Jewish Cemetery in Harbin
During the 1920ies Harbin turned into a multiethnic centre in which the Jewish community played a decisive role (哈尔滨市, 黑龙江省, China/ Harbin, Heilongjiang on Google Maps).
The Harbin Jewish Cemetery established in 1903 was located at No.54, Dongda Zhi Street. During the 1920ies it was extended and relocated to Tai’an Street. With its 2,420 m2 it was the largest among alien residents’ cemeteries at that time in Harbin. In 1958, the Chinese authorities decided to move the Jewish Cemetery to the Huang Shan Public Cemetery located at the outskirts of Harbin´s municipal boundaries.
From approximate 3000 graves of which 1200 with tombstones, 853 were selected and transferred to an area of 6,532.00 square meters in an eastern suburb about 10 km from the centre of Harbin. During the Cultural Revolution, maintenance of the cemetery ceased: Slabs subsided, tombstones inclined, cracked or damaged, and some of the slabs disappeared. The Jewish community stopped functioning on December 31, 1963, and until that date 23 graves were added to the new location, bringing a total of 876 graves to the site.
Maintenance was restarted in 1991, and 450 gravestones could be identified today.
An Important Source
The Jewish Cemetery is one important source of the unique History of Jews in Harbin. The tombstones, names of the deceased, the different languages used for the inscriptions-epigraphs, the size and artworks of the tombstones, the different epigraphs of symbols, and the dates of death, all can tell both individual and collective story of the once largest and most vibrant Jewish community in the Far East.
The importance of this project is in the taking of a complete inventory of the Harbin Jewish Cemetery today. Beside its contribution to the preservation of Jewish cultural heritage in general, the project, upon its completion, will be a source for and provide a clearer view of historical realities – hence, movements of people from different areas of Europe, building a new life in a place, which is very different yet culturally made familiar.
The project of mapping and taking a complete inventory of the present Harbin Jewish cemetery will preserve part of the legacy of the Harbin Jewish community for future generations. It also enables further research: The online inventory provides scholars, genealogists and the public with an access to data and the art of Jewish gravestones in China.
The project was carried out by the History Department, Centre for European History and Culture (ZEGK), University of Heidelberg, led by Professor Madeleine Herren in cooperation with the School of Western Studies, Heilongjiang University, guided by Professor Dan Ben-Canaan.
The research focus of the ZEGK is on questions of historical and cultural life of Europeans in a global context. Europe is not only understood as a newly created form of supranational organisation, but as an implementation of different forms of social, cultural and political cooperation. Therefore, it is important to accentuate historical knowledge that touches questions beyond Europe.
Inventory & Database
The inventory presented provides numbering the tombstones, diverse photographs of each gravestone, measurements of each tombstone, defining the material of the stones, listing the inscription on the tombstones and translation of the inscription into English. A new map of the area was drawn. The current map contains all tombstones that could be found and identified at the time the inventory was taken - September 2008. All findings including the photographs are on display at the database.
Inventory and Mapping
The inventory presented provides
a. numbering the tombstones
b. diverse photographs of each gravestone
c. measurements of each tombstone
d. defining the material of the stones
e. listing the inscription on the tombstones
f. translation of the inscription into English
A new map of the area was drawn. The current map contains all tombstones that could be found and identified at the time the inventory was taken – September 2008.
All findings including the photographs are on display on the database site.
Manja Altenburg, M.A.
Department of History, ZEGK
69117 Heidelberg, Germany