Germany seeks Unesco status for Erfurt’s Jewish heritage sites

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.

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

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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