Hundreds rally in German city after synagogue targeted with Molotov cocktail

No casualties in assault against Oldenburg synagogue, which mayor calls ‘attempted murder, terror,’ as antisemitic incidents in Germany spike

Traces of fire can be seen on a synagogue entrance door damaged by an incendiary device in Oldenburg, Germany, April 5, 2024. (Hauke-Christian Dittrich/dpa via AP)
Traces of fire can be seen on a synagogue entrance door damaged by an incendiary device in Oldenburg, Germany, April 5, 2024. (Hauke-Christian Dittrich/dpa via AP)

JTA – Jews and non-Jews in Germany rallied in support of the Jewish community in Oldenburg after an attempted arson attack on its synagogue on Friday.

Hundreds of local residents held a solidarity demonstration on Sunday for the Jewish community. The turnout, by some estimates as high as 700, was more than twice as large as the Jewish population in the city of about 170,000 in northwest Germany.

In the incident, which took place midday on Friday, at least one unknown perpetrator threw a Molotov cocktail against the door of the synagogue, which was damaged. There were no injuries. Two caretakers from a neighboring cultural center discovered and extinguished the fire, according to a report in the Jewish weekly, the Juedische Allgemeine.

The State Security Police for Lower Saxony is investigating the incident, which Oldenburg Mayor Jürgen Krogmann called “nothing other than attempted murder, terror,” according to a report by the Deutsche Welle news agency. Security reportedly has been increased at the site.

“Everything points to an antisemitic motivation,” Josef Schuster, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said in a statement.

Schuster said the local support “does us good,” as did the “swift action taken by the security authorities.” He added, “We will not let this get us down.”

In a statement Wednesday, the General Rabbinical Conference in Germany — whose members mostly represent non-Orthodox congregations — expressed shock at “this latest attack on a synagogue and thus on Jewish life in Germany.”

They praised the local response and called for solidarity with Oldenburg Rabbi Alina Treiger, who in 2010 became the first woman ordained in Germany since Regina Jonas in 1935.

Oldenburg Jewish community chair Claire Schaub-Moore told the Berlin newspaper Tageszeitung that they had “received a lot of encouragement, a lot of expressions of solidarity, not just the usual empty phrases.”

But Michael Fürst, president of the State Association of Jewish Communities in Lower Saxony, told Deutsche Welle that people were understandably anxious, saying, “It’s a short step from throwing a Molotov cocktail at a Jewish institution to shooting Jewish congregants during a religious service.”

On Yom Kippur day in October 2019, a right-wing extremist tried to shoot his way into the synagogue in the city of Halle, and — failing in that — shot and killed two people in the vicinity. The perpetrator was caught, tried, and given a life sentence in 2020. Parole would be possible theoretically after 15 years, but his sentence includes a provision for preventive detention after that period.

Other incidents have been reported at synagogues across Germany in recent years, including a shooting at a rabbi’s home next to a synagogue in Essen in 2022 and the throwing of Molotov cocktails in Berlin in October; no one was injured in either incident. German officials concluded that a member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps had orchestrated the Essen shooting.

There has been a reported increase in antisemitic incidents since the October 7 Hamas terror attack on Israel, which saw nearly 1,200 people killed, mostly civilians, and 253 kidnapped, and following Israel’s military campaign in Gaza. According to the RIAS, the Antisemitism Research and Information Center based in Berlin, there were 994 incidents recorded in the first month alone. They included physical attacks, threats, graffiti and overheard antisemitic slurs, such as someone overheard saying, “There should be 1 million Israeli victims,” or a protester shouting at participants in a pro-Israel demonstration, “We’ll slaughter you all! Everyone!”

This weekend, a major German newspaper published a list of incidents up to late March, to paint a picture of what Jews in the country are facing. Perpetrators are seldom caught. At the same time, the country, whose government is staunchly pro-Israel, has been home to substantive demonstrations of opposition to antisemitism, including a major rally in Berlin in December and, in January, a nationwide protest against a far-right political party that held a convening that its critics said echoed a conference held by the Nazis during the Holocaust.

Thousands, including a number of prominent German politicians, take part in a rally against antisemitism on December 10, 2023 in Berlin. (Michele Tantussi/AFP)

As word spread about the latest incident in Oldenburg, police reported that the parents of a local Jewish student had filed charges only one day earlier, after two young men threatened her on her way to school. The unknown assailants reportedly tried to hold her and shouted antisemitic slurs. According to the police, the student – who was able to wrest herself free – was wearing a yellow bow in recognition of the Israelis held hostage in Gaza by Hamas.

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