UNESCO, the UN’s cultural body, has placed the complex of medieval Jewish buildings in Erfurt, in eastern Germany, on its World Heritage list. Mazel tov!
The recognition, announced Sunday at a meeting of the U.N. World Heritage Committee in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, comes just two years after UNESCO added the medieval Jewish heritage of the so-called ShUM cities in western Germany — Worms, Speyer, and Mainz — to the list. That was the first time that UNESCO recognised Jewish heritage in Germany.
The medieval Jewish complex in Erfurt comprises three monuments: the Old Synagogue, the Mikveh, and the so-called Stone House. “They illustrate the life of the local Jewish community and its coexistence with a Christian majority in Central Europe during the Middle Ages, between the end of the 11th and the mid-14th century,” UNESCO said on its web site.
They form a triangle in the heart of Erfurt’s old town, but stood long forgotten for centuries.
The Old Synagogue has structural components dating back to the late 11th century. It had already ceased to function as a synagogue in the 14th century, following the massacre of the Jewish community during a brutal pogrom in 1349. For centuries after that, it was used as a warehouse, and in the 19th century it was used as a pub and dance hall.
The building’s rediscovery and display were part of the rediscovery of Jewish heritage and history after the fall of communism and reunification of Germany. The city bought it in 1998 from a private owner who wanted to set up and brewery and restaurant there.
The city restored the building and converted it into a museum of the history and culture of Erfurt’s medieval Jewish community, which opened in 2009. The restoration preserves evidence of the changes and various uses of the building over the centuries.
The highlight of the exhibit is the so-called Erfurt Treasure — a hoard of coins, tableware, other valuable silver and gold objects, and jewellery that was probably hidden away during the 1349 pogrom. The owner is believed to have been the Jewish money
lender Kalman von Wiehe. It was discovered by chance during archaeological excavations in 1998. The highlight is an ornate gold Jewish wedding ring from the 14th century.
The UNESCO listing is the culmination of a more than a decade of work by activists and authorities in Erfurt and Thuringia state, of which Erfurt is the capital.
“The World Heritage title strengthens the joint efforts of the city and the state to preserve these historical sites and communicate their eventful history to the public,” Thuringia’s Prime Minister Bodo Ramelow said in a statement. “That’s why the UNESCO award reminds us once again how necessary it is to resolutely counter hatred and violence against Jews at all times.”
In addition to the medieval Jewish heritage, Erfurt has two more recent synagogues — including one used by the active Jewish community; a Jewish cemetery dating from 1871 and still in use; and the site of the destroyed Old Cemetery. Several dozen preserved gravestones from the medieval Jewish cemetery are displayed in the Old Synagogue museum.
Click the link below to watch presentation by Anselm Hartinger or the Erfurt History Museums, at the conference Jewish Heritage Tourism in the Digital Age, October 23, 2017:
Watch a video about Jewish Erfurt, produced by the city after it applied for the UNESCO list