Historical BackgroundSlide show

How the wetlands were saved

The landscape of the Urdenbacher Kämpe was shaped by people. Its patchwork of meadow orchards and pastures, fields and fallow is a result of human cultivation. And indeed it was cultivation carefully adjusted to local requirements that led to the emergence of a wide range of habitats for many different animal and plant species. Its value as cultivated land also ensured the survival of the Urdenbacher Kämpe as one of the last true flood plains along the River Rhine in the twentieth century. For when Hitler came to power in 1933, the authorities began to think about reviving older plans for dikes and embankments. While ostensibly about flood control, reading between the lines it is clear that the real aim was to implement a grand public works scheme to reduce unemployment.
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However, the two major landowners in the area, Freiherr von Diergardt and Count Nesselrode, were strictly opposed to the scheme. In letters of increasing acerbity they explained that the recurrent floods were what kept their fields and pastures fertile; that a dike would make the River Rhine between Zons and Baumberg dangerously narrow; that the scheme would bring no benefits, but was destructive and would only cost money. Factual arguments are not always welcome, however, and the authorities were not to be swayed. Count Nesselrode countered with a policy of endless delay. After a serious row in 1934, it was two years before the head of the local government once more approached the count, inviting him to a meeting. It took the count's agent two months to reply with the information that his employer was traveling and not expected to return for another month. With negotiations continuing at this speed, the scheme was finally shelved in 1938, when Nazi Germany started preparing for war.

The Jewish cemetery

As you walk along the nature trail "Up the Old Rhine", take a moment to visit the Jewish cemetery. This is where the Jewish community of Benrath and Urdenbach once buried their dead. The earliest grave, that of one Simon Calmer, is in the upper left part of the cemetery. It dates from 1793 and is marked by a sandstone slab. The most recent burial, of Jonas Heumann aka Jol-ben-Shmul, was in 1923. A polished stone marks his grave in the upper right part of the cemetery. Nineteen gravestones survive, many of them damaged or disfigured during the Nazi era. The "blind" stones on which the inscriptions are now missing originally had marble plaques cemented to them which were inscribed in German and Hebrew. Most of these marble plaques were smashed after 1933. During the Second World War and after, children from the surrounding villages congregated in the cemetery in winter because it provided an ideal tobogganing slope. Today the cemetery is surrounded by a fence.
The cemetery was established some time before 1793 on a plot of land watered by a spring situated on the slope above it. To deal with the muddy ground, a mound several metres high was raised. As was customary since the High Middle Ages, the Jewish community was given a plot that was economically unattractive because in the Mosaic tradition a Jewish cemetery cannot be repurposed. While it is not customary to put flowers on Jewish graves, visitors sometimes put small stones on the gravestone as a mark of respect.
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