In the years following the Holocaust, Jewish communities in Germany made up of displaced Jews from other countries, since the German Jewish population had been decimated began building synagogues to replace the ones destroyed by the Nazis. These new synagogues often were hidden away and were generally so nondescript they looked like cafeterias, says German architect Alfred Jacoby.
The idea, even three or four decades after the end of World War II, was to try not to be noticed. But in 1986, when Jacoby won an architectural competition to design a new synagogue in Darmstadt, he tried a different approach: "to show that Jews can be part of a city."
Jacoby, who is now one of the most prolific designers of synagogues in Germany, was in Utah last week at the dedication of his first American synagogue, Temple Har Shalom in Park City.
Jacoby's German synagogues, in cities such as Aachen and Heidelberg, are noticeable and inviting, with large entrances "to invite you in, as a gesture," Jacoby said. As he explained to a New York Times reporter in 2000, "I want them to be part of the urban fabric, to heal with architecture."
In his synagogue in the city of Kassel, the ark the cabinet in which the Torah scrolls are kept is glass, and the scrolls inside can be seen by passers-by on the street.
Jacoby's synagogues have clean, simple lines and sanctuaries full of natural light. The style is what Americans would call "modern," although Jacoby is dismissive of the word "style." Instead he prefers a phrase: "how's my discourse with history?"
And that's no simple question when the history in question includes the Holocaust and your synagogues are in Germany, he says. Do you make the synagogue a memorial to the extermination of Jews? Use a design that breaks with the past? Try to replicate the synagogues that were destroyed?
Jacoby has chosen not to re-create the past. To do that, he says, would be to imply that "nothing happened here."
Jacoby is the son of Polish Holocaust survivors. After the war, unable to immigrate to America because his father had TB, the family stayed in Germany, where Jacoby was born in 1950. Jacoby studied architecture at Cambridge University in England, and in Switzerland, and is now a professor and director at the Dessau Institute of Architecture, located in the historic Bauhaus at Anhalt University of Applied Sciences.
Designing the Temple Har Shalom in Park City was a different experience, Jacoby says. Jews in Utah "don't carry in their rucksacks the memories of something horrific." Instead of a discourse with history, in Park City Jacoby's discourse was with nature, he says. The ceiling of the new synagogue undulates, suggestive of the mountains on the other side of the stained glass windows.In Utah, too, the congregation was much more engaged in the whole process, he says. In Germany, because the government provides funding for churches and synagogue construction, the congregations have a more distant relationship to the process. In Park City, he says, "they really engaged. It's like looking at a rowing contest or actually rowing the boat. And they were rowing the boat."