Speech Given by Mayor Max Brauer on the Occasion of the Groundbreaking for the Synagogue at Hohe Weide, November 9, 1958

English Translation
    Speech given by Max Brauer (16'45''), Date of broadcasting: November 9, 1958; Norddeutscher Rundfunk.

    Esteemed Chief Rabbi, Excellency, Ladies and Gentlemen, on this day the most painful of all the wounds inflicted on us here in Hamburg through the destruction of houses of prayer during the years of terror and darkness is beginning to heal. I say “the most painful of all the wounds,” for with the burning of the synagogues, the wrecking and closing of Jewish houses of prayer in Hamburg and Altona, something much worse than the destruction and damaging of churches during the total war waged by Hitler occurred. Here, hell rose against God and humanity in the deepest time of peace, and demons and furies were unleashed. What happened here and what fills us with grief and outrage to this day was the sacrilege against God, to whom all human beings owe the light of this world. The memory of this terrible time cannot be evoked more powerfully than through the words of Leo Baeck, Chief Rabbi from Berlin, who wrote the following on the 15th anniversary of the November pogrom: “How often have the images of that night on which the great sacrilege, the burning of the Jewish houses of prayer, occurred, reappeared before us, whether we wanted it or not? Again we thought to hear, although we turned away our ears, the voices that called to us on that night: ‘The synagogues are burning!’” What is it that was destroyed back then? Not only were the Jewish houses of prayer demolished, but with them pillars and supports of a human bond one relied on collapsed. One believed there was one thing that would always join everyone together: a reverence for the place people come to so that they may uplift themselves to the Eternal from the day’s constrictions and hardship. To the place where the invisible draws close to them and infinite silence turns to them. Back on that night when one [lost material]  inaudible whether one wanted to know or didn’t, hands were laid on this country’s churches as well. On them, too, for the synagogue historically and spiritually is the mother of all churches. One and the same certainty seeks to reveal itself in both places, and even if the manner and path may differ, in the end Jewish and Christian houses of prayer share an indivisible fate. And what is done to one is also inflicted on the other. In its aftermath many a day has made this obvious in Germany, and only those who wanted to be blind saw it neither back then nor later. Something else was destroyed at that time: a vivid history that had grown on German soil and from German soil and that carried within itself the promise of a fertile future, this was destroyed then. The senate of our venerable old Hanseatic city and our state parliament as well as all citizens of our city who are of good will are honor bound to contribute to the completion of the good work that is to be begun with the laying of this foundation stone. With it we seek to restore reverence for the sacred. And we are glad that both our government and state parliament are able to contribute to creating the necessary material foundations for the construction of this new house of prayer. At this hour we cannot help but let our thoughts travel back twenty years, back to those years when the Jewish community in Hamburg and Altona counted twenty-six thousand souls altogether. It was, as I mentioned before, a flourishing community, and the members of this community were respected and good citizens of our city. They belonged to all professions. Outstanding members of their community have earned great merit in the senate and in our government offices. I’d like to mention Senator Karel Cohn and Privy Counsellor Lippmann. Distinguished Jewish scholars were a boon to our university: philosopher [lost material]  inaudible Ernst Cassirer, art historian Erwin Panofsky, private scholar Aby Warburg or Albrecht Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, from the family of the great musician. A family that, like so many others of its kind, has developed close ties to our city’s intellectual life over several generations. Men like Albert Ballin and Max Warburg have an excellent reputation in the world, which also increased Hamburg’s renown among merchants, shipping company owners, and financial experts. Among the most flourishing members of our merchant class, too, there were many Jewish names. However, I must not and do not want to forget all the many others who were simple citizens and had made their happiness and home here in our midst. One of the men whose name affects me particularly strongly has been mentioned earlier by our esteemed Chief Rabbi. It is the name of our former Chief Rabbi in Altona, Rabbi Carlebach, with whom I felt a particular personal bond. Today we must bring up the painful question of what has become of all of them. A Jewish memorial out in Ohlsdorf names seven thousand dead members of the community, but many others who were of Jewish origin and were unwilling to deny their origin died as well. Today the Jewish community counts one thousand three hundred ninety members, of whom perhaps about three hundred lived in our city before 1933. This tragic development is a painful reminder for us all of that terrible time that also drove me from my home town in 1933. During the years of my emigration, every time I met someone in other European countries, in the USA or in the Far East who had been saved, my heart felt lighter. Today we send our greetings to all these saved ones who once belonged to us. And we bow in respect and sorrow before those slain. When you, ladies and gentlemen of the Jewish community, after 1945 took on the difficult task of rebuilding your congregation that had been so tragically decimated, you found even more of your friends’ graves in ruins. Every bit of progress in the rebuilding of your institutions moved us and also met with great sympathy in Hamburg’s city hall. As the crowning achievement of all the efforts to rebuild your congregation, by which Mr. Harry Goldstein in particular has earned great merit, now follows the groundbreaking of your synagogue, which will be the heart of your congregation. You have had to make do with a provisional solution for a long time, and it was painful to us, too, that this makeshift was inadequate. This has now come to an end. Hamburg restores a part of its dignity when it allies itself with its Jewish fellow citizens and the Jewish congregation in order to create a new, appropriate house of prayer. May the peace of your faith’s inviolability, which we all feel close to in shared brotherhood and humanity, inhabit it. No one has expressed the hope for a new beginning more poignantly and beautifully than the above-mentioned Leo Baeck, who had to suffer for his faith in the Theresienstadt camp. He expressed what also moves us in this moment when he wrote: “The last, the decisive word is that of a hope that lasts. Of genuine, true hope, and a Jew may say, of ancient Jewish hope. It speaks from the eternal commandment and from the eternal ‘thou shalt’ of God’s word, this hope, at once commandment and comfort and confidence. For this is what it is, a hope lasting throughout the history of mankind. The human being, each individual just as the people as a whole, can and is supposed to begin anew at any time. This strength to turn back towards God is intrinsic to everyone, and the path of the eternal opens up before everyone. From destruction speaks a warning that is also a hope: ‘Pave the way for the eternal.’”

    [] Reading of the Jewish Congregation charter for the groundbreaking of their synagogue []

    By laying the foundation stone for this new synagogue, we consecrate this synagogue to the lasting honor and the memory of the dead. A reminder to the living and a place for future generations that opens the path to true humanity.

    Source Description

    When the foundation stone of the new synagogue was laid on November 9, 1958, Hamburg’s mayor, Max Brauer, was present to give a speech. Hamburg’s first synagogue of the postwar period was built at Hohe Weide. Previously the small Jewish congregation had to hold prayer services in provisional prayer halls. In his speech, which was about twelve minutes long, Max Brauer commemorated the persecution and murder of Hamburg’s Jewish citizens during National Socialism and honored the efforts made to rebuild Jewish life after 1945. His speech was broadcast on the radio on November 11, 1958 and is in the collection of the NDR sound archive  Tonarchiv. According to archive records, the broadcast was produced by the editorial staff of the program “Reportage.” The sound recording includes both Brauer’s speech, which is interrupted by the reading of the founding charter, and a speech given by Rabbi Ludwig Salomonowicz. At the end of the recording, the symbolic groundbreaking by spade and the blessing spoken by the rabbi can be heard.
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    Recommended Citation

    Speech Given by Mayor Max Brauer on the Occasion of the Groundbreaking for the Synagogue at Hohe Weide, November 9, 1958 (translated by Insa Kummer), edited in: Key Documents of German-Jewish History, <https://dx.doi.org/10.23691/jgo:source-146.en.v1> [July 19, 2024].