The Coppel family

Stop 4: The Solingen synagogue

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Malteserstraße 18 go to map – go to starting point

We are standing here at the former site of the Solingen synagogue, which was looted and set on fire by National Socialists in the night from 9 to 10 November 1938.

In front of us, there are two plaques on the concrete wall of the bunker built on the same spot in 1943. The upper “memorial plaque” was put up on 29 November 1979 to commemorate the synagogue. Pupils from the neighbouring Schwertstraße High School had previously collected signatures for it. The Association of Persecutees of the Nazi Regime and the Trade Union for Education and Science had also vigorously campaigned for a memorial sign.

The memorial plaque underneath was inaugurated on 8 November 1998 on the 60th anniversary of the November pogrom by the then Lord Mayor Ulrich Uibel. The names of 62 Solingen victims of the Holocaust are mentioned on the plaque; they include the names of Dr Alexander Coppel and Max Leven. The Jewish cultural critic of the communist daily newspaper Bergische Arbeiterstimme was murdered by National Socialists in his flat on today’s Max-Leven-Gasse during the November pogrom of 1938.

There has been a bronze relief by the sculptor Henryk Dywan on the other side of the bunker – in the schoolyard of Schwertstraße High School – since 2012. It shows the synagogue and is thanks to an initiative by students. Alexander Coppel also attended the high school until the 9th grade.

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The synagogue at Malteserstraße. Source: City Archive of Solingen, RS 15816

The history of the Solingen synagogue

The proportion of Jews in the total population of Solingen was always less than one per cent. In 1804, there were 32 Jewish inhabitants; in 1905, a peak was reached with 328 persons. In 1933, 219 Jews were living in Solingen.

The butcher and merchant Coppel Samuel, who had come to Solingen from the Frankfurt area around 1770, bought a house on the Südwall/Ufergarten street in 1787, together with Michel David, who was ancestor of the Michelson family in Solingen. For 85 years, it was used as a school and prayer house, with a mikvah for Solingen’s Jews, but had room for only around 35 men.

In 1861, the congregation bought the property in front of us, because the building on Südwall had become far too small as a synagogue due to the sharp increase in the number of Jewish residents. Alexander Coppel, Coppel Samuel’s youngest son, let the congregation share in his business success and significantly supported the construction of the new synagogue financially. On 8 March 1872, the neo-Romanesque domed building, with 150 seats for men and 80 seats for women, a schoolroom and a flat for the teacher, was consecrated. It was a solemn act with a procession in which both the dignitaries of the town and the people of Solingen took part.

Gustav Coppel, the grandson of Coppel Samuel, served on the board of the synagogue community for 60 years, 30 of them as its chairman. His youngest son, Alexander, also had himself elected to the board of the synagogue community. For 25 years he was deputy chairman, and when Siegfried Feist emigrated in 1940, he became its chairman. Alexander Coppel was to be the last chairman of the Solingen synagogue community.

On the night of 10 November 1938, Kristallnacht, the Solingen synagogue in Malteserstraße was the first target. Earlier, on 4 October 1938, Councilman Hesels had unsuccessfully demanded the demolition of the Solingen synagogue. Now, however, the unleashed mob of NSDAP and SA members could run riot on the disenfranchised Jews. The synagogue was looted and set on fire. Afterwards, drunken SA squads roamed the city, vandalizing the shops and homes of Jewish citizens as well as the Jewish cemetery with its chapel. As of 11 November, the last remains of the synagogue were demolished and the site levelled. A high-rise bunker was built on the site in 1943.

In the years after the end of the war, only a few Jews lived in Solingen again at first. At the end of the 1960s, there were said to have been about 10 people. In 2010, about 300 people of the Jewish faith lived in the city, most of them from former Soviet republics. Today, there is no longer an independent synagogue community in Solingen. The Jews of Solingen belong to the religious community of Wuppertal.

In February 1995, the Bunker/Synagogue After-School Group was founded at Schwertstraße High School under the direction of Dr Horst Sassin and carried out numerous projects. Among other things, it organised trips to Düsseldorf, Brussels, Auschwitz and Lodz. In 1996, a permanent exhibition on the Solingen synagogue was opened at the school. Most recently, on the 80th anniversary of the destruction of the synagogue, the Solingen Art Association, in cooperation with the Academy of Media Arts Cologne, commemorated this occasion with various art events.