Memorial plaques and mural for the former Ottensen Jewish Cemetery
Several memorial plaques were placed in the stairway to the lower ground floor of the Mercado shopping centre in 1996 to commemorate the former Ottensen Jewish Cemetery. They list the names of 4,500 people who were buried there. Some of the plaques are blank, leaving room for names that might be determined by future researchers.
The artist Hildegund Schuster painted a mural on the wall of the building at Kleine Rainstrasse 21 in 1997. It depicts images from the former Jewish cemetery before it was destroyed in 1939, as well as scenes from the protests against the construction of the Mercado shopping centre in the 1980s. Various groups criticised what they referred to as a ‘temple of consumerism’. The Ottensen Jewish Cemetery had a long history stretching back to 1663. It was closed under the National Socialist regime in 1934. When the Nazis seized the grounds of the cemetery in 1939, only 175 graves could be moved. The rest were ravaged and destroyed during the construction of two air-raid shelters.
After the end of World War II, the grounds of the former cemetery were returned to the Jewish community. The cemetery itself had been ruined beyond repair and all but obliterated in the Shoah, so the grounds were sold again to the Hertie department store group. A department store was built on the site in the 1950s and then torn down in 1988 to be replaced by the Mercado shopping centre. There were fierce protests against this by groups including the Jewish Atra Kadisha organisation, which campaigns for the preservation of Jewish cemeteries. The debates came to an end with an arbitration ruling by the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, Yitzhak Kolitz, which stipulated that there could be no underground works during the construction and none of the existing graves could be damaged. The memorial plaques were financed by the new owner of the Mercado shopping centre.