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Tomorrow Today

Students 'rebuild' lost German synagogues on video

virtual synagogue
Virtual synagogues recreated by students  
Reborn synagogues
Windows Media 28K 56K
September 24, 1998
Web posted at: 10:38 a.m. EDT (1438 GMT)

In this story:

DARMSTADT, Germany (CNN) -- Nearly 60 years after a Nazi rampage left Germany's Jewish synagogues in ruins, architecture students are using computers to make a gesture of reconciliation. They've created virtual synagogues to show new generations a small part of what was lost.

More than 1,100 places of worship were destroyed on November 9, 1938, a date known as Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass.

Now, three of the synagogues have been recreated -- inside and out -- by students at the Darmstadt University of Technology, near Frankfurt.

Rebuilt in virtual space, the synagogues can be viewed in a hauntingly beautiful 30-minute animated movie -- a journey back in time accompanied by prayerful music and a cantor's song of sacrifice and loss.

In the student documentary, the vanished synagogues are recreated as ornate places of reverence. But they are eerily empty, a reminder of all those who could not escape the Nazi-led Holocaust.

Students inspired to heal past wounds

Marc Grellert, who led the project, said he and his and fellow architecture students were eager to learn the CAD (Computer Assisted Drawing or Computer Aided Design) programs that make the images possible.

Recreated interior of a synagogue  

But, he added, they also were inspired to heal past wounds. "We have to make sure that what happened with the Nazis will never happen again in Germany," Grellert told CNN.

Once the documentary was finished, the students showed it to Jewish survivors of the Holocaust, including one man who had tears in his eyes afterward, Grellert told CNN through a translator. (Audio 179 K/15 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)

To make sure their reconstructions were accurate, the students needed to look at old photos and drawings stored in Jewish archives. They worried that Germany's Jewish committee would refuse their request.

Instead, committee members opened their hearts and their scrapbooks to the students. The grandchildren of Nazis are rebuilding what their grandfathers had destroyed, says Salomon Korn of the Central Council of German Jews. (Audio 153 K/13 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)

Korn, himself an architect, calls "rebuilding" a good metaphor for the healing process that Jews and Germans still are going through, even more than half a century after the Nazi-led Holocaust.

Little public support

While Jews have embraced the synagogue project, students say many of their fellow Germans have been cool, even disparaging. Few have offered support. Fewer still, money.

But such discouragement only stiffened the students' resolve to continue, Manfred Koob, an architecture professor at Darmstadt, told CNN through a translator. (Audio 136 K/12 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)

And so they are. Another 15 virtual reconstructions are planned if the students can raise enough money to pay for the computer time.

"It's important to remember these buildings," Grellert says.

Correspondent Rick Lockridge contributed to this report.

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