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[Page 47]

The Great Synagogue

by Joseph Chrust

Translated by Dr. Leon Chameides

The Great Synagogue in Katowice, built in 1900, fulfilled its task with dignity and splendour until the day it was burned by the Nazis. During its 39 years of existence, it served as a center for expressions of joy and sorrow for the entire Jewish population, the young as well as the elderly.

kat047.jpg The synagogue on fire, 8th September 1939 [30 KB]
The synagogue on fire, 8th September 1939

Its founders and leaders made great efforts to ensure that anything placed inside it matched its external glory. Evidence for this may be found in the “Behaviour Regulations” published each year before the High Holidays. These included the following:

  1. “The Community Administration is entitled to request payment from any guest who occupies a seat illegally, especially for the High Holidays...
  2. The dress of attendees and especially women should be suitable for a House of Worship. Attendance in the sanctuary with bare arms is absolutely forbidden.
  3. Walking sticks, umbrellas, and outer garments should be left in the cloakroom. It is forbidden to keep outer garments inside the sanctuary.
  4. After entering the sanctuary, please take your seats quietly and without disturbance. Ushers will show guests to their seats.
  5. Everyone is entitled to occupy only their assigned seat. Sharing a seat or giving a seat to another person without permission is strictly forbidden.
  6. It is forbidden to bring pre-school children into the sanctuary. School aged children, unaccompanied by adults, will be provided special seats by the ushers.
  7. Admission into the sanctuary is forbidden during the sermon and the memorial prayer (Yizkor).
  8. Before or during prayers, it is forbidden to walk or loiter in front of the synagogue, to speak loudly in the hallways, or to stand in the aisles of the sanctuary during prayers. Loud conversations during services is forbidden.
  9. During prayers one must face the Ark. When a prayer requires that one stand, all whose age and health permits, must do so.
  10. The “Shemona Esrei” prayer must be said in complete silence. One should also refrain from saying other prayers loudly which might disturb other worshippers. During prayers recited by the cantor and during the reading of the Torah and the Haftora, one must refrain from “assisting” loudly. Worshippers are requested to adapt their intonation to that of the cantor and choir. If a prayer is recited responsively, it is forbidden to start before others do.

Anyone familiar with the lack of decorum often present in synagogues will understand the importance of these rules and what an important role they played in producing the atmosphere of sanctity that was a hallmark of the Great Synagogue in Katowice. [The regulations also reflect the German Jewish heritage of the founders and leaders of the community].

kat048.jpg The Great Synagogue [35 KB]
The Great Synagogue, on the right is the section which was used
before the community building was erected to replace it in 1937

The synagogue was not only a holy site for adults. Those in charge saw to it that special prayer services were held for young members and the first announcement to that effect was published in the Newspaper (#23 January, 1933). These services appear to have taken place every Saturday afternoon at 4:00 PM. Other announcements make it evident that parents did not always cooperate. They often complained that religious studies placed a heavy burden on their children and that they interfered with secular studies.

The two Rabbis alternated in delivering sermons in the Great Synagogue. These sermons were subsequently published in the official newspaper of the community.

In the course of time there was pressure to build a second synagogue despite the existence of a number of prayer houses in Katowice. In July, 1935, a Building committee was established with Klein as chairman and with the participation of the head of the community, Bruno Altmann, and the vice chairman of the community, Löbinger,. It was decided to enlarge an existing two-storey building.

In 1937-38 a five storey building was erected next to the Great Synagogue and they shared a yard with a garden. The building contained a prayer hall and community institutions. It still remains standing.

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