Synagogue Set to Open in Estonia for First Time Since Holocaust

Chief Rabbi of Estonia says building is best answer to 'fascism, communism and Nazism'.

TALLINN - The first synagogue in Estonia since its small Jewish community was wiped out in the Holocaust is scheduled to open its doors next week and its rabbi says the building is the best answer to "fascism, communism and Nazism".

The opening of the synagogue comes amid ethnic tension in the Baltic state over the removal of a World War Two Red Army statue, which angered local Russian-speakers. Ethnic Estonians see the monument as a reminder of 50 years of Soviet occupation.

Chief Rabbi Shmuel Kot was wary of speaking about the tensions over the statue, which two weeks ago sparked riots by mainly Russian-speakers, a large minority of 300,000 in the country of 1.3 million.

But he said on Thursday it had been a sensitive issue for Jews living in Estonia as many were Russian-speaking war veterans.

Kot, of the Chabad Lubavitch Orthodox Jewish movement, is now looking forward to May 16, when the synagogue, a light and airy glass-facaded building, will officially open its doors.

"I am the first rabbi after the Holocaust. The last rabbi was killed by the Nazis," he told Reuters.

He proudly showed the new synagogue, built at a cost of about $2 million with money from the U.S.-based Rohr family foundation and Estonian Jews and non-Jews.

It can fit 180 people in the main worship area.

Estonia, with its small population, was the only country in Europe to be declared "free of Jews" by the Nazis.

Before the war about 5,000 Jews lived in Estonia, mostly in Tallinn. Many fled to the Soviet Union and those that remained were murdered by Nazi forces, including the last rabbi.

The last synagogue, built in 1883, was destroyed in the war during the Soviet bombing of Tallinn.

The Jewish population of Estonia is now about 3,000.

"Just like people need an apartment to live in, they also need an apartment for their soul. My wish is that every single Jewish person in the country will feel this is their home," added Kot, 30, who came to Estonia seven years ago.

Last-minute finishing touches were being put on the building, including the addition of an arch at the back of the main area of worship for the sacred scrolls of the Torah.

Until now Estonian Jews have used a makeshift prayer room in a building next to the new synagogue.

Officials from the Estonian and Israeli government will attend the opening of the new building.

Kot saw the synagogue as a sign of survival and tolerance and was positive not only for Jews but for the whole of Estonia.

"This is the right answer to fascism, communism and Nazism," he said. "The communists tried wanted to kill Jewish life and the Nazis wanted to kill Jewish bodies."