The wooden grave marker of Mordechai the Kadosh from Kriegshaber Jewish Cemetery


Some meters east of the former keepers house at the Jewish Cemetery of Kriegshaber Pfersee (today in the north-western part of Augsburg) there was a somewhat rare wooden grave marker. According to the Hebrew inscription, photographed and noticed by Theodor Harburger in 1927, it belonged to the “kadosh” (lit. “saint”, means: “martyr”) Mordechai ben Mordechai from Kassel, died on 19th/20th of November 1805. His memorial plate which is somewhat rotten by condensation and illegible now (since 2000 ?) is part of the Judaica-Exhibition at the “Jewish Cultural Museum” which since 1985 is hosted in the west wing of the Augsburg synagogue, while the actual cemetery plot fell into oblivion.

However the Harburger photograph allowed to relocate the exact spot and thus we retraced in fall 2007 under the sward the bordering where the grave marker bordered by a rack with glass plates. The  completely overgrown casing we had discovered only in fall 2009 at the north-eastern cemetery wall. So the exact cemetery plot was known, the measurements (95 cm to 32.5 cm to 3 cm as recorded by Theo Harburger) from 1927 as well as the inscription of the wooden monument, which translated in English reads:  “Here is buried the Saint Mister Mordechai son of Mister Mordechai of blessed memory from Kassel, on day 3, the 27th of Marcheshvan 566 according to the minor era (which omits the thousands of the date).”

Mordechais death is at a time when the Free Imperial City of Augsburg lost her sovereignty and gets a part of Bavaria. On 9th of October 1805 French troops occupied the neutral City and the day after Napoleon himself came for a two-day visit before he advanced toward Munich (where he arrived on October 16th). After the (fourth) Peace of Pressburg, the territories of the ceasing Upper-Austrian Margravate of Burgau as well as the Free Imperial City of Augsburg were ceded to Bavaria, the allies of the French.  At the end of December 1805 French troops left the territory and Bavarian troops promoted and took control. So for Augsburg and the rural communities in her west it was a decisive period in history with far-reaching consequences and a period of transition as well.

Local Jewish court factors and military suppliers like Kaula, Obermayer, Mendle and others needed to reorient to the new circumstances, as well as the Christian ruling class of the once proud and powerful Imperial city.  

Mordechai presumably was not from the city of Cassel (since 1926 written as Kassel with K) as the inscription of his grave marker suggests, but rather a member of the renowned and widely ramified Cassel-family, aka as Goldschmidt-Cassel or Buchsbaum, which had many family relations to Swabian Jews at Pfersee, Kriegshaber, Augsburg and Munich. Already in 1560 Nathan of Oberhausen on the Wertach (river), which now also is a part of Augsburg, left his home village Oberhausen and moved to Frankfurt on the Main, where he married  Brendl the daughter of a Jew who lived in the Buchsbaum (lit. boxtree) house of the Frankfurt Ghetto. Nathan who adopted the name and called himself Nathan Buchsbaum was a partner of Simon Ginzburg the patriarch of the Ginzburg-Ulmo family who later dominated Pfersee and Kriegshaber, and is an ancestor of succeeding members of the Buchsbaum-, Goldschmidt-. Goldschmidt-Cassel and Cassel-families. Nathan died 1575 as a wealthy man.  

Mordechais presence in the region however obviously wasn’t  entirely coincidental but rather is to be seen in the context of a ramified family network. As a likely member of a Cologne based family of financiers Mordechai Cassel conceivably was occupied with military supply as well.  In this context the reference “saint” perhaps may be somewhat euphemistic, but of course there are many circumstances imaginable in what way he died. According to the inscription “kadosh” we only may conclude that it was a violent death in a way that motivated the mourners to call him a “martyr”.  

The current and familiar understanding of wooden memorial plates as indication for poverty disregards that plates of oak wood are not cheaper than sandstone grave markers. Actually wooden plates may be more expensive and in addition also more durable than sandstone, which often crumbles after two or three decades. The assumption that wooden plates are only used out of shortage of money is based on an error in reasoning. Since wooden grave markers are very rare, it also implies that most Jews are “rich”, what of course is an often borrowed cliché. The reasons why there actually are only few wooden memorial plates at Jewish cemeteries of course are quite different. One reason is that wood other than stone is burnable. Wooden memorials also have no footing underground and therefore they are less  stable and last but not least wooden grave marker are way lighter than sandstone plates which at a height of one meter may weigh 250 kg or more. So wooden plates of course are an easy prey for thieves. It is commonly known that many Jewish grave stones had been stolen and were misused as construction material, but to burn wood needs no construction site but only a cold winter. The usage of the plates as firewood reduces them to ashes and leaves no marks.

Since the rotten and illegible wooden plate of Mordechai is a mere exhibition piece of the “Kultusmuseum”, there also is no mark left to remember the deceased who still is buried at the cemetery. Actually the Halacha forbids the removal of grave markers from a graveyard, since the function of a memorial plate obviously is to commemorate the death as well as to mark the actual burial place.  But since the original piece is rotten we seek to renew the memory of the “saint” Mordechai who died more than two hundred years ago with a new plate. We may comply all requirements since we know the exact position of the burial place, the exact measures of the original grave marker as well as the exact wording of each line of the inscription. The material costs are manageable if the willingness of the relevant is given to restore the honor of Mordechai the kadosh.

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