The central synagogue in the French town of Mulhouse was burnt down on Saturday, and the local Jewish community suspects it was an act of arson ahead of the Holocaust Remembrance Day.
The building caught fir during Shabbat prayers and sustained heavy damages. Fortunately, there were no injuries.
At approximately 11 am, while walking to synagogue, Mulhouse resident Mirriam Brown told Ynet she was surprised to see smoke billowing from the structure's windows.
"It is a big synagogue and the smoke was rising from the area where there were no worshipers," she said.
The worshipers present at the time were busy with their Shabbat Mussaf prayer, and did not notice the smoke and flames that were blazing through the synagogue basement.
"I called the fire department, went into the synagogue and warned the worshipers," said Brown, "Everyone evacuated quickly and began removing the Torah books, praying shawls and Holy Scriptures. The worshippers were soon joined by fire fighters who helped with the evacuation."
Fire fighters help evacute holy books (Photo: Miriam Brown)
According to Brown, "The ancient synagogue sustained heavy damage and was completely obliterated inside – everything was burnt down." Brown added that in the foreseen future, the worshipers will have to wander to other synagogues due to the bad condition of their own place of worship.
Smoke rising from Synagogue (Photo: Miriam Brown)
Mulhouse's Jewish community, which numbers a few thousand members, are awaiting the results of the investigation into the fire. Local Jewish sources said they fear the fire was deliberate, after the synagogue was already defaced earlier this year with anti-Semitic graffiti slogans.
"The largest concentration camp in France was built nearby during the Holocaust. There is a very anti-Semitic atmosphere around and I won't be surprised if it was arson," Brown's cousin, Ilan Shaked, who has spent time in Mulhouse, told Ynet.
"The proximity of the event to Holocaust Remembrance Day raises speculation, especially since there is a very large Muslim population around here," he added.
Patrick Hirschhorn, president of the Jewish Congregation of Mulhouse, said, "It is my duty to categorically deny the rumor that the fire in our synagogue was a criminal act. The Fire occurred because of an electrical (mishap) in the 160 year-old building.
"Thinking that it could have any relation to Holocaust Remembrance Day is total nonsense. Investigations conducted by the police and fire department quickly confirmed our first impressions," he said.