BONN (Dec. 16)
A controversial shopping mall whose planned construction had been the target of large-scale protests by Orthodox Jews, will be built, after all, over the remains of Jews long buried in an old cemetery in suburban Hamburg.
Hamburg authorities said last week that the chief rabbi of Jerusalem, Yitzhak Kolitz, and the developer, Bull & Liedtke, have reached a compromise that will enable the mall to be built without desecrating the remains of the individuals buried there.
Representatives of the rabbi will supervise the construction work to ensure that the agreement is implemented.
According to the Hamburg authorities, construction plans have been significantly altered in conformity with Jewish religious requirements.
During the Nazi era, the cemetery, which dates from 1683, was desecrated and almost destroyed. But some gravestones and human remains are still to be found in the area.
Bull & Liedtke legally bought the land from German Jews after the war, not knowing it had been a cemetery.
Construction had originally been scheduled to begin in March, but was repeatedly postponed because of demonstrations by members of Athra Kadisha, the Society for the Preservation of Jewish Sites. They came from different countries to protest.
Kolitz visited the site in May. He issued a statement saying the cemetery remains the property of the Jewish community since no Jew has the authority to sell a cemetery.
In June, Hamburg city officials and representatives of the developer flew to Israel to consult further with the rabbi on the matter.
Athra Kadisha had staged protests and sat down in front of bulldozers to prevent the cemetery from being desecrated.
In New York, Rabbi Hertz Frankel, a spokesperson for Athra Kadisha, said Wednesday that if the contractors are “amenable to our requirements, if Rabbi Kolitz has supported this with the understanding of people around him, and it’s done according to halachah (traditional Jewish law), then we would not be opposed.”
He added, “We made it clear that we would not oppose it as long as there would be no disturbance of the graves.”
(Contributing to this report was JTA staff writer Susan Birnbaum in New York.)