The religious and cultural centre of the Dortmund Jewish community
The Dortmund Jewish community were able to inaugurate their magnificent new synagogue on 6 June 1900, with Lord Mayor Schmieding applauding it as an “adornment to the city for all time”. It took the place of the prayer house on Wüstenhof, which had been in use since 1854 and had become far too small for the growing community. The inauguration of the new synagogue, located at the junction of Hansastrasse and Hiltropwall, i.e. one of the most prominent sites within the Wallring, marked a cultural high point for the Jewish community. The synagogue was not just the religious, but also the cultural and social centre of the Liberal Jewish community. As well as a place for religious worship, it was also a venue for social and intellectual exchange.
Prominent rabbis such as Benno Jacob and Ernst Appel set their stamp on the life of the community, and also opened their doors to the city’s Christian population. For many years, organ concerts were held alternately in Reinoldi church and the synagogue.
In 1938, the Dortmund branch of the NSDAP – the Nazi Party – located its headquarters in premises on the opposite side of the street, bringing the synagogue constantly into the Nazis’ sights. For them, the synagogue was a “blot on the face of the city”.
On 3 October 1938, they embarked on its demolition, having obtained a compulsory purchase order for the property – thus “Arayanising” it – on the pretext of needing the space to make room for road improvements. The Jewish community had previously refused several times to sell this and other properties to the city for “urban planning purposes”. By the end of December 1938, the demolition work was completed, but the site then stood unused all through the war. After the war, the city chose the site as the location for a public convenience (i.e. a public toilet), of all things.
Since 1998, the area in front of the City Theatre has been named “Platz der Alten Synagoge” – “Old Synagogue Square” – in memory of the former synagogue.