Jewish Sites in Germany Seek World Heritage Status

The four Jewish sites include cemeteries in Berlin and Hamburg, the Old Synagogue of Erfurt and the federation of SHUM cities; also on the proposed list is the building where the Nuremberg Trials took place.

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Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet

For the first time ever, four Jewish sites are among the historical venues throughout Germany competing for placement on a list that Germany will propose to UNESCO for recognition as World Heritage sites.

The 24 German historical sites will be submitted to a special committee charged with deciding which ones the country will recommend to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization for inclusion on its World Heritage list. Among the 37 German sites already on the worldwide list, none are Jewish; nor are any of the 10 additional German spots that are currently awaiting UNESCO approval.

One of the Jewish sites under German assessment is the Weissensee Cemetery in Berlin, the largest complete Jewish cemetery in Europe, with 115,000 graves. Opened in 1880, the cemetery sprawls over an expansive plot of land totaling some 420 dunams (about 105 acres); among those buried there are spiritual, cultural and scientific leaders, as well as numerous famous rabbis.

Hamburg is also submitting a cemetery to UNESCO: the Jewish Cemetery in Altona, which was erected in 1611 and is the oldest Portuguese Jewish cemetery in Europe. Jews from Portugal, Germany and Eastern Europe are buried there.

The third site under consideration is the Old Synagogue in Erfurt, Turingia, which was built in 1094 and is thought to be the oldest complete synagogue in central Europe. Fourth on the list is the federation of SHUM cities, the center of Jewish life in the Middle Ages, whose name is an acronym of the first Hebrew letters of the cities Shpira, Vermayza and Magentza (today known as Speyer, Worms and Mainz).

An additional site, which is not Jewish by origin but is linked to the darkest period in Jewish-German history, was nominated by the state of Bavaria: the Palace of Justice in Nuremburg where the famous series of war crimes trials took place, starting in late 1945. Bavaria describes it as “the birthplace of international law.”

The competition is expected to be tough. The Jewish sites are up against such favorites as the fortress of the renowned Bavarian King Ludwig II and the world-famous spa city of Baden-Baden.

With the applications due to close on Wednesday, the independent committee composed of German education ministers is busy examining the list. The sites they choose will be added to the list of sites that Germany will propose to UNESCO in the future.

UNESCO’s World Heritage List comprises 962 sites from 157 countries. In addition to the tourism value of being listed, the heritage sites enjoy financial support and conservation aid from the UN.