JewishGen Discussion Group #JewishGen (US-Michigan) A Jewish Cemetery Swallowed Up by a GM Plant #general

Jan Meisels Allen

An unusual place for a Jewish cemetery or a General Motors plant as the
cemetery has been in this area of Detroit, MI since the early 1860s.
Originally, the land for Beth Olem was acquired by Congregants of Shaarey
Zedek in the early 1860s and the first burial in 1868. Today it's a
pastoral Jewish cemetery in the middle of a GM car factory. Burials stopped
in 1948. There are over 1100 people buried there.

The history of the cemetery is interesting. In the mid-1960s Chrysler built
its Dodge Main plant around the cemetery and cut off its entranceway. In
1981 GM involved eminent domain and tore down Poletown (an area of Polish
Catholics which enveloped Beth Olem in the late 1800's) for its plant. The
then mayor of Detroit ceded the property to GM to stay in Detroit for a new
Cadillac plant as GM had threatened to move and with the suffering Detroit
economy made the politicians do anything to keep GM in the city. That meant
moving thousands of people and hundreds of businesses-all moved except the
cemetery as Halakhic law forbids the removal of Jewish graves. Since then
the Michigan Supreme Court struck down eminent domain, Today, Beth Olem is
open to the public twice a year for a total of six hours 10:00 am to 1:00
pm on the Sundays before Rosh Hashanah and Passover.

The article mentioned below does not give any contact information to find if
there is any register of those buried. However, the article states the
cemetery is under the stewardship of Shaarey Zedek-and in Southfield
Michigan, a suburb of Detroit, there is a conservative synagogue
Congregation Shaarey Zedek.

To read more about this and see photos go to:

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Jan Meisels Allen
Chairperson, IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee

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