UNESCO has designated the Jewish-medieval heritage in Thuringia's state capital Erfurt as a new world heritage site. The UN cultural organization decided this at its current meeting in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Among other things, several buildings in the old town were honored, including a medieval ritual bath (mikveh) that was discovered by chance around 16 years ago, the so-called stone house, which was probably built around 1250, and Erfurt's Old Synagogue. There are now 52 World Heritage sites in Germany.
"The inclusion of the Jewish-Medieval Heritage in Erfurt as a new and second Jewish site on the UNESCO World Heritage List makes a further important contribution to making the common roots of Jews and Christians in Germany and Europe visible and preserving them for the future ", said Germany's ambassador to UNESCO, Kerstin Püschel. The new world heritage site promotes understanding of cultural diversity in Germany and mutual respect for the complex historical heritage.
Two years ago, UNESCO honored Jewish cultural assets in Germany for the first time. The so-called Shum sites in Mainz, Worms and Speyer received the World Heritage title as a cradle of European Jewry.
The synagogue has already fulfilled many tasks
Erfurt's Old Synagogue is considered one of the oldest synagogues in Central Europe that has been preserved up to the roof. After a pogrom in the city in 1349, in which virtually the entire Jewish community was wiped out, the synagogue was initially converted into a warehouse and later used as a restaurant and dance hall. The city suspects that this is why the building was later saved from destruction by the Nazis.
Today there is a museum in the Old Synagogue, whose oldest traces of construction date back to around 1094. Evidence of Jewish life in medieval Erfurt is on display. These include several thousand silver coins and bars as well as gold and silversmith's work from the 13th and 14th centuries. The most important piece is a gold wedding ring.
Researchers suspect that this so-called Erfurt treasure was buried during the pogrom in 1349. It was discovered during archaeological investigations in 1998 near the Old Synagogue. During the pogrom, the Jewish quarter around the synagogue was set on fire, and almost all of the approximately 1,000 members of the Jewish community died. Researchers believe there are few, if any, survivors.
Erfurt worked on its application for recognition as a world cultural heritage site for around 15 years. The city presented the award at a public viewing on Sunday.
The 45th session of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee was supposed to take place in Russia in June 2022. However, due to the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine, it was postponed and will now be held in Riyadh.
Happy reactions in Erfurt
The inclusion of Erfurt's Jewish-medieval heritage on the UNESCO World Heritage List has been met with great rejoicing in Thuringia. Prime Minister Bodo Ramelow (Left) praised the three award-winning buildings in the old town as architectural gems that uniquely testified to the peaceful coexistence of Jewish and Christian communities in the Middle Ages.
The World Heritage title strengthens the joint efforts of the city and the country to preserve these historical sites and to communicate their eventful history to the public. “May Thuringia send a message of a life in diversity and peaceful coexistence with this decision,” explained Ramelow after the decision for Erfurt’s World Heritage status.
The mayor of Thuringia's state capital, Andreas Bausewein (SPD), saw this as the culmination of years of meticulous preparation. "Now that Erfurt has been ennobled with the World Heritage title, we must and will guard and protect this treasure like the apple of our eyes."
Bausewein followed the meeting of the responsible UNESCO committee in Saudi Arabia's capital Riyadh on Sunday together with around 200 guests in the ballroom of the town hall live on two monitors. After the announcement there was great cheering, some had tears of joy in their eyes.
Erfurt sees the World Heritage status as an obligation to maintain and further research the Old Synagogue, the medieval ritual bath and the so-called Stone House, a historic residential building. For example, the city is working on the idea of a world heritage center behind the town hall.
The chairman of the Jewish regional community, Reinhard Schramm, sees the World Heritage title as an attraction for tourists. The Jewish community members would now feel even more at home. Schramm is also hoping for a kosher restaurant in Erfurt as part of the World Heritage title.