A Jewish community in Halberstadt had existed since 13th century. Around the year 1700 the famous royal resident of Poland and agent or the Saxon court, Berend Lehmann, established here a house of learning, the so called “Klaussynagogue”. The community was characterised by eruditeness and developed from the middle of the 19th century on into one of the centres of the Jewish orthodoxy. Distinguished rabbis such as Eger, Auerbach, Hildesheimer and Hirsch are intrinsically connected with Halberstadt’s history, and transformed it into one of the most important Jewish communities in Middle Germany.
The three Jewish cemeteries in Halberstadt with in total more than 1,000 grave stones from a period of more than 300 years offer a glimpse into the past days. The inscriptions represent a value that has to be kept for upcoming generations to understand, guarding a history which is still there to be discovered.
At cemetery Nr. 1 (“Am Roten Strumpf”) that had been used from 1644 till ca. 1800 around 250 of originally more than 1,600 grave stones are preserved. At cemetery Nr. 2 (“Am Berge”) that had been used from ca. 1800 till ca. 1896 around 450 grave stones are preserved. At cemetery Nr. 3 ("Klein Quenstedter Straße“) that had been used from ca. 1896 on around 380 grave stones are preserved.
The Baroque grave stones at the oldest cemetery are richly decorated and therefore very important from the art history point of view. Important persons as Berend Lehmann are buried at this cemetery, the inscriptions provide an impression about 200 years history of the Jewish community in Halberstadt.
The two younger cemeteries offer long invariably Hebraic inscriptions of a period of 140 years – from the beginning of the Jewish orthodoxy till the end of the Jewish community in Halberstadt. In an era of growing assimilation and acculturation when elsewhere the percentage of German inscriptions on Jewish gravestones was increasing both cemeteries are representing a special feature in Middle Germany.
Jewish gravestones are not only materialised evidences of Jewish culture – in difference to Christian gravestones they content numerous information about the deceased person and are therefore often the only evidences of the disappeared Jewish culture of a town or a village.
Most of the gravestones at the Jewish cemeteries in Halberstadt are endangered by efflorescence, and the inscriptions become from year to year less readable. Thus, photographic and verbal documentation of the grave stones in order to create a second transmission as well as cautious restoring measures to counter the process of ongoing decay are urgently needed, before this unique archive of the history of the Jewish community in Halberstadt will disappear forever.
The European Heritage Volunteers Project is the continuation of similar projects which had taken place in 2018 and 2019. In 2018, around 85 % of the gravestones at the oldest cemetery could be documented; in 2019, the remaining works could be finished as well as the second cemetery could be completely documented.
In 2020, the project will initiate works on the third cemetery, which reflects another stage in the time of the community as well as a major risk of damage to the structures due to the elements.
On the cemetery the vegetation around the grave stones will be removed and the moss at the stones will be carefully eliminated in order to prevent the ongoing impairment of the grave stones by plants.
Afterwards, the documentation of the gravestones will be carried out by measuring the area and marking the exact position of every grave stone. The so completed plan will serve as base for the detailed documentation of the cemetery. Similarly as in the previous projects the documentation will include a digital photographic part and a written part and may be complemented at one or the other grave stone by manual drawings.
Within the framework of collaboration with Technical University Braunschweig at selected gravestones a special scan technology will be used that enables making the inscriptions undistinguishable to human eyes readable again.
The documentation of the gravestones represents an important part of preserving a tangible source of historical documental evidence of the community which once thrived here before it was extinguished during the Holocaust and posterior migrations. In the Jewish tradition, these stones not only marked the dates and names of the dead, but also documented their life story, making them a window into the lives of the people and the historical periods where they lived as members of a Jewish community. However due to erosion and the hardships of the elements, these stories are at risk being lost.
In the frame of the educational part various lectures and guided tours as well as an excursion will be organised that the participants can gain comprehensive and detailed knowledge about the Jewish history in Germany and Europe, about Jewish heritage, but also about the rich history and the high valuable heritage of Halberstadt in general.
The project is organised by European Heritage Volunteers, in cooperation with Moses Mendelssohn Academy Halberstadt, the Jewish Congregation Magdeburg, and the Institute for the History of the German Jews Hamburg.