NEW YORK (Jun. 18)
Officials of the city of Hamburg, Germany, and representatives of a German developing company seeking to build a mall over the site of a Jewish cemetery, have flown to Israel in an effort to reach a compromise with Orthodox Jews who object to the proposed construction.
The German delegation will meet this week with Itzhak Kolitz, the chief rabbi of Jerusalem, who visited the cemetery grounds last month to assess the situation.
The site in Ottensen, a suburb of Hamburg, has been the scene of a bitter battle between the developing firm, Bull & Liedtke Co., which legally bought the land from German Jews after World War II, and Orthodox Jews, who have flocked to the grounds from around the world to halt construction with their bodies and their prayers.
Construction of the mall was scheduled to begin in March, but has been postponed repeatedly, due to the efforts of the protesters.
Kolitz issued a decree which maintained that according to Jewish law, it is absolutely forbidden to remove or transfer the remains from the cemetery. Yet he stated that construction on the site can begin, so long as the structure is erected above the ground, on supports.
“Our decision is given with a very heavy heart, taking into account that the purchasers of the property have already invested quite heavily into this project,” Kolitz said in his statement.
“Construction on top of the graves still does not give the proper respect to the dead,” he added.
According to Kolitz’s statement, the cemetery site remains the property of the Jewish community. No Jew has the authority to sell a cemetery, he said.
German authorities claim that they have the right to develop on the site because the Jews who returned to Hamburg after World War II knowingly sold it. Yet protesters argue that those Jews were ignorant of the fact that it was a cemetery, because of the lack of gravestones or other physical evidence.
The cemetery was destroyed by the Nazis, who built bunkers on the site.
Members of Athra Kadisha, the Society For the Preservation of Jewish Holy Sites, which has been at the forefront of the protests, sounded somewhat hopeful about the outcome of this week’s meeting.
Rabbi Lazar Stern of the Athra Kadisha said of Kolitz’s decree, “I hope the German government will view this decision as a wise compromise which will completely satisfy nobody, but also permit a solution to emerge.”
Rabbi Hertz Frankel, spokesperson for Athra Kadisha, said, “There is a big difference between the ruling and the details that needs to be worked out. If they are going to build a platform, they need to work out how many inches off the ground it has to be, and other necessary details.
“But of course, we hope that they won’t build at all,” he added.