The Wittlich SynagogueThe old Synagogue, a ruin until December 1975 – even though structurally well maintained – was transformed into a new Cultural and Conference Centre in March 1976.
The massive and squat-looking building, the structural fabric of which seems to strive upwards, presents itself in its outer appearance almost the same as it did the year of its consecration in 1910.
Under the then chief district architect Hans Vienken, construction was begun in 1909 and finished after almost one year's work. The arrangement of the synagogue as prescribed by tradition – a rectangular main room for the men with a narrow niche directed towards the east as the storage space for the Torah scrolls and with galleries for the women on the other three sides – was realised in an art nouveau manner in keeping with the time with particular reference to the Romanesque architectural style.
The ornamental paintings in the semicircle of the eastern space where the Almemor with the perpetual light was on an elevated foundation in front of the Torah niche, the lectern from which the Torah was read out, are redolent of a pure spirit of art nouveau.
They were also restored with great care on the basis of preserved drawings and faded relics, just like the decorative strips in the other parts of the structure in the interior.
The estrade in the eastern space has now become a low stage, with the Torah niche left in situ. The stone-built gateway with steps which used once to stand in front of it, was moved outside on the left side of the façade by the architect in charge. There it conceals the flat annex which had become necessary to provide space for cloakrooms, toilets, artists' recreation rooms and the heating installation and which was added in such a manner that the left-hand exterior walls of the Synagogue remain visible inside – a very successful solution in the sense of the greatest possible preservation and inevitable functional redesign.
The new function of the former house of worship and of the community house includes, above all, to provide chamber music evenings, art exhibitions, studio-theatre performances, lieder recitals, literary and lecture events but also meetings and training courses with a dignified setting. The Synagogue was erected in 1909/10 for the about 250 members of the relatively large Jewish community in Wittlich, the new seating provides almost the same space. While – according to contemporary reports – the whole town took a vivid interest in the consecration, the situation was completely different 28 years later. During the “Reichspogromnacht” on 9 November 1938 the interior was destroyed. During the War the surviving building served as camp for war prisoners – hence the barbed wire which has been “fused” into one of the round windows. Then the Synagogue was empty over 30 years, with broken windows and debris in the interior, left to fall into decay. In 1973, the then mayor, Karl-Adolf Orth, began his first discussions with the Jewish Cultural community to deliberate on the future fate of the rare and probably unique building. Two years later these talks led to the Town of Wittlich buying this building and to the plan, to turn the Synagogue into a Cultural and Conference Centre, combining the restoration of what was architecturally worth preserving and of structural significance for the history of the town with a new use. With the promise of financial support from the State and Federal Governments, the first work began in December 1975, the year of “Protection of historic buildings and monuments”. One million DM were financed by Federal Government and State, DM 300,000.00 by the town.
Now the restored building can face a new future and at the same time recall the fate of the Jewish Community in Wittlich as a memorial. On a commemorative plaque in the former Torah niche the following words are inscribed in Hebrew:
and in German: