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Jews Attempt to Block Building of Mall over Cemetery in Hamburg

Jews from Europe and the United States used their bodies Monday to prevent bulldozers from preparing the ground for a shopping mall on the site of a 350-year-old Jewish cemetery in this northern German port city, which they say still contains the graves of Jewish sages.

Police estimated about 80 demonstrators but Jewish sources put the figure at 200. They, and supporters all over the world, are determined to save what remains of the former Ottensen cemetery, which was largely destroyed by the Nazis during the 1930s.

A police spokesman said the Jewish protesters interfered with the construction work for an hour but there was no violence.

Representatives of Athra Kadisha, the Society for the Preservation of Jewish Holy Sites, based in Brooklyn, N. Y., sent a message.

“We will die first before we allow the cemetery to be desecrated,” said Rabbi Zvi Kestenbaum, president of the society.

The Ottensen cemetery was acquired in 1663 in what was at the time Danish territory. It was enlarged several times, the last time in 1815, according to the Universal Jewish Encyclopedia.

According to Athra Kadisha, the cemetery, which once contained 4,000 graves, was respected by all German governments until the Nazis.

But “today’s German government is showing incredible insensitivity with respect to this sacred Jewish cemetery,” charged Dr. Bernard Fryshman of the Conference of Academicians for the Protection of Jewish Cemeteries.

He said negotiations have been going on for some time with German federal and local authorities to return the cemetery to Jewish hands.

But the government claims it was sold with the approval of a group of Jews who returned to Hamburg right after the war. “This is an obviously fraudulent claim, since Jewish law forbids the desecration of a cemetery for other uses,” Fryshman said.

According to Jewish sources, the site was sold to several developers since the end of World War II who did nothing with it. In 1991, however, it was sold to the Bull Co., which announced ambitious plans to build a shopping mall and 60 housing units on the site.

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