BRIGITTA STAMMER
Göttingen, Lower Saxony
Nominated by Naomi Revzin, Potomac, MD; Leonard Wein, Miami Beach, FL
2011


For decades, a small, half-timbered building in the village of Bodenfelde went practically unnoticed. Used by a farmer to store his equipment, it was hardly recognizable for what it really was - a 175-year-old synagogue.

Today, about 160 Jews are using this small prayer house, which was moved piece-by-piece 25 miles to the city of Göttingen. And this amazing journey could not have happened without Brigitta Stammer, who oversaw the collection of hundreds of thousands of euros in private donations and arranged for the synagogue to be taken apart wall-by-wall, stone by stone, and reassembled in a new home.

"I wanted the new Jewish community to have a roof over its head, to have a synagogue, and be integrated in the society of Göttingen," said Stammer, who was born in Hamburg in 1949 and moved to Göttingen 30 years ago.

Stammer's interest in the story of Jews in Germany was sparked during her school years, when a Jewish teacher introduced her to the book "Jewish Humor" by Polish Jewish writer Salcia Landmann. The book prompted Stammer to wonder what Germany might have been like if the Nazis had not come to power.

In 1825, when Bodenfeld's Jewish community built its synagogue, they were a small but confident congregation. But by 1933, the members understood that life for Jews was impossible under the Nazis. In 1937, the congregation's last president sold the synagogue to a farmer for 1,000 Reichsmarks, and took the Torah Scroll to Israel, where it remains today.

In 1938, on the night of the November 9 anti-Jewish pogrom, the farmer defended his new purchase against Nazi hooligans who wanted to torch it. Thus this small synagogue was spared the fate that befell hundreds of synagogues destroyed that night across Germany and Austria.

Fast-forward to 1990, and Germany's reunification: Tens of thousands of Jews emigrated from the former Soviet Union to Germany. A few hundred settled in Göttingen. At that time, this city of 200,000 had a Jewish mayor, the late Artur Levi, who had survived the Holocaust in England. Levi embraced the new Jewish community and supported the unusual idea - proposed by local educator Detlev Herbst, an expert on local Jewish history - of moving the historic Bodenfelde synagogue to Göttingen.

"It was a crazy idea, a vision," said Harald Jüttner, former president of the Göttingen Jewish Community. And it was a vision that moved Stammer. She recalled entering the old building in its dilapidated state: "It was definitely emotional, to stand there and know that this is a place where people came to worship God and celebrate their holidays. It was very strange. I had walked into a house of God, like a church, and it was a shed. At this moment I was convinced that it cannot be so."

When a group of non-Jews started an association (Forderverein Juedisches Zentrum Göttingen) to support Göttingen's new Jewish community, they asked Stammer - a business manager - to be its treasurer. She began raising funds. "And I always took an interest that the money be used to give the Jewish community a new home," she said.

"Stammer believed that a Jewish house of worship was vital to a vibrant Jewish communal life and that Jewish life had valuable contributions to make to life in Göttingen," said nominator Naomi Revzin, who works at the National Archives in the United States. Stammer "became one of the [association's] most active advocates for the Bodenfelde synagogue."

While others sought permission to move the landmarked building to Göttingen, Stammer, as treasurer, won support from the Protestant church central administration. She then raised 500,000 euros from congregations of the Protestant, Catholic and Protestant reformed church as well as individual citizens, and ultimately helped organize the dismantling of the building and its reconstruction on Angerstrasse - where the original synagogue had been burned down in the November pogrom.

"She watched over the entire process, as workers individually removed and labeled each board and then transported the building in pieces to Göttingen… [and as] the structure was meticulously reconstructed and refurbished according to its original design," Revzin said.
This small gem of a synagogue, with its painted decorations, was rededicated in November 2008, 70 years after the destruction of the large synagogue of Göttingen and 12 years after the community association had started its work. "After a long journey, we finally arrived," said Stammer, who attended the rededication. "It was lovely."

Word of the project spread around the world. Stammer is "one of the heroines of the story of the rebirth of the Jewish community in Göttingen," said businessman Leonard Wien, of Florida, who read the story in 2009. "I was so impressed that I agreed to repair Göttingen's Torahs." And Harald Jüttner is planning to publish the sermons of Göttingen's last pre-war rabbi, Hermann Ostfeld (Zvi Hermon ), donated to the city archive by the rabbi's son.

Stammer's work is not done: She hopes to see a Jewish community center completed in a 17th century building that once belonged to the Protestant Church. The association purchased it and is renovating it as a "place for celebrating holidays, holding seders and classes," a few steps from where the small synagogue now stands - a historic building restored to its original purpose.

"I don't like to think of the Jewish religion in a museum," said Revzin, noting that some have said Jewish life could not return to Germany. "Fortunately, Brigitta Stammer has helped prove this prediction false."