(JHE) — An ambitious three-year project is under way to document all the Jewish cemeteries in Bavaria, with a priority on the weathered or fast-eroding inscriptions. The project was launched in late 2019 as a cooperative initiative of the Bavarian Ministry of Culture, the seven Bavarian districts, and the Bavarian State Office for Monument Preservation (BLfD), which serves as coordinator.
Announcing the project, the ministry said that it was intended to support and coordinate the activities of the many initiatives by local activists and others who already work to maintain these sites.
“Much has already been achieved through diverse civic engagement,” it said. “The task now is to bundle the information and provide technical support.”
The register of monuments in Bavaria includes 106 Jewish cemeteries, but there are many more. Some are still active but many — by one estimate some 111 — are closed or “orphaned,” given the loss of the local communities before or during the Shoah. Many have matzevot dating back centuries that — even in well maintained Jewish cemeteries — are eroding to the point where the epitaphs and inscriptions are becoming illegible.
A priority of the project will be to use technology and other means to transcribe and preserve these inscriptions and make the data available to the public.
Work under the auspices of the project began in October in the Jewish cemetery in Laudenbach, near Karlstadt — Bavarian Radio said this was the first case of documentation under the initiative.
The cemetery, one of the largest in Bavaria, dates back to around 1600. Around 3,500 people are believed to be buried there. Today, it includes around 2,326 headstones, many of them made of red sandstone, which is subject to erosion.
A recent research paper detailing new technology methodologies used to document inscriptions noted the urgency this work; the article focuses on “the potentials of non-contact sensor technologies (including photogrammetry via Structure from Motion, structured light scanning and terrestrial laser scanning) to record, model and archive the stones and their inscriptions”:
Unfortunately, the ‘memory archive’ [in Laudenbach] is at high risk and preservation of the stones themselves is difficult to impossible. The local Buntsandstein (coloured/red sandstone) is soft and readily absorbs moisture meaning the stones suffer from extreme weathering. In particular, winter frosts can cause catastrophic damage. The older gravestones are particularly vulnerable. Many of the inscriptions are already irrevocably damaged and their valuable historical information lost for good. Many of the Hebrew inscriptions are already irretrievably lost.
The photo documentation is being carried out by volunteers of the Laudenbach Former Synagogue Association, which has advocated for years for the preservation of Jewish heritage in the town, aided by experts and advisors from the State Monuments Preservation Office, the University of Bamberg and other institutions.
Georg Schirmer, the Association’s chair, told JHE that the State Monuments Preservation Office supplied professional camera equipment for the job.
“The first stones are currently being photographed,” he said. He estimated that the documentation would take around two years and that, once the material was analyzed by experts, it would be made available to the public.
The volunteers in Laudenbach are being aided by a detailed map of the cemetery created by a student, Andreas Maul, as part of his BA thesis at the University of Bamberg. It locates and numbers each gravesite, and also places trees and other features.
NOTE: Much is already known about the Jewish cemeteries in Bavaria.
There is a web site with a list of Jewish cemeteries in Bavaria, providing an alphabetical listing of sites, plus other resources and links. (Much of this material is available in English on the International Jewish Cemetery Project page for Bavaria.) Likewise, the web site of the Central Archives for Researching the History of Jews in Germany provides an alphabetical list of Jewish cemeteries in Bavaria, with links to resources. And the Alemannia Judaica web site also has a list of all Jewish cemeteries in Bavaria, with clickable links.
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