A Jewish cemetery lies abandoned and overgrown in a city centre where it goes unnoticed, hidden between three lanes of traffic, a canal and railway line. Those who know it is there cannot get in as high fences have been put up and the gateway welded shut.
How did this once peaceful and sacred resting place come to be locked and unloved inside Birmingham?
So begins an evocative piece by the BBC about an abandoned and largely forgotten historic Jewish cemetery in Birmingham, England. The provocative introduction, of course, could be used to describe the situation of hundreds of Jewish cemeteries. across Europe.
A local BBC station investigated the cemetery after being alerted to it by school teacher Sue Heath, who contacted them via Your Questions — a feature where citizens can ask a BBC team to look in to local issues.
Keith Rowe from the Birmingham Hebrew Congregation met the BBC reporters “at the red gate on the other side of the Islington Row Middleway opposite Five Ways railway station” — now welded shut — and told them how the Betholom Row Jewish cemetery, which dates back to the 18th century, was “destroyed by city development” and even an act of Parliament.
In 1879 the government granted Midland Railway permission to extend the Birmingham West Suburban Railway (BWSR) into Birmingham New Street which opened in 1885.
“They wanted to cut a railway line right through,” said Mr Rowe. “To do that they had to get an act of parliament to allow a compulsory purchase of the land.
“There were lots of deceased in there who really shouldn’t have been moved but because it was an act of parliament the Jewish community could not object.”
“So they put them all to the side and closed it all off. You couldn’t get to it unless you knew it was there.”
The BBC online report includes a photo essay showing smashed gravestones and a heavily overgrown area.