Buried matzevot discovered in Vienna

General view of the Seegasse cemetery, 2010. Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber

News organizations have written about the important find of matzevot during the ongoing restoration of the Seegasse Jewish cemetery in Vienna, the oldest preserved Jewish cemetery in the Austrian capital. According to Jewish community officials in Vienna, the stones appear to have been among those that were buried there in 1943 to protect them from the Nazis. A score of stones have been recovered in recent weeks, but hundreds more may be buried, according to Vienna Jewish officials.

It has long been known that gravestones from Seegasse were buried for protection during World War II – the guidebook “Jewish Vienna” published in 2004 by Mandelbaum Verlag, wrote that some were buried them on the spot and others were transported to the Central Cemetery and buried there.

Some of these stone were already recovered in the 1980s. At that time, the cemetery underwent a full restoration,  and the surviving stones were set up in their original places thanks to a map of the cemetery that had been made in 1912. Many are similar to Jewish gravestones in Mikulov in the Czech Republic and elsewhere in Moravia. They feature elegant calligraphy, lengthy epitaphs and some vivid carving of Jewish symbols and floral and other decoration. Fragments of recovered stones were used to construct a memorial wall.

The Associated Press publishes pictures of the new find and reports:

Vienna’s Jewish leaders say it is not clear exactly how many were buried by the small group of Viennese Jews determined to save their heritage from the Nazi bulldozers. They also say they have few further details of the act, with none of the participants surviving the Holocaust and their location unclear — until now.

After workers scored the ground with radar as part of restoration work, they say they are sure there are hundreds beneath the grass. The 20 unearthed in the past few weeks have convinced officials they have a historically significant find, they said.

Raimund Fastenbauer, a senior official with Vienna’s Jewish community, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that he believes many of the up to 600 missing stones are still below ground and partially or fully recoverable.

 

The cemetery, the oldest preserved Jewish cemetery in Vienna, is surrounded by buildings and entered by walking through the lobby of a modern municipal old age home at Seegasse 9, in Vienna’s 9th district. Believed to have been founded in 1540 — the oldest legible stone dates from 1582 — it operated until 1783, when the Emperor Joseph II banned issued a decree banning burials inside what today is the “Gurtel” ring around inner Vienna.

Seegasse2

A Moravian-style gravestone in the Seegasse cemetery, in front of the memorial wall. Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber

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