Hermann Zvi Guttmann and His Design for the New Synagogue at Hohe Weide

Alexandra Klei

Source Description

It was probably in 1956 that plans made by Hamburg's Jewish congregation, re-established in 1945, for building a new synagogue with a community center at Hohe Weide became concrete. In order to find an architect and an appropriate design, the congregation held a competition. The plan presented here is the design submitted by Frankfurt architect Hermann Zvi Guttmann. It shows a perspective drawing of a rotunda on a plinth base. The lower level was probably meant to accommodate the community center while the synagogue itself constitutes a separate building located above it. The facades reflect the fact that the two parts of the building are meant for very different usages: on the lower level, the emphasis is on the entrance that is accessible via several steps, and the facade appears compact despite the inclusion of a horizontal row of windows; the synagogue space is structured by narrow, vertical slats. The windows are placed in between. This creates a structure that appears open and does not specifically emphasize any particular area on the outside. The building is capped by a low dome. Guttmann situated this free-standing building in a parklike setting. In the architect's archives there are other plans that show variations of his design for this competition, among them a drawing that shows a tapered parabola several meters high that rises above a synagogue with an oval floor plan.
  • Alexandra Klei

Synagogues as Building Projects in the Federal Republic

Across the Federal Republic, synagogues once again became relevant as building projects beginning in the mid-1950s. Congregations had been using provisionally furnished prayer rooms since the middle of 1945. This not only meant a low capacity of seats on the High Holydays, it also often hindered the development of a communal and religious infrastructure that would have met the requirements of these nascent congregations and their members. Moreover, it became evident that despite their original wish to leave Germany, Jews had begun to build a life in Germany for a variety of reasons. Thus a number of small congregations were established in many cities, and they now became interested in having a dedicated building that met their specific needs. In most cases, they were unable after 1945 to use their former synagogue buildings that had been erected since the second half of the nineteenth century. The synagogues had either been destroyed or if they had survived, they were now used for a different purpose.

The first new synagogue was built in Stuttgart in 1951/52 based on a design by Ernst Guggenheimer. It was erected on the foundations of the previous synagogue, which had been destroyed in 1938. This kind of direct topographic connection to a congregation's own history remained an exception in the early days of the Federal Republic, however. In general, municipal authorities as well as lengthy conflicts about compensation and restitution prevented congregations from reclaiming their former, centrally located properties. In Hamburg, too, the new building lacked any kind of spatial relationship to the congregation's history prior to 1933. In many places these new building complexes were built outside of the urban center, thus remaining out of sight of the public. Moreover, they had to provide space for all requirements of community life. Jewish institutions no longer moved into various locations in urban areas as they had done before 1933, instead they used the newly built centers for all their work. The only exceptions were a few Jewish retirement homes and cemetery buildings.

In some cases, as in Düsseldorf, Hannover and Osnabrück, for example, residential units were attached to the synagogue complex. These were to be made available to congregation members in a time when housing was still scarce or extremely inadequate as a consequence of the bombing of German cities during the Second World War. Besides, Jews were often disadvantaged when it came to the allocation of housing or they did not want to live among non-Jewish Germans. And finally, this was a way for congregations to ensure that they would have enough men for a minyan. In the 1950s eight synagogues were built in the Federal Republic and another ten in the 1960s. Most of these were built in the time period from the late 1950s to the early 1960s. In the 1970s two new synagogues were built. Thus the new synagogue in Hamburg that was dedicated in 1960 falls into the high phase of postwar synagogue building. The majority of these buildings were planned by non-Jewish architects. In many cases it was the only time they took on a project of this nature. Apart from Hermann Zvi Guttmann, who built six synagogues, the most prominent synagogue architects included Helmut Goldschmidt (four buildings) and Karl Gerle. The latter was not Jewish and planned four synagogues in northern Germany. There were several closed competitions for new synagogue buildings. Hermann Zvi Guttmann had been invited to submit designs for a planned synagogue and community center in Essen (the competition was probably held in 1955 or 1956, the synagogue was dedicated in 1959) and for the planned community center at Berlin's Fasanenstraße (competition held in 1957), but he won neither. Both assignments went to the non-Jewish architecture firm of Dieter Knoblauch and Heinz Heise. In Hamburg twelve survivors had come together on July 8, 1945 in order to form a "temporary working committee and a cultural commission." Ina Lorenz, Jüdische Gemeinde (1945–1989), in: Institut für die Geschichte der deutschen Juden (ed.), Das Jüdische Hamburg. Ein historisches Nachschlagewerk, Göttingen 2006, pp. 135–138, here p. 135. At that time about 80 survivors had declared their interest in establishing a new congregation. Their main goal was to ensure organizational, religious, and material support. On September 18, 1945 they formed a unified congregation observing a moderately orthodox rite and consisting of 72 individuals. By March 1947 the congregation had already grown to 1,268 members, their number had dropped to 1,044 by 1952 and then rose again to 1,369 members by 1960, about half of whom were older than 56. Over the next three decades membership remained at a stable number between 1,350 and 1,400. This meant that the Hamburg congregation was one of the largest in the Federal Republic after Berlin, Munich and Frankfurt. Between 1945 and the dedication of their new synagogue in 1960 the congregation made use of existing prayer rooms in the former Oppenheimer Stift on Kielortallee and at the retirement home on Sedanstraße.

Design and realization

The large majority of newly built synagogues were simple and inconspicuous buildings that often only indicated their function by a few select symbols such as a Star of David or Hebrew inscriptions. The synagogues differed from the community centers in their outward appearance and facade design as the latter adhered to the architectural style of postwar office buildings. The designs were not solely the result of the congregation's wishes; in fact, numerous documents show that municipal authorities exerted considerable influence in terms of the buildings' appearance and architectural style. Striking designs as they became prevalent in German synagogue architecture after 1990 are not to be found during these earlier decades. Hermannn Zvi Guttmann's design for the Hamburg synagogue as well as his submission for the Essen synagogue express his vision for postwar synagogue architecture: to design a building so light and delicate as it appeared in its plans was in line with the general tenets of modern architecture of that time, but it had not yet been applied to synagogues.

At this time Guttmann was still at the beginning of his career, for it had only been five years since he finished his architecture degree at the Technical University of Munich. In 1956 the first synagogue he designed was opened in Offenbach, and he was also involved in planning a new synagogue in Düsseldorf at that time. In both cases he had been directly assigned to the job. Work on these buildings gave him a first experience not only with large-scale projects, but in Düsseldorf especially also with the limits placed on his clients by German authorities and local politics. Thus a competition like the one in Hamburg presented an opportunity to develop independent solutions and submit them as designs – to think about the building project in a more unfettered manner than it might have been possible in direct negotiations with clients. He might also have hoped to communicate new architectural approaches to the jury by participating in the competition.

Guttmann's submissions were to make an individual, unique contribution to modern architecture, both with regard to his architectural style and to synagogue architecture itself. The fact that Guttmann designed these submissions early in his work as an architect also hints at the perspectives he hoped to develop in his career and his architectural style as well as at the kind of designs with which he hoped to succeed. Guttmann sought to develop postwar synagogue architecture in a new form and with a view to modern architecture. In this process he clearly understood these new buildings as self-confident, striking buildings in the rebuilt urban space; a position he also wanted granted to the reemerging congregations. A look at the synagogues that were actually built during this period shows that there was not a single building of such a radical, independent and unique character. As a source, this architectural plan not only provides insight into the history of the building itself, its design and the statement implied by Guttmann. It is also one of the few indications of the different viewpoints and architectural positions emerging in the debate on new synagogue buildings in postwar modernity. Guttmann's ideas did not prevail. The competition was won by architects Franz May and Karl Heinz Wrongel, who designed an inconspicuous and conventional building that was to remain the only synagogue they built. It was dedicated in 1960 and survives in its original state. It is a sober complex that appears closed to the outside and in which the synagogue rises as a central building above a pentagonal layout. Its rather uninviting facade is the exact opposite of what Guttmann had conceived in his submission. The large windows he had planned would not only have suggested the synagogue's openness, but also marked the building as in line with the architecture of its day. Thus far it has been impossible to find other submissions for this competition in Hamburg or any sources documenting the jury's decision-making process.

Hermann Zvi Guttmann as a Jewish architect in Germany

Herrmann Zvi Guttmann was one of only three Jewish architects who managed to work successfully in West Germany after the end of the Second World War. Overall the process of rebuilding the cities was dominated by those architects who had been able to continue their careers more or less prominently under National Socialist rule. In contrast to Ernst Guggenheimer (Stuttgart) or Helmut Goldschmidt (Cologne), Guttmann was not able to finish his studies in Munich until the early 1950s. He had survived the National Socialist campaign of persecution and extermination by fleeing to the Soviet Union. After the war he spent several years in a Displaced Persons (DP) camp in the Bavarian town of Pocking waiting for his emigration to Palestine/Israel. Therefore he was not able to make use of a (potential) network of (non-Jewish) clients early in his career. Throughout his life he only worked for Jewish clients. He built synagogues and community centers for them in Offenbach (1956  This and the following numbers give the respective opening year and thus do not provide information on the much longer times of development and construction.), Düsseldorf (1958), Hannover (1963), Osnabrück (1969), Würzburg (1970), and Frankfurt am Main (1977) and he also designed the Jewish monument at the Dachau concentration camp memorial (1967), funeral chapels for the Jewish cemeteries in Hannover (1960) and Augsburg (1961), as well as Mikvaot, retirement homes, and youth centers. Additionally, he built private residences and commercial buildings for private clients mainly in the region around Frankfurt am Main, but also in Berlin. In Hamburg he was involved in two projects for the local Jewish congregation: between 1956 and 1958 he planned and built the Jewish retirement home on Schäferkampsallee 27 and he also supervised the installation of a mikveh in the new community center.

Select Bibliography

Werner Durth, Deutsche Architekten. Biographische Verflechtungen 1900–1970, Munich 1992.
Alexandra Klei, Jüdisches Bauen in Nachkriegsdeutschland. Der Architekt Hermann Zvi Guttmann, Berlin 2017.
Ina Lorenz, Jüdische Gemeinde (1945–1989), in: Institut für die Geschichte der deutschen Juden (ed.), Das Jüdische Hamburg. Ein historisches Nachschlagewerk, Göttingen 2006, pp. 135–138.
Ulrich Knufinke, List of synagogues and prayer halls built in Germany after 1945.
Hans Lamm, Synagogenbau gestern und heute, in: Baumeister 63 (1966) 1, pp. 53–59.

Selected English Titles

Gavriel D. Rosenfeld, Building After Auschwitz. Jewish Architecture and the Memory of the Holocaust, New Haven 2011.

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About the Author

Alexandra Klei studied architecture. Her dissertation at BTU Cottbus was about the relation between architecture and remembrance with a focus on the KZ memorial sites Buchenwald and Neuengamme. She is Research Assistant at the Institute for the History of German Jews in Hamburg where she works within the research project "Jewish Constructing" after 1945. Furthermore her research work is dedicated to the re-construction of the White City Tel Aviv, places of remembrance, architecture after 1945 and (post-)Holocaust-landscapes. Her book about the life an work of architect Hermann Zvi Guttmann was awarded with the Paul Arnsberg prize in 2016. She is also member of the editorial staff of the online-journal Medaon. Magazine für jüdisches Leben in Forschung und Bildung and curator for the werkraum bild und sinn e.V.

Recommended Citation and License Statement

Alexandra Klei, Hermann Zvi Guttmann and His Design for the New Synagogue at Hohe Weide (translated by Insa Kummer), in: Key Documents of German-Jewish History, January 30, 2018. <https://dx.doi.org/10.23691/jgo:article-231.en.v1> [March 05, 2024].

This text is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution - Non commercial - No Derivatives 4.0 International License. As long as the work is unedited and you give appropriate credit according to the Recommended Citation, you may reuse and redistribute the material in any medium or format for non-commercial purposes.