Jewish cemetery at Grosse Hamburger Strasse

The Berlin Jewish Community, founded after the edict of admission issued by the Great Elector (Friedrich Wilhelm) on 21 May 1671, laid out a burial ground in the Rosenthaler Quarter in front of the Spandauer Tor, at Grosse Hamburger Strasse 26, near the Oranienburger Strasse. Today it is the oldest cemetery in the inner city which is recognizable as such. A granite plaque at the southern boundary wall to the Oranienburger Strasse, where the entrance used to be, tells us that the first person to be buried here, in 1672, was one Gumpericht Jechiel Aschkenasi.

Between then and 1827 some 12,000 mortals found their last resting place in this cemetery of just 0.59 hectares. They were not only members of Berlin’s Jewish community, but also those of Spandau, Nauen, Kremmen, Zehdenick and Oranienburg. The best known personality buried here is the philosopher Moses Mendelssohn (1729-1786), whose gravestone has had to be restored four times, the last one being in 1990. In the first third of the 20th century there were still about 2,800 burial sites to be found in the cemetery, including those of Veitel Heine Ephraim (1703-1775), jeweller, coin dealer, and Frederick the Great’s court banker; and of Jacob Herz Beer (1769-1825), father of the composer Giacomo Meyerbeer.

The ruthless destruction and desecration of the tomb in 1943/44 on the orders of the Gestapo was the darkest chapter: a slit trench was cut through the centre of the site and the sides reinforced with historic gravestones, after the remains of the dead had been thrown out.

In the GDR period the cemetery was used as a park, and in 1988 the few surviving graves that had been let into the wall of an adjacent house were transferred to the Weissensee cemetery. In memory of the tragic events a symbolic grave for Moses Mendelssohn and a sarcophagus made of damaged gravestones were left at the spot.

Since the large-scale renovation work of 2007/2008 the grounds at Grosse Hamburger Strasse are again recognizable as a cemetery. In December 2009 the work of restoring the original historic gravestones that were still in the Weissensee cemetery was completed. They included the epitaph of Gumpericht Jechiel Aschkenasi, who was buried in 1672.