Exhibition features 3D reconstructions of destroyed shuls

Exhibition features 3D reconstructions of destroyed shuls

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The exhibition is currently on at the Paul H. Cocker Gallery at Ryerson University. YVONNE BAMBRICK PHOTO

Students at the Darmstadt University of Technology in Germany have created a new form of Holocaust remembrance, and it involves a lot of 3D technology.

The result is an interactive, multimedia-rich exhibition which virtually reconstructs over 15 German synagogues that were destroyed during the Holocaust.

The exhibition includes detailed 3D reconstructions that were based on photographs, plans, eyewitness accounts and original documents of various synagogues all around Germany. The project was started as a political reaction against the firebombing of a Lübeck synagogue in 1994, which was the first major attack on a Jewish house of worship in Germany since 1945.

The exhibition is currently doing an international tour, with previous instalments being in Germany, Israel, and the United States.

The University of Manitoba in Winnipeg marked the exhibition’s debut in Canada, and it is now being held at the Paul H. Cocker Gallery at Ryerson University, located at 325 Church St., Toronto.

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Alexandra Berceanu, the communications specialist for the school of architecture at Ryerson University, said this exhibition is very “multi-dimensional,” and appeals to both Jews and non-Jews alike.

“Architecturally, the project is very interesting because they really did not have a lot to work with, since the synagogues were all demolished and burnt down. They had to go through a long process of recreating synagogues from archives, plans, photographs, and the memories from people who actually worked at or visited the synagogue,” said Berceanu.

“It is really interesting to see this environment as a product of all these different things coming together and I think that the architecture community has a lot to learn from that,” she said.

The exhibit includes a selection of computer workstations that show digital models of different synagogues, and strives to explain the reconstruction process to visitors. Each computer station gives the history and location of each synagogue, as well as an interior and exterior visualization of what the synagogue would have looked like.

The stations also include photographs, placards, books, and text panels, as well as three documentary films that discuss the immense cultural loss that was caused by the Holocaust. The exhibition focuses a lot on how architecturally diverse the synagogues were, and reflects on how the historical destruction of Jewish culture is still very relevant today.

“It’s very interesting for architects because of the vastly different architectural styles.  There is a Bauhaus synagogue, which is an amazing example of mid-century modernist architecture, but then you have radically different synagogues that are neo-Romanesque,” said Berceanu.

“One of the most fascinating aspects is just how they used 3D technology to capture some kind of remnant of the past, and though it cannot be compared to being in the actual synagogue, this exhibit does offer a very unique experience,” she said.

Imbar Slavat, a second-year Ryerson student, says this exhibition allows for younger generations to connect with their roots and helps many understand the immense loss that occurred because of the destruction of so many synagogues.

“I think one thing that Jews do not have, that many other religions do, is that we can’t go back to visit the sites where our European ancestors worshipped, everything is completely based off of the stories of other people. It’s very upsetting, and the fact that we get to see what these synagogues would have looked like in 3D is amazing,” said Slavat.

“Jews are always associated with destruction because of the Holocaust, which is not what Judaism is about. This exhibition is symbolic of how the Jewish nation had to rebuild itself after the Holocaust. We didn’t forget, but we moved on, and we are able to look back on our history as not simply victims, but as people who were able to stand up for themselves,” she said.

The project organizers are still working on reconstructing more of the destroyed synagogues, and have created an online database where users can expand the archives by leaving commentaries, photographs, eyewitness reports and information about the over 2000 synagogues across Germany and Austria.

The exhibition at Ryerson University has free admission, and will be up until April 21, Monday to Friday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.