Jewish gravestones found in Austrian castle walls after 400 years

Renovations carried out in the first half of 2020 at Ebenfurth Castle, Austria, have revealed some 28 Jewish gravestones and gravestone fragments dating from the 17th century.

Discovered in the foundations of the walls as renovations were carried out, the gravestones mark a stunning discovery of long lost remnants of the Jewish community. The wall was part of structural reinforcements to defend the city against the Ottoman Empire’s invasion of 1683.

“The find can be described as a sensation, as it was not known until now that these gravestones or gravestone fragments from the heyday of the Jewish community of Ebenfurth still exist,” wrote Johannes Reiss, director of the Austrian Jewish Museum in Eisenstadt.

The oldest of the tombstones is dated all the way back to the Hebrew date of 8 Tevet 5383 (December 11, 1622) and belongs to Elieser, son of Abraham Mose, German for Moses.
According to Jewish Heritage Europe, all of the stones will be displayed in a special display at Ebenfurth Castle and a commemorative plaque will be erected.

After several centuries of settlement and expulsion, the first Jews were documented in Ebenfurth in 1614. Reiss wrote that between 1652 and 1671, Ebenfurth, a small village in eastern Austria, had the largest Jewish community in Lower Austria out of 48 communities.

However, the Jews of Ebenfurth were evicted on August 26, 1671, and from then until 1867 very little information about any Jewish residents exists. The Nazi Anschluss (annexation) of Austria in 1938 signaled the death knell of the community.

The building that housed the old Ebenfurth synagogue was razed in 1994, but the gateway, dating from 1670, was preserved and now serves as a monument to the town’s former Jewish community.


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