The new Dresden synagogue sits on the site of the Semper Synagogue destroyed  in 1938 on Kristallnacht.

Jewish Dresden: The old cemetery and the new synagogue

Unlike some of the other German cities, Dresden is not known for its Jewish sites, but there are two Jewish places that are definitely worth a visit. And, of course, Dresden is certainly a gorgeously baroque city that is one of the highlights of Europe.

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Established in 1751, the Judischer Friedhof (Jewish cemetery) is open to visits if arrangements are made with the Centre for Jewish Culture HATIKVA next door. The cemetery was closed in 1869 when the newer cemetery was opened. The other site of Jewish interest in the Neue Synagoge -- New Synagogue. It is built on the site of the Semper synagogue, designed by the architect of the Semper Opera House, Gottfried Semper.

Jewish History in Dresden

As with most, if not all cities and towns in eastern Europe, the Jewish population entered and left the city with yo-yo regularity. Invited in, kicked out. Dresden was no different. Several Electors had invited and supported the Jewish presence, but by 1700, the Jews were pushed out once again.

But then the pendulum swung back the other way and in the early to mid-1800s Jewish inhabitants were officially allowed to settle in Dresden and the community began to grow.

That period didn't last very long, and Hitler swept to power, and swept the Jews of Dresden into the concentration camps. Never a center of Jewish living, with a total population of Jews estimated at 6,000 at its peak, after the war, almost no one was left in Dresden.

 Semper Synagogue in Dresden was built in 1838-40 for the Jewish community  by Gottfried Semper.

The current Jewish community is very different from the pre-war community. While there are some Holocaust survivors, it was the influx of Jewish families from the former Soviet Union that finally began to enlarge the population.

New Synagogue (and community center)

The New Synagogue in Dresden, built on the same location as the Semper Synagogue (1839-1840) designed by Gottfried Semper was completed in 2001. It looks far different from the original building, which was destroyed in 1938, during and immediately after Kristallnacht (also called the Night of the Pogroms).

Photos of the Semper synagogue show a lavish decorative building, constructed to inspire awe. Sadly, there is little left of the original synagogue. All traces of the community were deliberately and permanently erased, even the synagogue stones were used to surface streets. Only the golden Star of David, designed by Semper was saved. Photos show people on the roof rescuing it.

It has been placed at the main entrance to the new building. The boundary wall of the New Synagogue also incorporates the last remaining fragments of the original building. The new synagogue also honors the old with the original position marked by an empty space.

The rebuildings of the synagogue, and the historic center of Dresden are clearly in juxtaposition. Dresden was destroyed by Allied bombers, and rebuilding as exact a reconstruction as possible makes the continuity of the city and its architecture a celebration. With the new, completely different, synagogue, it was as if a fresh start was desired.

The building is an unusual double construction, with a tent-like structure as the inner building. This is said to recall the travels of the past in Jewish history. It is also fitting that it is placed within a solid, stone structure that makes a statement about the present and future permanence.

Another interesting design element is that although the base of the building sits squarely on the street, the walls gradually twists so that worshipers are facing east for their prayers.

Guided tours are usually available, except Friday and Saturday. Make these arrangement in advance. Worshipers can also attend services if arrangements are made in advance so the names can be placed on the guest list.
Hasenberg 1
01067 Dresden

The Old Jewish Cemetery

 Old Jewish Cemetery in Dresden
When Jewish settlers were allowed back in to Dresden in the middle of the 18th century, the original cemetery had already been destroyed. Finally, a "new" cemetery was permitted in 1751, with strict regulations about the time and way the cemetery had to be run.

The idea of eternal burial was not a common idea in Saxony, or in Germany. But the result of Jewish burial practices is that when a cemetery is filled, new graves are not constructed over the old ones, nor are the graves disturbed. Instead, a new cemetery is built.

In the Old Jewish Cemetery, graves are laid out towards the east, in the direction of Jerusalem. The more recent graves are in the front and are dated by 1867, the year it closed. From that time on, the new cemetery in Dresden-Johannstadt was, and is used.

The cemetery was believed to contain 1263 graves of which about 800 still exist. The records were lost in the bombing of February, 1945.

HATiKVA offers tours of the Old Cemetery in the Dresden Neustadt as well as tours of the New Israelite Cemetery in Johannstadt. For further information email The website is only in German. nt transportation. The Dresden City Card is also quite helpful.

Getting Around Dresden

One excellent way to discover Dresden is through one of the hop-on-hop-off tours. Narrated in all major languages, it's both an introduction to the city

Learn more about the Historic Semper Synagogue at Dresden -- historical synagogue

For more information visit Dresden Tourism

Read more about travel throughout Germany

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Neala McCarten

Unless otherwise indicated, all photos by the author

Updated: October 29, 2016

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