Short description of the Jewish Cemetery in Laupheim

You have entered through the arched gate, next to the former mortuary and caretaker’s house of the cemetery. You are in the so-called ‘ancient’ section of the cemetery which goes back as early as 1730. It extended to twelve meters in the east west and 24 meters in the north south. This section was the first cemetery for more than 50 years. Many of the gravestones that were once here have fallen to pieces. Now grass covers the areas where they once were. Parts of their foundations still indicate the original positions of the gravestones. Fragments of them that were found have been set into plates, which can be seen in the niches of the north wall together with stones whose original sites cannot be determined. There is also evidence of some wooden gravestones from the turn of the century.

The lower gravestones – ‘none should rise about the other’ – have an archaic form with contours that are a crescent, or a crescent with a soft-rounded or sharp edge. There is not any influence of the baroque style during this period, but rather a true reflection of the basic principle of humility in the Jewish faith. The poverty of the families might have been another reason for this. Inscriptions in the first eighty to one hundred years were written exclusively in Hebrew. It is well known that this script is read right to left.

The inscriptions have the letters PN for PO NITMAN e.g. PO NIKBAR (translated ‘Here is’) of PT for PO TAMUN (translated ‘Here is buried’) in common. The last line of the inscription carries the first letters of the blessing ‘May his soul be wrapped in the covenant (the bundle) of life’. The Hebrew script has no numbers – these would be expressed in letters. The dates of death and birth are in accordance with the Jewish calendar, which means that 3761 years have to be added to our time scale.

A wide path, the Derech Kohanim – ‘Priesterweg’ (path of the priests), leads from the entrance of the cemetery through the middle to the World War I memorial on the east side. To the north of this path, the men are buried, and to the south, the women. This order was first set into practice for burials as of approximately 1820. The small numbers of gravestones in the ‘ancient’ section have Hebrew inscriptions that are almost impossible to completely decipher. Dampness from the ground and even more so the air pollutants have left their mark here. Originally, the names and date were always chiselled into the lower part of the gravestone. Therefore they were especially susceptible to damage from environmental influence as well as mechanical influences such as from mowing and raking the lawns. The gravesites are always pointing to the east, the direction from which the Messiah will one day come and where Jerusalem lies with the holy sites of the Jewish religion.

The period where the inscriptions were written exclusively in Hebrew was followed by one where both Hebrew and German were used. The German text contained the date of birth and death according the Christian Gregorian calendar. Later on, there were mainly German inscriptions, except for the upper reference and the abbreviated Hebrew blessing in the lower part.

Those that have dies in the Jewish religion rest in the grave until the day of the judgment with the coming of the Messiah. For this reason, desecration of any kind to the graves is despicable and sacrilegious. This belief is also the reason for the enlarging of Jewish cemeteries. This occurred three times in Laupheim, the last time in 1929.

The depiction of people on the gravestones or even portrait busts of the deceased on the gravesite are contrary to the Jewish religious beliefs. The symbols that the visitor encounters on the older gravestones have a different purpose. Most of the ‘relief’ portrayals are not for a decorative purpose, but rather to represent names, family trees or in relation to a specific function or standing of the person in the community. Symbols regarding specific professions, although not so common, are also present. It is not easy to differentiate between a symbolic and decorative purpose.

The symbolism on the well-preserved limestone gravestone on the northern side of the cemetery is very impressive. It is the gravesite of Samuel bar Naftali ha Cohen (in German Hirsch Samuel Kahn), who deceased in 1764, with the extended hands that are blessing and praying. A ‘Kohen’ or ‘Kohain’ is descendant of a family of ancient priestly lineage stemming from the high priest Aaron. Also names like Katz, Kantor, Kaplan and names sounding similar to these are usually related to this name tree. This symbol can be seen repeatedly in the Laupheim Jewish cemetery. Even today, the descendants of the priestly lineage have special privileges and responsibilities in the community. A water jug represents a Levite, who is also stemming from a family of the ancient priestly lineage. The Levites were the guardians and servants of the temple. A lion represents Jehuda (Jesus), the most powerful son of Jacob who is referred to the Genesis Chapter 49 Verse 8 “Judah, your brothers shall praise you, you grip your enemies by the neck, your father’s sons shall do you homage, Judah is a lion club.”

Another symbol, the deer, represents Naftali, the son of Jacob, who is called a nimble deer in the bible. A bear, which also decorates a gravestone, is representative for Ber, Beer or Berlin (Bärlein), which are popular Jewish names. These names are difficult to interpret, but take on meaning when taken literally out of the Hebrew translation (Brunnen = fountain).

Symbols for positions of honour in the community or for specific charities of the deceased can be seen repeatedly. The ‘Schofar’ shows that the deceased person blew the horn of the mountain goat in the synagogue on high festivals, predominantly on Rosch Haschana, the Jewish New Year festival and on ‘Jom Kippur’, the festival of reconciliation. The ‘Schofar’ was formerly a profane, not very pleasant sounding instrument in ancient times. At that time it was already used in synagogues, and blown to admonish the people to do penance and to call them to reconciliation. A knife, a book and two jugs represent a ‘Schochet’, a butcher who slaughtered the animals according to Jewish rites. This person had not only special training, but also had to lead an exemplary lifestyle in accordance with the Jewish faith. A crown (crown of a good name), which is on the stone, or as a crown adorning the stone, is given to a deceased person who did special services in the community. The ‘Magen’ David – the Star of David – can also be seen. The hexagram is an old symbol that has become an emblem for Judaism more and more over the past 200 years. With the re-establishing of the country of Israel, the Magen (star) of David has become the emblem for its national flag.

There are also a couple of examples of floral symbols: palm branches symbolize rebirth and immortality; pomegranates intertwined in a bundle of flowers that decorate the gravestone are referred to in the Bible as abundance of life, fertility and as God’s blessings. There is also a certain mystic significance related to this plant because the number of pomegranate seeds (which is always 613) is identical to the number of laws referred to in the Tora. Poppy seedpods symbolize (eternal) sleep.

There was already a definitive change in the ‘gravestone culture’ before the middle of the last century. It resulted from the contemporary architecture style of that time. This was an eclectic style at that time, which means that the style was taken over or interpreted from an earlier style. As a result of this, there was a widespread variety of unusual designs: new gothic gravestones with tracery decorations, pillars with capitals and fillisters alternating with stones of the neoromantic, neorenaissance or new baroque periods, with gables, mantelpieces, pilasters, cartridges, garlands and vases. There is an unmistakable withdrawal from the traditional Jewish understanding as a result.

The gravestones in the second half of the 19th century are characterized by a rich variety of forms and perfectly skilled craftsmanship. At the beginning of this century, the gravestone architecture took on new dimensions due to the art of that time. This art was influenced strongly by Friedrich Adler who was born in Laupheim and taught art in Munich and later in Hamburg. The grave of Berth Hermann (Row R 19), deceased in 1900, is covered with a white marble plate (slab). Climbing roses frame the rich German inscriptions. This is a typical artistic style of the Munich Debit School, which Friedrich Adler also belonged to. The gravestone, which is a coarsely cut Ragazer stone, has the oval plate of inscription in Hebrew. The stone is crowned with a beautifully formed marble shell surrounded by a running Acanthus (thistle) trim. This gravestone has a definite unique style, which is proof of the work of Adler’s hand on it. There are 15 other stones which he designed, whose artistic styles range from ‘Jugendstil’ to ‘Expressionisms’ to the modern cubic forms of the ‘Bauhaus’. In Rows L 13 and R 15 are the expressive stones of the parents of Carl Laemmle (the founder of Hollywood), which were set there in place of older stones. They are especially eye-catching for their interesting ‘tracery’ in the pointed upper part of the stone. The expressive war monument is an example of the ‘modern’ form of art.

The ground was cleared around this monument of honour and four red maple trees were planted, which in the meantime have grown to be large; beautiful trees. The adjacent row of graves was altered, contrary to Jewish law, to the west. This was done for artistic reasons. It indicates the liberal attitudes of the community of that time. The family gravesites, which are present since approximately 1920, are another indication of these liberal attitudes.

The darkest and most terrible time for the Jewish communities and their members in Germany began with the National Socialists coming to power in 1933.

The marks of this time can also be seen in the cemeteries. No family gravesites were erected in Laupheim since then. The gravestones that had some trace of the earlier artistic forms became more humble and simplistic. Reflecting back on some basic Jewish values and increasing poverty led to these changes.

Even in the last century there were Jews of Laupheim heritage that were living elsewhere but eager to be buried in their home soil. This was especially prevalent if there was no Jewish cemetery where they were living. In addition, Jewish people living in cities elsewhere but descending from Laupheim (especially widows) would return to Laupheim. They hoped to escape the treachery of the Nazis (which was true in the beginning) and to have their final resting place here.

The ‘Pogrom’ night in November 1938, when the Jewish synagogues in the ‘German Reich’ were set on fire, was the start of the genocide of the Jews in Europe. The takeover of Poland in 1939 was the bloody realization of this. Jews were forced now to wear a yellow star. They were driven out of their houses and had to live in shelters and so-called ‘Jewish houses’. In Laupheim, the Jews were housed in barracks in the ‘Wendelingsgrube’, of which some had no electricity or water.

In 1941, the cities and villages in the state of Württemberg were ‘cleaned out’ (of Jews), as the Nazis would say. After being driven out of their houses into rundown apartments and barracks and resettled (as in Laupheim and nearby Dellmensingen), the Jews were now almost in the front door of the extermination camps. Those whose fate was kind to them found their final rest here. After the war and liberation, their death was officially designated as ‘war casualties’.

The prisoners from the concentration camp Bergen-Belsen were brought to the Lindele camp in Biberach-Birkendorf. In the first weeks of the year 1945, they were in a pitiful state of health. The prisoners that died in the Lindele camp were then buried in Laupheim. Well-meaning neighbours of the cemetery would put up small wooden crosses on the graves after dark.

In 1984 a bronze memorial tablet was put up at the entrance of the cemetery. It has three long columns with the names of the hundred Laupheim born Jewish people who were killed in the Holocaust and never laid into a grave.

Professor Pater Ivo Schaible, a Laupheim citizen of honour who died in 1990, formed the Menorah – the seven-armed candlestick – for the tablet. The inscription reads:

1933 – 1945


This is meant literally, because the Laupheim citizens donated the tablet.


Translated by Heidi Briemle