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Jüdischer Friedhof

Der Eingang zum Alten Jüdischer Friedhof heute

Stiftungstafel der Nissenbaum-Stiftung am Alten Jüdischen Friedhofs

Die Grabsteine von den drei Rabbinern Sacharja Mendel von Podheiz, Joseph Meir Theomim und Jehuda Leib Margaliot

Im "Lapidarium" finden Grabsteine einen Platz, wenn sie keiner Grabstelle mehr zugeordnet werden konnten

A Jewish community requires not only a Synagogue, but a Jewish cemetery as well. It is there where the devout can find their final resting place according to Jewish laws. The former Jewish cemetery in Frankfurt (Oder) can be found in Słubice at the fork in the road that leads to Rzepin and Krosno Odrzańskie. It was first mentioned in a document dated 1399.

Even before Frankfurt (Oder) received its city charter, Jews lived in this area, and they buried their dead on the property belonging to the merchant family Hokemann on the eastern side of the Oder. In 1399 the property came under the jurisdiction of the city, whereupon the Jewish right to bury there was renewed. Thus, the Jewish cemetery in Słubice today represents one of the oldest Jewish burial sites in Central Europe.

An essential component of the cemetery today is a constellation of three stones. These are symbolic gravestones, not original, that commemorate three individuals buried there, Rabbi Sacharja Mendel von Podheiz, Joseph Meir Theomim and Jehunda Leib Mergaliot.

Joseph Meir Theomim is the best known of the three. He lived from 1727 until 1792. His works, including the Pri Megadim, commented on Jewish dietary laws and they remain an essential part of Rabbinical training today. On the day of his passing, 10 Ijjar – In April/May according to the Gregorian Calendar, devout Jews make a pilgrimage to the cemetery to commemorate Theomim.

Segmentation of the Cemetery until 1945

In Jewish burial culture, the cemetery is sacrosanct and cannot be changed or moved and therefore it was expanded twice.

The first and oldest segment is comprised of the area to the left of the three memorial stones and was used until the second half of the 19th century. It was surrounded by a sixty-centimeter-tall rock wall and relatively small in size, especially considering how long it was in use. The cemetery wall that surrounded the second segment, which represents the central part of the cemetery, was walled-in by yellow bricks and was between two to two and a half meters tall. This represents a significant change from the old wall, and gives evidence to the liberalization of the Synagogue’s congregation. This is due to the fact that according to Jewish purity laws, a cemetery must be visible from the outside. The second segment was in use until 1940. Thereafter, the third segment was used. During the war many were buried here without gravestones. In 1941 over 100 Jewish victims from the Finkenheerd labor camp were buried in a mass grave here. The last Jewish burial took place in 1944.

After the war, between May and September 1945, German soldiers and Volksturm members were buried there. None of them were buried with a gravestone.

The composition of the grave designs gives evidence of a convergence with Christian burial culture. In the 1930s, the “Reichsbund jüdischer Frontsoldaten” (Association of Jewish Frontline-Soldiers) commissioned a memorial in the cemetery dedicated to the fallen Jewish soldiers from the First World War. This memorial can be found in the third and newest section.

Otto Billerbeck, the non-Jewish gardener became cemetery’s caretaker in 1919, as his father and grandfather did before him. After losing his position due to state-pressure in 1941, he continued to take care of the burial site despite being forbidden to do so. He lived in a house adjacent to the cemetery. Today, to the right of the three symbolic gravestones the foundation of the house can still be seen and is now fenced in as part of the cemetery. The trees denote the former entrance to the house.

Fate after 1945

After the Second World War the territory east of the Oder, including the Jewish cemetery, became part of the Polish state. Frankfurt’s ‘Dammvorstadt’ became Słubice. The undamaged cemetery grounds fell into disrepair until the mid 1970s when, as with many other burial sites from the German era, it was completely dismantled. In 1975 construction began on a tavern on the former burial site. The local Poles sarcastically nicknamed it “Restauracja pod trupkiem” – “Restaurant above the corpses”. After the end of the socialist era a night club opened up in the location. The Jewish clergy were outraged. The foundation of this building can still be made out today.

Since 2007 the site has been under the administration of the Jewish community of Warsaw and the Foundation for the Protection of Jewish Heritage (Fundacja Ochrony Dziedzictwa Żydowskiego). In February 2014 it was added to Woiwodschaft Lubuskie’s register of monuments and is looked after by the state conservation agency in Gorzów Wielkopolski.

After the irreversible destruction of this cultural-historical treasure of an old cemetery, and continued desecrations of the site, it was decided to close the site to the public, however it is still possible to visit the site under guidance. Since June 2021, Roland Semik from the Historischen Verein zu Frankfurt (Oder) e.V. has been giving tours of the cemetery. In October 2021 he was also able to locate a missing wash basin of religious significance, and was able to arrange for its return to the cemetery. Previously in 2015, 2016 and 2018, missing gravestone fragments were found along the banks of the Oder river and were returned to the cemetery.

Christine Körner and the Editors