The former Synagoge der Portugiesisch-Jüdischen Gemeinde, at No. 6 Zweite Marktstraße in
Hamburg, (Synagogue of the
Portuguese-Jewish Community in Hamburg) was built by the Jewish architect A. Rosengarten
and sanctified in 1855.
The majority of Portuguese, Sephardi Jews, who were mostly rich merchants or doctors, had settled
in Altona before 1700, at this time under Danish rule, to escape the restrictions imposed upon
them in Hamburg. This left the Portuguese Jewish community in Hamburg rather small.
Unlike the synagogues of the German, Ashkenazi Jews, the almemar was not positioned in the centre but in the western part of the synagogue and the rabbi's seat generally near the north wall. The synagogue in the former Zweite Marktstraße was situated in the courtyard behind the street facing houses and was reached via a narrow, circa 20 metre long alley. The Portuguese community argued that this site was conducive to the peace and tranquillity of worship.
The facade of the synagogue was of rough brick in three storeys that gave the impression of a stepped gable. The second floor housed the weekday synagogue. The facade reflected local mediaeval, in particular 13th and 14th century, houses. Internally the style remotely reflected the Moorish influence. This was emphasized by the colourfully painted columns and arches, some displaying oriental motifs.
The synagogue was used by the Portuguese community until 1934 when it passed to the Deutsch-Israelitischen Gemeinde (German-Israelite Community). At this time almost all synagogue members lived in the Hamburg districts of Harvestehude and Rotherbaum so that a prayer hall was established at No. 37 Innocentiastraße.
The site upon which the Portuguese synagogue, both orphanages, and the Girls' School founded in 1798 were formerly to be found is today, for the most part, a playground. The former Zweite Marktstraße, which in 1900 became a part of the later Marcusstraße also no longer exists. Todays Marcusstraße no longer continues in a straight line in its northern end but, where the former Zweite Marktstraße began, takes a right-angled bend to the east, to join Kohlhöfen. From 1627 the Portuguese community had a cemetery in this part of the city. Situated in Marcusplatz, today's Kohlhöfen, the property belonged to the St. Nicolai-Kirchengemeinde (Church of St. Nicolai). Initially 40 Marks had to be paid for each individual burial place; later this became the annual payment. This cemetery was in use until 1653. In 1654 it was vacated and the bodily remains transferred to the cemetery in todays Königstraße in Altona.
Following the fire which destroyed the synagogue in Alter Wall the Portuguese community initially rented a property in Alter Steinweg for services. It was necessary for the Hamburg Portuguese community to appeal to 13 Portuguese communities worldwide for financial support in building the new synagogue.
What follows is an account of the synagogue in the former Marcusstraße and of the former Hamburg
Portuguese community given by a former Hamburg Jew now living in Israel:
On Simhat Torah (23rd Tishri) it was a point of honour for German, ashkenazi Jews to spend at least half an hour with the Portuguese, and no one hesitated in making the three quarters of an hour journey from the Grindel Quarter to Marcusstraße, (...) Rabbi S. Lövy was rabbi of the Portuguese synagogue during the 1920s; he lived in Brussels during the Second World War, and today lives with his wife in Raananah, Israel, where he is responsible for the spiritual welfare of the German speaking Jews.
Up until the end of the last century the members of the Portuguese community were strict in their
independence of and separation from the so-called High German Jews. For the first 100 to
150 years the official language of the Portuguese in Hamburg was plattdeutsch (Low German). Marriage
between ashkenazi and sephardi Jews was almost totally excluded during this period. This changed
at the beginning of this century. Until then the German Jews were deemed conceited,(...) A complete
religious and social separation existed between the two communities. (...)
The Portuguese community retained their complete independence until 1910. With the appointment of Chief Rabbi Spitzer for the first time the Portuguese community accepted an ashkenazi as their chacham (sephardi title for rabbi). From then on until the Nazi period there were no particular events of general interest to record. Life in the community followed its course without incident and on good terms with the authorities, who showed them appreciative interest."
German text: Dipl.-Pol. Wilhelm Mosel, Deutsch-Jüdische Gesellschaft, Hamburg.