The Old Jewish Cemetery in Nordstadt, not far from the Christuskirche, is an amazing sight: a mound in the middle of the residential district, upon which stand hundreds of old gravestones set beneath tall trees, a walled island of the departed.
Hanover’s oldest Jewish cemetery
This was the burial ground of the Jews in Hanover and the surrounding area from 1550 up to 1864. It is situated on a sandy hill outside the city. A notable feature is the way burials here have been carried out, namely, in several of the layers of earth, one above the other. According to Jewish tradition, graves in a Jewish cemetery must remain undisturbed in perpetuity, which means they are not allowed to be used more than once. In this cemetery, space for additional graves could only be created by artificially raising the mound! Access used to be on the west side, however, after the cemetery ceased being used, access was switched to the side gate on the east side. Above the side gate hangs the symbol of the “Priestly Blessing”.
History carved in stones
Seven hundred headstones still remain, including those of rabbis and community leaders. They commemorate men and women, young as well as old, who have died, members of the Jewish community spanning three centuries. The oldest headstone still in existence today dates from 1654 and is that of Salman Gans. Here lie many of the forefathers of Heinrich Heine, including his grandfather and great-grandfather.
Preserved by a miracle
During the National Socialist era, the cemetery is designated to be razed and the mound levelled, as demanded by the NSDAP [Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, i.e. the National Socialist German Workers’ Party or Nazi Party]. After all, the SA men [SA is the abbreviation of ‘Sturmabteilung’, literally ‘Storm Detachment’, the Nazis’ paramilitary wing] of Standarte 73 look out over the cemetery from the windows of the “Mottenburg” tavern in Oberstrasse, which is their “Sturmlokal” [a tavern where the SA meet]. Miraculously, the site remained unscathed despite it being expropriated in 1943. Today, the Old Jewish Cemetery is an important cultural landmark and a testimony to Jewish life in Hanover in days gone by.
Additional online information
Wikipedia entry Old Jewish Cemetery on the Oberstrasse [in German]
Wikipedia entry Peter Schulze (historian) [in German]
Further reading: Click here
Texts: Dr. Peter Schulze
Images: Michael Pechel