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Jewish Journal

Celle, Germany: from fachwerk synagogue to the disappeared concentration camp

by Klaudia Klimek

September 15, 2012 | 7:20 am

Being inspired by the synagogue notes of my colleague Pavel Pustelnik, I feel obliged to add this story to the beautiful collection.

Celle makes you fall in love with Germany. Seems like there was no war in the town - over 400 beautiful fachwerk houses form a truly medieval city center; what surrounds it mostly comes from the pre-war times as well. It’s a true candy town from the old German fairy tales. So is the oldest remaining synagogue in Germany. As synagogues should not necessarily stand out from the town’s landscape, the temple in Celle is just another medieval fachwerk house from the outside. And just a normal European synagogue from inside - two pictures are hard to match. The synagogue is rarely used, but hosts a decent Jewish museum with a number of permanent and temporary exhibitions. The museum banner is the only thing to help one identify the building from the narrow street. Indeed, the town belongs to the different world, where the synagogues are carefully turned to freshly renovated museums, and as for the Jews - maybe they just all returned to Israel, being deeply attached to the wonderful town of Celle and tight connection to their historic motherland?

Bergen Belsen concentration camp located just 30 minutes drive from Cellle was aimed to ruin this lollipop fantasy. A bus took me through the sunny meadows of the German region of Lower Saxony right to the gloomy walls of the concentration camp memorial. But the fairy tale could not end there. The concentration camp has disappeared. There was nothing in the old forest, except for the documentation center built some ten years ago. Nothing has remained. Walk through this forest and you won’t find a single brick remained from the murder machine. Nothing at all, but the opened doors of the memorial.

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Jews visiting Central & Eastern Europe frequently come with stereotypes and prejudices about the region.  In particular, group heritage and education tours for young Jews...

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