by Samuel D. Gruber
(ISJM) When I was involved in documenting Jewish cemeteries within the present-day boundaries of Poland in the early 1990s about two thirds of the approximately 1200 cemeteries identified had no visible gravestones, and several hundred mroe cemeteries only had a small number still in situ. In most cases, matzavot had been toppled during the Holocaust and often removed for use as paving stones by the Nazis to make more passable the many dirt (and mud) roads their mechanized army traversed.
But stones were used in a variety of ways. In 1990, I was shown matzevot used to build a pigsty on a farm in the northeastern town of Krynki, and gravestones were also used to pave an area at a monastery in Kazimierz Dolny when it was used as a Gestapo headquarters. In some case stones were hauled away whole. Other stones were broken up. Often Jews were forced to do the work of destroying the gravestones.
Those stones not removed by the Germans were either hauled often for building material by Poles in the post-War period (probably this is how matzevot from the cemetery of Wyszkow came to used as foundation stones for a local barn), or during the communist period, when many cemeteries were cleared for roads or buildings. In the luckiest circumstances old stones knocked over just lay in place and were covered by a half century of vegetation, soil and sometimes trash.
Since 1990, more and more Jewish gravestones, though still only a tiny percentage of what's been lost, have been re-discovered and often moved, either back to cemeteries here they are often made into lapidary commemorative monuments, or to museums. Those found in Radom in 2008 are a good example. Most recently, as reported on the Virtual Shtetl website matzevot identified as originating from the Głogowska Street cemetery in Poznań were discovered by Joanna Członkowska, who spotted German and Hebrew inscriptions on stone slabs of a breakwater used to protect a meadow against flooding. Ms Członkowska immediately notified the Museum of the History of Polish Jews which in turn notified the Jewish Religious Community in Poznań, the Jewish Cemetery Rabbinical Commission and local media in Poznań.
According to Virtual Shtetl, the cemetery was established in 1803 and was severely damaged during WWII, when most tombstones were used to pave roads, including the Poznań-Berlin highway. Under Communist rule, the International Poznań Fair Complex was erected in the cemetery. I do not know thew extent of excavation on the cemetery for the construction of the Fairgrounds and whether the actual burial were disturbed or if they remain underground and intact. In only a few cases in Poland and elsewhere has post-Word War II construction been removed from known cemeteries.
Over the past several years, a number of tombstones have been found in various parts of Poznań. Some of them were included in the collection of stone monuments in an undeveloped area at the Jewish cemetery. Others were transported to and secured in the Martyrs’ Museum in Żabikowo. It is not known where the recently discovered stones will be taken and whether their discovery will lead to more in other places around the lake.