Scholz attends German synagogue opening as weekend demonstrations loom

The two weeks since the Hamas attack has seen a spike in anti-Semitic attacks in Germany, with stars of David and anti-Jewish slogans daubed on homes and Jewish institutions

As Germany braces for a weekend of pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian marches, chancellor Olaf Scholz will pay a symbolic visit to the eastern city of Dessau for the opening of a new synagogue.

The Weill Synagogue is named after Albert Weill, a former cantor in the old synagogue and father to composer Kurt Weill, of Threepenny Opera fame, who was born in Dessau in 1900. This is the first new synagogue in the eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt since the second World War, and replaces the original building, where Albert Weill worked, which was burned down by Nazi sympathisers in 1938.

The €5 million building has a striking cylindrical main hall; a copper plate mounted on its facade displays words of the prophet Isaiah: “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.”

After eight years of planning, construction and some delays, the Israel-Gaza crisis and the high-profile guest from Berlin means Sunday’s invitation-only gathering will be even more high-security than is already the norm for such Jewish community buildings and events in Germany.


“This new building is the best thing that could happen to us,” said Aron Russ, director of Dessau’s 300-strong Jewish community. “The war in Israel means the danger level has increased. The joy remains strong and, regardless of what happens we won’t cancel the celebration but will instead send a signal.”

Eight decades after Nazi Germany murdered six million European Jews, Scholz has described as “a gift” Germany’s thriving Jewish population. At roughly 100,000 and growing, it is around one-fifth of the pre-Nazi total.

Scholz urged Germans this week to “take a clear position” on rising anti-Semitism as Israel responds to the October 7th attacks by Hamas that killed 1,400 people in Israel and resulted in some 200 people being taken hostage.

The two weeks since have seen a spike in anti-Semitic attacks in Germany – about 400 registered in total – with stars of David and anti-Jewish slogans daubed on private homes and Jewish institutions. Jewish schools report that many pupils have been afraid to attend since the October 7th attack. Berlin state schools have been ordered to ban the traditional Palestinian keffiyeh scarf or “free Palestine” stickers.

Early on Wednesday two Molotov cocktails were thrown at a Jewish community centre in central Berlin. Community director Anna Segal said she was “shocked but not surprised” by the attack after days of palpable tension. “I never would have thought that it would get this bad,” said Segal, “or that I would google bullet-proof vests to see what they cost and the delivery times.”

A major pro-Israel demonstration is planned for Sunday at the capital’s Brandenburg Gate, while Berlin police are braced for further weekend riots in the district of Neukölln, home to large Turkish and Arab communities.

On three days this week city authorities banned pro-Palestinian marches over fears of anti-Semitic slogans, but night-time riots happened anyway: running street battles where Berlin police struggled to contain crowds chanting “free Palestine”, “death to Israel” and other slogans.

Leading many of the protests are Muslim groups from the Turkish and Arab communities, though Berlin police president Barbara Slowik said much of the worst damage – including burning tyres and cars – was probably caused by “gawkers in the mood for rioting”.

“What we are also seeing are members of the left-wing scene participating,” she added.

Berlin-based Turkish-German lawyer Murat Kayman resigned as legal adviser to a leading Turkish Muslim organisation in protest at its anti-Israeli stance and rhetoric. Equally worrying for him is a blindness he sees to anti-Jewish feeling in broader German society. “We get annoyed here when the anti-Semite is called Hassan,” he told Berlin’s Tagesspiegel newspaper. “But when he is a Hubert or Heinrich, then it’s mostly immaterial to us.”

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin