In what has been described as a “sensational” find, some 28 Jewish gravestones and fragments dating from the 17th century have been discovered during restoration work at a castle in Austria.
The matzevot were discovered early this year. They had been used in the foundations of a wall built against the Ottoman invasion in 1683 at Schloss Ebenfurth, about 50 km south of Vienna on the border between Lower Austria and Burgenland.
“It is undoubtedly a sensational find,” wrote Johannes Reiss, the director of the Austrian Jewish Museum in nearby Eisenstadt, on the museum’s blog. He wrote that all the matzevot and fragments with legible dates dated from between 1622 and 1669. The oldest is the gravestone of one Elieser, son of Abraham Moses, who died on 08 Tevet 383 (= Sunday, December 11, 1622).
The rescued matzevot, heavy stones with epitaphs carved using beautiful Hebrew calligraphy but no other decoration, have all been documented and their translated epitaphs as well as photos of each stone have been uploaded onto the Museum’s web site.
They will be conserved and displayed in a special space at the castle, and a commemorative plaque will be erected.
Reiss wrote that between 1652 and 1671, Ebenfurth had the largest out of 48 Jewish communities in Lower Austria, by 1669 making up 20-30 percent of the local population. But the community was expelled in 1671, and it wasn’t until nearly 200 years later, after 1867, that a few Jews settled again in the town.
The Ebenfurth synagogue used in the 17th century abutted the town wall. The building was torn down in 1994, but the portal — with Hebrew inscription — that had survived for centuries after the Jews’ expulsion was preserved and is now affixed to the town wall near the original site, as a commemorative monument.