The first documented evidence of Jewish presence in Europe north of the Alps dates back to 321 AD, when the Roman emperor Constantine issued a decree allowing Jews to be appointed to the city council of Cologne. Only two historical copies of this document have survived to this day. One of them is kept in the Vatican Apostolic Library.
This Roman edict is irrefutable proof that Jewish communities have been an integral part of European culture since ancient times, emphasizes a representative of the office of the German government commissioner for Jewish life in Germany and the fight against anti-Semitism.
On the occasion of the 1700th anniversary of the decree of Emperor Constantine, the unification “321-2021: 1700 years of Jewish life in Germany” Together with the government of Germany, we decided to mark this event by implementing various projects and holding festive events.
The number of events exceeded all expectations
The head of the association “321-2021: 1700 years of Jewish life in Germany”, musician and entrepreneur Andrei Kovacs, is very pleased with the results of the anniversary year. As he noted in an interview with DW, the organizers of this project are simply amazed at how wide the participation of representatives of the public and politicians was in it: the number of events held greatly exceeded initial expectations.
Head of the association “321-2021: 1700 years of Jewish life in Germany”, musician and entrepreneur Andrey Kovach
“We had about 840 partners in all 16 federal states. This simply shocked us. In addition, there were projects that were carried out without the support of sponsors and therefore were not included in the statistics. Among them were events in more than 20 German diplomatic missions around The German Ministry of Foreign Affairs also took part in the celebrations,” says Andrei Kovacs proudly.
In total, over 2,400 events were held throughout Germany during the anniversary year. In thirteen German cities, as part of the Divided History project, exhibitions of historical artifacts were also launched, telling about the life of Jews in the Middle Ages. And as part of the “Sukkot XXL” project, the guests were introduced to how Jews celebrate their religious holidays, including the Feast of Tabernacles – Sukkot. According to Kovacs, this played an extremely important role in bringing people closer to Jewish life.
Panorama of Jewish life
In the region of Münsterland, North Rhine-Westphalia, a project was carried out in which children and young people searched for traces of Jewish life in their area and documented them. The idea of the project, called “Jüdisch hier”, was to bring its participants closer to the centuries-old history of the Jews in Germany as a result of their acquaintance with the life of the representatives of the Jewish people in their cities.
In one such study, students followed the life of a certain Nana Kahn, who was born in 1910 and graduated from high school in the Hanseatic town of Attendorn in 1929. They mapped the girl’s whereabouts during that time period and documented her life.
Now, interested users can get to know Nana Kan’s story by logging into an educational app called BIPARCOURS. There you can see a photo of Nana and learn facts from her life. The app also shows users which route to reach the Kahn school in Attendorn, describes Hitler’s anti-Semitic laws, and finally takes them to a plaque with the names of Jews deported from the region to concentration camps.
The project “321-2021: 1700 years of Jewish life in Germany” not only opened up new perspectives for Jews in Germany, but also became a kind of journey into the Jewish world – not only for non-Jews, but also for Jews who would like to find their identity in German society, says Andrey Kovacs. However, there are some challenges that still need to be overcome, he notes.
A chance for change that needs room to grow
“When I was young, in my Jewish home it was so that no one could imagine their future in Germany. Now the situation has changed, and the celebrations that have ended have clearly shown this,” emphasizes Kovacs. According to him, today the representatives of the Jewish youth have a new image of themselves when they want to be perceived and, above all, respected in a modern, future-oriented society. “And this is a chance for change, but he needs space to grow,” Andrey Kovach believes.
According to him, the second task now is to preserve the memory of the Holocaust, given that there are very few survivors. And the third aspect is the growth of anti-Semitism and conspiracy theories, which are again becoming visible both abroad, for example, in Russia, and in Germany, Kovacs points out. In this regard, he recallson the debate about anti-Semitism around the documenta contemporary art exhibition in Kassel.
In the future, the head of the association “321-2021: 1700 years of Jewish life in Germany” plans to hold a festival of Jewish music called “Shalom Cologne”, and is also going to implement a major project of a pan-European scale. Most importantly, he said, the commemorative year gave Jews and Jewish associations in Germany the courage to open up and celebrate their religion. And this is the main result of a unique project. I would like to believe that this will continue in the future, expresses hope Andrei Kovacs.