“The Nentershausen Synagogue” by Stephen Denker— A Small Town and a 300-Year-Old Jewish Commumity

Denker, Stephen. “The Nentershausen Synagogue”, 2017.

A Small Town and a 300 Year Old Jewish Community

Amos Lassen

Nentershausen is a small German town that once was home to a Jewish community that went back some three hundred years but no longer exists today. As in many other German towns, the synagogue was the center of life before the Nazi rise to power. The story of what happened there is related to use from two families that survived the Holocaust, the Katz family and the Oppenheimer family.

Erich Oppenheimer had his Bar Mitzvah in this very synagogue on January 26, 1935 at the Nentershausen Synagogue and the very next day, his family sent him to America and it was not long after that that Kristallnacht tried to take the synagogue and while it was damaged severely, it survived. The next day, his parents quietly sent Erich to the United States. In 2015 at the age of 93, Oppenheimer returned to the relocated Synagogue of his youth, A minyan was arranged and Erich once again read the same Torah portion.

  The Synagogue building survived the Third Reich and on. July 16, 1996, it was restored 100 miles away from Nentershausen at the Hessenpark.

It is important to understand that the pogroms that took place on Kristallnacht continued after “The Night of the Long Knives”. November 9, 1938 is just date when we consider what else was going on. Kristallnacht began in the smaller villages of Hessen and even earlier in other places and actually continued over four days. As a result, there was violence all over Germany and much of the violence took place in small villages where only a handful of Jews were present. The list of places in which pogroms occurred includes many unknown. In these small villages, Germans were prepared to bring violence upon the Jews who lived there and as the Nazis came to power, the numbers of Jews dwindled and we all know why that is.

a small, rural town in Germany Nentershausen is a small German town and we read its history here. This little book was written as a companion piece to an exhibit as United States Holocaust Museum about its 300-year old Jewish community, about their Synagogue and it centers on Kristallnacht in Nentershausen and the Synagogue’s relocation and complete reconstruction 50 years later at the Hessenpark Open Air Museum in New Anspach Germany. Today that little synagogue is a functioning place of prayer.

This is not really what I would call a book—it is actually more of a booklet but what I see here are the seeds of what could become an important piece of the Holocaust canon. We have wonderful photographs and a story that cries out to be told. As I read my mouth fell open a couple of times as I learned about the history of this wonderful little synagogue that is part of our history. If we do not get these stories now they will be lost forever as survivors end their time with us. Above the ark in the little shul “Know Before Whom You Stand” and while that refers to the Divine, it can also refer to those that were lost to us during the most terrible time in human history. Had it not been for them, none of us would be here today and I am proud to stand before them. We see that others can trash our buildings and wound out sprits but as Stephen Denker shows us our humanity and love for the world has allowed us to continue on and is an integral part of who we are. Through the stories of two families here we get a much larger look at the past, the present and the future. The four generations that we meet here are symbolic of every single family that experienced the Holocaust.

I just want to say in closing that having lived in Israel and having met survivors and visited museums and talked to people, I am still in awe of the strength and faith that our people had. As I read what Denker has to say, my eyes filled with tears of pain and equally with tears of pride and I so glad that I say “Am Yisrael Hai”, the “Jewish nation lives”.

 

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