The Jewish-Portuguese cemetery in Hamburg is an outstanding example of the Portuguese presence in the world, where history confirms the well-known ability of the Portuguese to adapt to the most unexpected contexts and situations.
Built in 1611 with over 1,500 graves recorded, according to some sources, the cemetery was officially closed almost a century and a half ago and is today a heavily visited site and the oldest in the city and northern Europe. You pass the gate that protects it, and the visitor is immediately enveloped in tall and scattered trees, which give shade and freshness to the tombstones inscribed in Portuguese, others in Hebrew, many covered with a veil of soot and moss, some fallen vertically.
Fleeing from Portugal due to the Inquisition at the end of the 16th century, the new Christians were well received in Hamburg, where they found a place to live without hiding their religion and Jewish rituals. Located then in one of the most noble districts of the city, the name of the Königstraße, Rua dos Reisis a reflection of this.
The land was acquired by the Portuguese merchants André Falero, Rui Cardoso and Alvaro Dinis, who won the sovereign’s favor and thus managed to ensure that “the Portuguese people could bury their dead,” the Sephardic Jews, according to the little book. Stone Archive – 400th Anniversary of the Jewish Cemetery in Königstraße. Through their actions, they have left to posterity an extraordinary legacy in which to find part of the history of Portugal and Hamburg, which certainly contributed to the fact that this city is today the most Portuguese in Germany, with countless traces of our presence, starting with the “Portuguese Quarter”, crowded with restaurants , to the old school ship Sagres anchored in port, from the ubiquitous custard tarts to the only bust of Vasco da Gama to be found abroad.
Later, the cemetery was expanded through the acquisition of adjacent land by Ashkenazi and German Jews, where members of illustrious families such as the poet Heinrich Heine or the philosopher Mendelssohn were buried.
The cemetery withstood the passage of time, wars and Nazi bombardments. Just as he resisted the theft and anti-Semitic vandalism that hit him several times, apparently on some of the tombstones, broken or damaged.
After 400 years, the erosion that affects the gravestones is visible in the blurring of the contours of letters and symbols that briefly tell the story of the deceased, including rabbis and scholars. This tomb art on Sephardic tombstones is very interesting and peculiar, not only because of the biblical references and the lives of the dead, but also because a significant part of the symbols used were not properly characteristic of Judaism, which forbids the depiction of people and animal figures. Roses, geese, deer, doves, boats, vases or anchors are some of the motifs that adorn gravestones, and images are certainly inherited from Christianity.
This transgression is consistent with the fact that Sephardim are seen as a different type of Jews, more open, free, cultured. You Stone Archives to give a good account of how so many Portuguese families are so inextricably linked to the history of the city, as well as what is recognized as a characteristic of the Portuguese, namely their extraordinary adaptability, their cosmopolitanism, humanism and universalism. They are described as Jews with a broad secular education, naturally adapting their Iberian-aristocratic origins to their new Jewish world, reconciled with non-Jews.
Never losing contact with their relatives in Hamburg and Altona, many Portuguese, especially those with less property, began to re-emigrate to other places such as Caracas, Jamaica, Curaçao, Barbados, the United States, London or Amsterdam, dispersing all over the world. of the world and always leaving a mark and a human and cultural heritage that is important not to be overlooked.
Wandering among the tombstones and tall trees through which beams of light pass through the very green leaves of the Portuguese Jewish cemetery in Hamburgo Altona is an intense experience, thanks to an enveloping energy that binds us to the place and makes us feel something. inexpressibly. , as if you needed to stay longer until you understand the history of those people who are considered as rich as they are out of reach.