Speyer, Worms and Mainz are also known as the ShUM cities, a name coined from the initial letters of their medieval names in Hebrew. They formed a unique cluster that significantly influenced the culture, religion and administration of justice in the Ashkenazi diaspora. That is why the ShUM cities have applied for UNESCO World Heritage Site Status.
The Jewish community of Mainz, or Magenza, is one of the oldest in the German-speaking world, dating back to the 10th century. During the Middle Ages, scholars and teachers based in Magenza turned the city into a vibrant centre of religious and cultural life.
Interested visitors can book a guided tour through "Magenza - the Jewish Mainz".
Mainz is home to one of the oldest Jewish communities in Europe. During the Middle Ages, it was a centre of Jewish learning and religious life. The Main Synagogue designed by the architect Willy Graf from Stuttgart and erected in 1912 at the crossroads of Hindenburgstrasse and Josefsstrasse was looted and set on fire during the Kristallnacht pogroms of the night of 9 November 1938.
Today, the Jewish community of Mainz counts around 1000 members, and it is growing quite rapidly, mainly due to immigration from Eastern European countries. As its premises became too small to cater for the growing number of worshipers, an initiative was set up to build a new community centre on the site of the destroyed Main Synagogue. The plans were drawn up by Manuel Herz, an architect from Cologne. The project quickly gained the support of the city and its authorities.
"Kedushah" means holiness in Hebrew and is the sanctification of God's name during the Amidah prayer. The five letters of the Hebrew word were taken as the key elements for the design of the New Synagogue in Mainz. Its architecture and the façade of green glazed ceramic elements are highly unconventional both in style and materials. Manuel Herz however managed to reflect the history of the community from the Middle Ages to the 21st century without ever making a direct reference to prosecution, pogroms and the Holocaust, as his design is primarily inspired by traditional texts and the Torah.
Fragments of pillars of the Main Synagogue built in 1912 remind visitors to the New Synagogue of the fate of its predecessor.
Inauguration of the New Synagogue of Mainz in 2010
The New Synagogue was inaugurated on Friday, 3 September 2010. The invitations were sent out jointly by the chairperson of the Jewish community Stella Schindler-Siegreich, Prime Minister Kurt Beck and the Lord Mayor of Mainz Jens Beutel.
Among the guests were many Jews who at some stage lived in Mainz, witnesses of the Holocaust and members of today's local Jewish community. Also present were the then President of Germany Christian Wulff and the Ambassador of the State of Israel to Germany Yoram Ben Ze'ev. At the open day held a little later, the people of Mainz had the opportunity to visit the New Synagogue and they turned up in their hundreds. The formal inauguration ceremony began with the placing of the Mezuzah at the main entrance of the new building by Rabbi Julian-Chaim Soussan, and the installation of the Torah scrolls in the synagogue.
After the welcome address by Stella Schindler-Siegreich, there were speeches by Christian Wulff, the Kurt Beck, Jens Beutel, the chairperson of the Central Council of Jews in Germany Charlotte Knobloch and Dr. Fritz Weinschenk who was born in 1920 in Mainz and flew all the way from New York to attend the ceremony. Ninety-eight years after the inauguration of the Main Synagogue of Mainz on 3 September 1912, and roughly 70 years after its destruction under the Nazi regime, the capital of Rhineland-Palatinate has again a splendid synagogue reflecting the vibrant Jewish community that calls the city its home. Following some controversy regarding the name of the street at which the New Synagogue is located, Hindenburgstrasse was renamed to Synagogenplatz.
In 1880, the city architect Eduard Kreyssig built a new Jewish cemetery on Untere Zahlbacher Strasse adjacent to the main city cemetery. As a consequence, the old Jewish cemetery known as Judensand at Mombacher Strasse was closed. The entrance to the new cemetery bears a commemorative plaque from 1948. Its inscription can be translated as "Erected in memory of our victims. To shame the murderers. And as a reminder to the living." Fortunately, the graves remained undefiled during the time of the Nazi regime. To this day, members of the Jewish community are laid to rest here.
The synagogue in Mainz-Weisenau was built in 1737/38 and is the only Jewish of house worship in Mainz that survived the time of the Nazi regime and the Second World War without damage. Incidentally, it is also the oldest still intact building in Weisenau. In the 18th century, about a quarter of the inhabitants of the village of Weisenau were Jewish, and the community therefore had its own synagogue at Wormser Strasse.
The building was badly damaged during the siege of Mainz in 1793, and it took 25 years to restore the synagogue to its former glory. During the Kristallnacht pogroms of 1938, the synagogue of Weisenau was looted and desecrated. As the looters feared that putting the building on fire would cause damage to adjacent houses, it was spared this fate. In 1940, the owners were forced to sell the site and the building, and after the war, it was used for a time as a shed and henhouse.
Few people remembered that the somewhat hidden building had at some point in time actually been a place of worship. This changed in 1978 with the "Jews in Mainz" exhibition that brought the synagogue back into public consciousness. The building duly declared a protected monument and handed over to the city of Mainz with, together with the local association for the restoration of the synagogue established in 1993, went about reinstating it as a Jewish place of worship. On 27 May 1996, the restored synagogue was officially inaugurated.
In its front yard, the builders found two Mikveh (baths for ritual immersion), one dating from the Baroque period and the other from the 19th century, both unique for Germany.
Synagogue of Weisenau
Synagogue of Weisenau: inscription
Mainz State Museum hosts a large collection of Jewish cult objects, mainly gold and silverwork, dating from the 18th and 19th centuries. They belong to the collection of a local society known as "Verein zur Pflege jüdischer Altertümer in Mainz" who, on 3 October 1926, opened the Museum of Jewish Antiquities in the side tract of the Main Synagogue of 1912. The museum was dismantled during the Nazi period, and most of the artefacts, ceremonial objects, documents and manuscripts were destroyed in the Kristallnacht pogroms of 9 November 1938. Many of the items that were salvaged were handed over to the Mainz State Museum on permanent loan by the Jewish community of Mainz and are now on public display.