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The International School for Holocaust Studies

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Giving Life Back to a Synagogue
Annalisa Govi, Italy
Matthias Durchfeld responsible for the project by ISTORECO, Italy

Giving life back to a synagogueGiving life back to a synagogue

Giving life back to the synagogue, even only for a few nights, was the result of one of our workshops held in March and April 2010.

Every year we organize with ISTORECO, the local historic institute, a “Memory Journey” for the high school graduates from our district of Reggio Emilia, near Bologna in northern Italy.
After Berlin/Ravensbrück 2008 and Munich/Dachau 2009, this year we visited Cracow and Auschwitz-Birkenau for one week with about a thousand people, either students or teachers.

Before the journey, during the preparation, we studied the history of the destruction of the European Jews but we focussed also on single stories, having important meetings with the witnesses Piero Terracina, survivor of Birkenau, and Andree Geulen, Righteous Among the Nations.
During our stay in Poland we also faced several micro stories of Jewish life, of persecution, of death but also of solidarity and resistance.

Once back in Italy, we organised some workshops to study the local history and to reflect upon the experience of our journey.
Some students expressed themselves through artworks, drawings, comics or music by creating hip-hop tracks.

Other students, with our help, started organizing some cultural nights in the former ghetto of Reggio Emilia. The Nazis deported and killed the last Jewish inhabitants but the wonderful building of the synagogue, now empty and silent, is still there.
Our workshop-group met several times discussing how we could express the fact that before the war there were real people living in these streets, that the murder of the Reggio Jews took place in Auschwitz but started here, when they were arrested in these houses. It is not only a story written in schoolbooks, it was the life of many people, people like us.
So we decided to read texts about life in times of peace, about Jewish culture and finally something about war and extermination. We decided to read aloud in the open air, in the street, in front of the synagogue, filling the street with voices.

Giving life back to a synagogueGiving life back to a synagogue

During the cultural nights of our workshop we tried also to bring back life into the synagogue with a projection of photos shot a few months earlier when, after the first International Graduate Seminar in the summer of 2009 in Yad Vashem, we discovered and photographed at Kiryat Samuel in Haifa, the Ark and other ritual objects brought, after the war from Reggio Emilia to Israel. The meeting we had with members of the Kiryat Samuel synagogue was a very friendly and touching moment. We were glad and moved when we saw these objects from “our” synagogue, about which we had known nothing and which are now preserved thousands of kilometres away from Reggio Emilia.

It was very suggestive showing our photos from 2009 mixed with some pre-war photos from the municipal archive; with the help of a strong beamer every single image turned out very impressive. We showed them inside the synagogue while some students and teachers read aloud outside in the street. It felt so real, so true: the ark was in its original place, the bombed and blank cupola looked painted and along the street you could hear voices reading, talking, laughing.

During these nights many citizens came for their first time to have a look inside the synagogue. After many years of renovation we now have the possibility of showing that Jewish life in Reggio Emilia was real and that the Shoah really happened. The synagogue is not only an example of beautiful architecture but also a witness made of stones. We can't give life back to the murdered people. But we can prevent their total disappearance from history by perpetuating their memory.

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