall too far below the radar.


  2. ptmurray

    I visited this spot several years ago from my Australian home, staying at the quiet residential hotel opposite. It is hard to imagine the horror perpetrated by those bullying, arrogant and ignorant Nazi murderers, hard to sit in this very spot and contemplate the fears of peaceful Jewish parents for themselves and their kids, fears which proved justified as they were taken to their executions through disease or gas chambers. Are there lessons to be learned still? How can a civilized and cultured society be reduced by one man and his disciples to such depravity so quickly? Lest We Forget. Those good folk died for us, so that we would remember what happened, say never again and rise up against another Hitler.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Stacey McDonald

    Thank you, Henry. I enjoy reading your posts. My spirit , too, seems to keep breaking with with the brutality and inhumane actions of our species that has been ongoing since WWII. Thank you for the visible reminder. Take care. I hope you are well. -Stacey

    Liked by 1 person

    • fotoeins

      Hi, Stacey. It’s great to hear from you, and thank you very much for your comment. I keep going to Germany because frankly, I love being there, and secondly, I’m trying to understand not only the lessons from the 20th-century but also the nation’s and people’s history from centuries before. Everybody and every nation forge and follow their own different paths, and yet as human beings, we seem to be susceptible to similar patterns of motivation and action throughout time. Thanks again for stopping by!


  4. Mike Williams

    While visiting the Heidelberg Castle I noticed an inscription over the Castle chaple in German, Latin, and Hebrew. The inscriptions say the same thing, but I have been unable to find out why an inscription in Hebrew would present over a Christian Church. Do you have any information about this unusual fact? Thank you for your time.


    • fotoeins

      Hello, Mike. Given the origins of the Christian Church stem from people and the land in what is now Israel (especially as the entire backdrop of the Old Testament and a good chunk of the New Testament), it stands to reason that Hebrew, especially the word יהוה (Jehovah), would also appear.

      Here is a list of buildings and churches in Germany where יהוה appears: weblink, among which is “Schloss (Heidelberg) – Tür von der Schlosskapelle im Friedrichsbau”.

      I hope that helps!


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