At 10th place in the top 53 things to see in Enschede is the Enschede Synagogue, which has supposedly earned the title of “The most beautiful synagogue in Western Europe.”
The synagogue is located but a block from us, so we thought it a great place to visit when we got a late start on the Netherlands’ cultural days last month. Similar to the <<Journées du patrimoine>> that we enjoyed last year while living in Montpellier, France, the “Open Monumentendag” is a day when otherwise closed or otherwise paid monuments and historical sites are open and free of charge. To be honest, Enschede did not have much on its offering list that I did not foresee us otherwise visiting this year, so the synagogue was a perfect choice.
The synagogue was once the cultural center to a large and thriving Jewish community in Enschede with so many Jews that the Jews themselves wished to close their borders to the influx of even more. By 1930 there were close to 1,300 members. Unfortunately, as befall many of the Dutch Jews but especially those located on the border towns with Germany, such as Enschede, the community is now quite small with the main area of the synagogue no longer being used for most worship, which has otherwise been moved to a tiny side room. Despite this, accounts note that the Enschede Jews came out of the War faring better than most, with about 500 survivors, a survival rate (38.5%) attributable to the Nazi forces stationed in Enschede who warned the Jewish Council of coming raids. The Jewish Council in Enschede also appears to have set the bar for other councils by providing financial support to community members who assisted with hiding their Jewish townsmen. By contrast, the average rate of survival for the Netherlands’ Jews was 20 percent or less. Of course, the population never recovered, and, in 2012, the synagogue’s foundation was finally forced to shut its doors as there was not enough support to continue its operations. The synagogue is now ran by the province of Overijssel.
Without knowing the coming destruction, the Jewish community of Enschede commissioned the synagogue, which was completed in December 1928. The synagogue has a somewhat oriental style, and has earned the title of the most beautiful synagogue in Western Europe, according to several reports. While beautiful, it is hard to imagine that this building is the most beautiful of its kind in Western Europe unless one thinks back to the few years when it was in continuous use by a large community. Now, the empty old school rooms, toilet areas, and faded carpets are reminiscent of a high school that needs some funding to revamp its state. This is, of course, not to say that the synagogue’s stained glass windows and golden mosaics are not stunning; they most certainly are, but, the synagogue does not have the same stunning beauty as, say, the Spanish Synagogue in Prague. Perhaps the most beautiful thing about the synagogue is that it managed to survive, wonderfully preserved, at all.