Germany seeks Unesco status for Erfurt's Jewish heritage sites

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Germany seeks Unesco status for Erfurt's Jewish heritage sites
Archeologist Dr. Karin Sczech displays a depot of medieval Jewish gravestones in Erfurt. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Michael Reichel

German officials are on tenterhooks this month as they wait to learn the fate of a bid to attain Unesco World Heritage status for historical Jewish sites in Erfurt, the capital of the eastern state of Thuringia.


The Unesco committee responsible for decisions on new World Heritage sites is meeting in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, between September 10th and 25th to determine which sites will be added to the list.

Germany has two proposals among the more than 50 being considered: Erfurt's medieval Jewish heritage and the alpine and pre-alpine meadows, pastures, and moorland landscapes in the Werdenfelser Land, Staffelseegebiet, and Ammergau region in Bavaria.

In July however the district of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, which was part of the Bavarian proposal, announced its intention to withdraw the application. The district cited a Unesco consultant's negative assessment of the area's chances.

The other nominations for inclusion on the World Heritage list include Viking fortresses in Denmark and the Bale Mountains National Park in Ethiopia.

Germany currently has 51 World Heritage sites, including the Cologne Cathedral, Aachen Cathedral, and the historic center of Berlin.

READ ALSO: 10 must-see Unesco World Heritage sites in Germany

Erfurt's medieval Jewish heritage site could soon join this prestigious list. The city’s application includes various buildings in the old town, such as a medieval ritual bath (Mikwe) discovered by chance about 16 years ago and Erfurt's Old Synagogue. The latter was initially repurposed as a warehouse and later used as a restaurant and dance hall after a pogrom in 1349 essentially wiped out the city's Jewish community.

The city believes that the building was spared from destruction by the Nazis for this reason.


With its oldest sections dating back to 1094, the Old Synagogue currently houses a museum exhibiting artefacts from medieval Jewish life in Erfurt, which are also part of the World Heritage application.

These artefacts include thousands of silver coins and bars, and gold and silver jewellery items from the 13th and 14th centuries. Researchers suspect that this collection, known as the Erfurt Treasure, was buried during the 1349 pogrom.

Jewish cultural heritage sites in Germany were recognised as World Heritage sites for the first time two years ago when the “ShUM" sites in Mainz, Worms, and Speyer, known as the cradle of European Judaism, received World Heritage status. The acronym ShUM refers to the Hebrew initials of Speyer, Worms and Mainz.


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