16. October 2016

Waibstadt: Jewish cemetery

The Jewish cemetery, situated in a forest on the ‘Mühlberg’ in Waibstadt, is among the most outstanding cultural landmarks of the Kraichgau. It is the second largest Jewish cemetary in Baden Württemberg. 2556 preserved tombstones are spread over 2,33 ha. The first burial took place between 1648 and 1690. This burial place remained in use until 1940.

The history of Jews in Waibstadt goes back to the first half of the 14th century, even though the community remained relatively small. Its peak number was in 1884, when 67 people lived. Thus, the cemetary was much too large cemetery for the size of the Jewish community in Waibstadt alone. Rather, between 1648 and 1690, several Jewish communities of different towns joined to lease part of the forest on the Mühlberg for use as a cemetary. The oldest tombstone dates 1690. Until 1860, around thirty Jewish communities interred their deceased in this final resting place.

Mortuary association

In the context of the changing legal in the 19th century leading to greater equality, it became possible for Jews to buy land. As a result, in 1870, twenty communities bought the land they had rented until this time, and formed the Waibstadt mortuary association. Furthermore, adjacent property was purchased in order to enlarge the cemetery. In that new portion of the graveyeard the last burial took place in 1940.

The cemetery during the Nazi rule

At the time of the Reichspogromnacht, the cemetery was damaged and ravaged. Under the leadership of the Mayor at that time, a fervent Nazi, many tombstones and the cemetery’s house were overturned and the Mausoleum was damaged by the same violent mob.

The Jewish graveyard barely escaped total destruction. The city of Waibstadt intended to sell the land at merely one Reichsmark per ‘Ar’ (100 square meters, that is 1% of a hectare) as woods to be forested. A local businessman wanted to buy the remains to plant fruit trees. Due to diverse unresolved interests, luckily, this never happened. The decision to sell the property came late, which proved impossible to carry through during the war.

Current status of the cemetary

Immediately after the war, the occupying power ordered repair of the damage the cemetary had suffered. 1985 and 1986, the Institute for Jewish studies in Heidelberg photographically registered all gravestones. 2556 were identified. Further, 1987 to 1993, the city of Waibstadt undertook thorough maintenance, supported by subsidies from the Bundesland Baden Württemberg.  Today, the Jewish cemetery of Waibstadt stands as an impressive testimonial to the once flourishing Jewish life in the Kraichgau.