History in Kaliningrad: The New Synagogue Museum Opens its Doors

A new museum, commemorating the unique and rich history of the Jewish community of Prussian Königsberg – now Russian Kaliningrad – throughout the generations, has recently opened its doors to the general public in a festive ceremony attended by dignitaries and community members. The new museum is located within the city’s historic rebuilt synagogue, which reopened in 2018.

The new Museum walks its visitors through the history of Jewish Königsberg, presenting its educational, religious, and communal institutions, its rich culture, heritage, traditions, and commercial life. In particular, it displays the devastating destruction of the community during the Nazi Kristallnacht pogrom in 1938 and the deportation of the city’s Jews to their death during the Holocaust.

The permanent exhibition focuses on four parts of the city’s pre-war history: The “Coming” section shows the diversity of the Jewish community through the real biographies of seven Jewish migrants from Lithuania, Poland, and the Russian Empire. It tells the story of how merchants, students, and rabbis streamed to the city from the neighboring provinces. The “Staying” section shows Königsberg as a flourishing Jewish community at the turn of the 20th century; its interactive houses give the opportunity to peek through windows and to hear, see and smell old Jewish Königsberg.

Two other sections – “Expulsion” and “Extermination” tell about the destruction and disappearance of the Jewish community. It is not accidental that three “icebergs” stand alone and separately in the spacious room – they are isolated from civilization. Each of them is dedicated to the most tragic pages in the history of the Jewish community of Königsberg – first deportation to death in 1942, labor camps on the territory of East Prussia and the death march ending with the Palmnicken massacre which took place right on the Baltic shore at the end of January 1945.

The main reason why the new Jewish museum was placed in the synagogue is to commemorate the former Jewish school which was located there from 1935-1942. Therefore, the “Expulsion” has focuses mainly on memories from former pupils of this school which can be heard in original recordings with subtitles in English, German, Russian and Hebrew.

The museum serves as a living memorial of Jewish life in the city, and a testimony to its miraculous revival. It attracts visitors from near and far, of all nationalities and ages, and holds a wide range of informal and exciting educational initiatives for children, adults, journalists, and many other groups and institutions.

“New Synagogue Museum” is a project of the “Jews in East Prussia” Association with the financial support of the German Federal Foreign Office, the Kurt and Hildegard Löwenstein/Losten Foundation, Garri Goldman (Kaliningrad) and Moshe Meron (Ramat Gan).

Further parts of the museum, dedicated to the post-war history of the Jewish community of Kaliningrad and its revival, are planned for the future.

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