Rabbi Says Cemetery Cannot be Moved, But Won’t Stop Construction
BONN, Germany (AP) _ An Israeli rabbi summoned to resolve a fight over building a shopping mall over a former Jewish cemetery said today that the remains may not be moved but that construction can proceed.
The 1 1/2 -acre site in Hamburg has been the focus of an international protest led by orthodox Jews from outside Germany who want to preserve it. The 330-year-old Ottensen Cemetery was demolished by the Nazis, and Hamburg’s Jewish leaders sold it after World War II and say most of the remains were removed.
Leaders of the city’s Jews suggested that remains still at the site be moved to another cemetery. But Rabbi Yitzhak Kolitz, chief Ashkenazi rabbi for Jerusalem, said today that was not allowed. Jewish law forbids the digging up of graves.
However, according to the decision faxed to the Hamburg Jewish Community and the property developers, Buell and Liedtke, Kolitz also said, ″We won’t prevent construction over the cemetery.″
Joseph Loebenstein, an official with the London-based Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations who read Kolitz’s decision, said, ″My understanding is anything is allowed so long as it does not involve digging up of graves or the soil which is contained there.″
″It’s not ideal but ... that is the concession one can make,″ he added.
Loebenstein said he expected the decision to be accepted by Athra Kadish, the society for the preservation of Jewish holy sites that has been leading almost daily protests at the site.
Athra Kadisha had indicated several weeks ago it could agree to a plan whereby a giant concrete slab would be laid over the cemetery and the shopping center built on it.
However, the developers said they did not think that was feasible.
There was no immediate comment today from Buell and Liedtke, although the company was expected to release a statement later in the day.
At one time, the cemetery contained about 4,000 graves, but the site today appears to be nothing more than a square of dirt and rubble boxed in by surrounding buildings in a low-rent neighborhood.