I’ve trammed past the stop near this cemetery countless times since living here, and finally made getting off the tram to explore a priority. Tucked behind a hideous 1970’s-era city-run retirement home are the remains of not only Vienna’s oldest Jewish cemetery, but one of Europe’s oldest cemeteries in general, dating back to the 1500s, before Jews were even permitted to freely live in Vienna.
The cemetery is in Alsergrund, Vienna’s 9th district and Döbling’s neighbor district to the south. To access the cemetery one passes through the main reception of the retirement home into the courtyard. Perhaps it’s just me, but should I ever reside in a retirement home, I don’t think I would want a room with a cemetery view.
The cemetery is not as well-restored or maintained as I was expecting, given that it was purchased by the city in 1978 with the commitment to restoration and maintenance, though I do not know its previous condition, and there seemed to be a crew doing something on the grounds. The large sarcophagus on the right is that of Samson Wertheimer. He was a financier and creditor to the Hapsburg Court, and the chief rabbi of Hungary and Moravia (now part of Czech Republic).
Naturally, the Nazis found their way here in their efforts to “dissolve” all Jewish cemeteries. They destroyed gravestones and exhumed human remains (!), but thankfully a group of courageous Jews relocated many markers and remains to Vienna’s Central Cemetery, where they were discovered and returned several years ago.
The cemetery can only be viewed from the slightly elevated walkway that borders two sides and connects with the old age home and the adjacent building. I was disappointed to watch as staff from both buildings used the walkway and benches for their smoke break. Seems disrespectful to me to light up in a cemetery, but what do I know?
This stone fish monument is a curious piece, believed to be a medieval fountain for ritual washing. Legend holds that it resides on the burial site of a demon fish who recited a traditional Jewish prayer right before it was to be slaughtered.
The Jüdischer Friedhof Rossau. Peace to all their souls.