Archives of stone – Jewish cemetery Altona
Königstrasse is the oldest Jewish burial place of Hamburg and the most ancient Portuguese-Jewish cemetery in Northern Europe. Because of its age and its unique sepulchral art the burial ground was officially classified as a Monument of Cultural Heritage. The burial places of the huge Altona cemetery with its Ashkenasim and Portuguese graves were first granted to the Jews during the time of the Schauenburger nobility under Danish and Prussian rule. Portuguese merchants bought a piece of land from Count Ernst III. of Holstein-Schaumburg and Sterneberg, the “hay meadow hills” (Heuberg) at Altona close to Hamburg on May 31, 1619 for “burying the deceased of the Portuguese Nation.” Five years later German Jews acquired a separate area as burial place they were able to extend. Burials took place from 1611 to 1869. Each preserved gravestone/stele gives evidence of the life and death of famous scholars and rabbis such as David Cohen de Lara, or Moses de Gideon Abudiente. As well learned rabbis of the Ashkenasim (German Jews) were buried here at Altona, still today attracting visitors worldwide who pray at their graves. The gravestone of Jeheskel Katzenellenbogen was restored by descendants. He was known as a sharp-witted producer of responsa literature and as the head of A-H-U (three affiliated kehillas of Altona, Hamburg, Wandsbek). His successor Jonathan Eibeschütz, an outstanding Talmudic Scholar, was also buried here. Even their opponent Jakob Emden, a rationalist scholar, was laid to rest in Altona. There is also the grave of Raphael Cohen, who seriously opposed Moses Mendelsohn (of Berlin) and the Haskalah movement. He was Chief-Rabbi of A-H-U and presiding judge of the Beth-ha-din (Court of the Rabbinate). His grandson was Gabriel Riesser, a justice who opted for equal rights for Jews. Jakob Ettlinger, teacher of Samson Raphael Hirsch, was also buried here in 1871. Despite serious destruction during the Nationalsocialist period, bomb explosions during WW II, damage through vandalism and pollution since then, the cemetery is an open book for those able to read it.
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