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Forgotten. Majestic. Overgrown. Haunting. Abandoned...

These are words that I have heard many times to describe the Görlitz Jewish Cemetery. But what is it, really? Let’s start with some backstory:

The property for the Jewish cemetery on Biesnitzer Strasse was purchased on October 30, 1849 by a newly formed Jewish community in Görlitz. In fact, many local people do not realize that Jews were actually forbidden from living in Görlitz from the late 1300s until the Prussians took over this territory in 1847- a period of about 450 years! The community that formed in this second wave of Jewish life in Görlitz contributed to the community beyond measure. Its members were industrialists, doctors, lawyers,textile merchants, and the city of Görlitz would not have grown as it did at the turn of the century without its Jewish community’s contributions. This wealth is particularly evident in Görlitz Jewish Cemetery which is unique among Jewish cemeteries as many of the lavish tombs were created in the garden-style seen in Christian cemeteries of the time.

In many parts of Germany and Europe, a Jewish cemetery is the last trace of a destroyed European Jewish community. Görlitz is a city that is considered rather lucky in many respects: it is famous for being the largest remaining unbombed city in all of Germany. It has a pristine, beautiful old town that has been restored thanks to German tax dollars and donations from a mysterious donor. It is one of the only places in all of Germany where one can see the historical progression of architecture from one epoque into the next (in fact, as I am writing this I can see five dierent examples of architectural epoques from my window). And this luck seems to have spilled over into its Jewish story: its synagogue, trauerhalle, and cemetery also all survived. The synagogue, as you might know, was splendidly renovated after years of neglect and abandonment. It reopened in 2021 as a cultural forum and event center. The Trauerhalle with its majestic stained glass Star of David window and beautiful, fading details of Jewish life, still stands, but is most sadly being used as a storage facility by the city of Görlitz- in spite of the fact that it is a building of great historical importance to both the city of Görlitz and the region.

And then we have the cemetery. A name can be deceiving- even though it is called the “Görlitz” Jewish Cemetery, what so many fail to realize is that this cemetery was critical to Jewish people not only in Görlitz, but around the region.

With its 783 grave sites, the Görlitz Jewish Cemetery was for many years, the only Jewish cemetery in the region. Jewish people from Weisswasser, Bad Muskau, Zittau, Wiegandsthal (today Pobiedna, Poland) Lauban (today Luban, Poland), Marklissa (today Lesna, Poland), Penzig (today Piensk, Poland) are also buried here in addition to the many Görlitzer Jewish citizens. This shows us how important Görlitz was as a regional center of Jewish life. Shouldn’t a cemetery reflective of that kind of history be worthy of being more than just a romanticized forgotten place?

The Görlitz Jewish Cemetery is a very popular spot for locals of the Südstadt neighborhood to take an afternoon stroll. In the minds of so many Görlitzers, it is treated like a place forgotten by time, one of these popularly- named “lost places”. But it is anything but a lost place. And if one only took the time to look for the clues that tell us that, one would realize it. There are updates that have been made to certain graves, for example the replacement plaque for Fritz Hannes who died from the Spanish Flu. His orignialy bronze plaque was stolen by the Nazis (along with all other bronze and metal ornaments in the cemetery) and this newly created stone one was placed by his granddaughter, Judi Hannes Mendelsohn of Boca Raton, Florida in the early millennium years. Or the addition of “Berta Loewy murdered in Auschwitz” added to the tombstone of Richard Loewy (who died in Görlitz in 1941 after being denied medication) by the couple’s daughter, Gerda Loewy Ulmer of Sydney, Australia. When I talk to Jewish survivors and their descendants their voices are unanimous in saying: the Görlitz Jewish Cemetery is the most important place for them in this city. And many have been very disappointed when they visit to find that the cemetery looks like a jungle (particularly in the warm spring and summer months). Some graves, including those of their families are extremely dicult to access because of this.

When I first started cleaning up grave sites for families of Jewish descendants in the early months of 2020 with my 2-year old son, Aidan: I was angry. How could a community let a place of such historical value become so overgrown, let gravestones topple over, let some graves become buried all together? At the very least, was it not the community of today, the descendants of those who fueled the Third Reich who should be responsible for the upkeep of this sacred place as a debt to the victims of that regime? Trying to understand who was

responsible for this situation turned out to be a very complicated mission. The answer is hidden in the gap between the historical, legal, political and economic aspects of the problem. The question of the legal ownership of Jewish cemeteries in Europe contributes to the complexity of the matter and the answer varies from place to place. In Görlitz it is also so.

After the end of the Third Reich, according to an ocial register from June 1946, there were 22 Jewish people living in Görlitz, most of whom came here from other parts of the now non-existent state of Lower Silesia. Most of these Jewish people did not stay in Görlitz. To where they all went I cannot say at this time. With no Jewish community left here, the Jewish cemetery reverted to the ownership of the Jewish community in Dresden. Because this community had acquired so many Jewish properties, it was financially impossible to maintain them all so early on. Thus both the synagogue and the trauerhalle were bought from the Jewish community in Dresden by the city Görlitz- who still owns them both today. The city’s cemetery administration led by Eveline Mühle has done their best to provide upkeep to the Jewish Cemetery. They established a clear main walkway- even though the problem persists that many grave sites are nearly inaccessible with the current overgrowth and due to the layout of a fence around the complex created in the 1950s. The cemetery administration team has done an admirable job in doing their part to help with the Jewish cemetery here, but I know we as a community can do better to help them with that task. That is why I have started the Mitzvah Project.

Earlier this summer, I applied for a grant with the Simul Mittmachfonds ReWir category to bring a huge scale clean up and documentation project to the Görlitz Jewish Cemetery. The State of Saxony also thought this was a good idea, and they picked my project as a winner. Here is how it goes:

In June 2023, we will begin Phase 1 of Project Mitzvah. From June 5-9, 2023, international teams of students and young people (Poland, Germany, & American at the moment) will be joining us here in Görlitz to work with the Görlitz Cemetery Administrations' gardeners and landscape experts to help us do a mass cleanup of the walkways as well as the gravesites. We are also hoping to use some of the raised funds to repair gravesites that are currently in a very sad state. I will be preparing individualized educational materials about

each quartered section of the cemetery so that the teams working in these sections will know: Who was buried here? What is their story? Where is their family today/What happened? It is also my hope that our volunteers discover new things about this place: more questions will lead us to more answers. Additionally, I am so excited to be working with our wonderful community in Dresden both the Jüdisches Kultus Gemeinde Dresden and the Jüdisches Gemeinde Dresden to also talk to our volunteers about Jewish funeral and burial traditions, and the beautiful symbolism we find relevant to that in the architecture of this magnificent cemetery.

Two weeks later, more than 60 Jewish 2nd-generation Holocaust survivors and their families will be coming to Görlitz from every continent except for Antarctica to celebrate the second Jewish Remembrance Week Görlitz/Zgorzelec. To end Phase I of Project Mitzvah, these teams will be leading these descendants on peer-guided tours through the Jewish Cemetery of Görlitz- showing these Jewish families the work that they have done and what they have learned through the process.

Phase II of Project Mitzvah will being in 2024, where my team from the Hillersche Villa plans to bring in Jewish Cemetery Historians from Halberstadt to do a full documentation of each of the more than 700 graves- a research mission that has never been done at this cemetery Görlitz. This will be followed by Phase III in 2025, which will be turning this information into something creative- most likely an online platform similar to what was done at the Zittau Jewish Cemetery with their Mazewa project.

We often judge how civilized a society is by gauging the way it treats its dead. My hope is that through Project Mitzvah, we can create a cooperation in our state that sets a fire in Görlitz and Zgorzelec to protect this cemetery of regional, national and international historical importance. In the future, I hope that our visitors leave this historical and sacred place with an understanding of just how important it is to the many Jewish people living in diaspora all over the world today. Are you an educator and are interested in participating in Phase I of Project Mitzvah next June? If so, please contact Lauren Leiderman at

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