The project dates back to 1994 and was created by Dr. Marc Grellert (Department of Architecture, Institute of Digital Design). At the time, similar to today, there were a high number of attacks on refugee hostels. Antisemitism was becoming increasingly visible. In March 1994 Neonazis firebombed the synagogue in Lübeck. The attack gave Marc Grellert the idea of creating virtual reconstructions of synagogues that were destroyed during the Nazi era.
The reconstructions were overseen by Professor Manfred Koob († 2011) and Marc Grellert, and the intention was to highlight the cultural loss. Simultaneously, the aim was to remember the architectural significance of the buildings that were part of German cities and street scenes as well as an integral part of German cultural heritage. The project also investigates how new forms of cultural recollection can be established using information and communication technologies, as well as contributions to remembering the Holocaust.
Exhibitions present virtual reconstructions
More than 60 students at TU Darmstadt have so far been involved with the reconstructions, and their work has made the project a success. The results were on display at the Jewish Museum Frankfurt am Main and the Bundeskunsthalle in Bonn. The reconstructions will receive a permanent public exhibition at the Jewish Museum in Berlin. The touring exhibition, which can now be seen for a second time in Farmington Hills (until 27 December 2015), was already shown at the Diaspora Museum in Tel Aviv (Israel) and is organized with the assistance of the Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen (ifa) that is supported by the Federal Foreign Office.
The project also includes an interactive online archive, which was set up as part of the university research project. The archive contains key information about more than 2,200 German and Austrian synagogues. Online users worldwide can also post their own comments, images, links and eyewitness accounts.
Reconstruction works are continued
Twenty years later the theme of virtual synagogues at the Institute of Digital Design is still relevant. Currently, students are reconstructing the synagogue in Bamberg, which was destroyed during the Nazi era, along with approximately 1,500 other Jewish places of worship in the German Reich. The finished reconstructions are also subject to revision – for example, in 2013 the Cologne and Dortmund synagogues were remodelled for a documentary produced by Westdeutscher Rundfunk.
To commemorate the 77th anniversary of Kristallnacht (the Night of Broken Glass) on 9 November 2015, the Holocaust Education Centre in Toronto (Canada) has invited Marc Grellert to give a lecture about the virtual synagogue project on the closing night of Holocaust Education Week.