(ISJM) A new 50-page report organized by the Brama Cukerman (Cukerman’s Gate) Foundation of Bedzin, Poland, documents the known Jewish cemeteries in the Polish province of Silesi. Sixty-five cemeteries are identified, of which only 42 still have more than one tombstone. Other cemeteries were destroyed, during or after World War II and converted into parks, car bases or wasteland.
This report updates documentation work first done more than twenty years ago in survey work carried by the Jewish Historical Institute of Warsaw and sponsored by the United States Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad and the World Monuments Fund. It is difficult to compare results since Polish administrative boundaries have changed since then, but forty cemeteries, including twenty with more than 100 surviving gravestones, such as major cemeteries in Bytom, Gliwice, Katowice and Pilica, were documented in the Katowice Region at that time. There has been a lot of work documenting cemeteries in the area since then (see the bibliography in the report) and the new report contains more information and up to date assessments of site conditions. The new report contains information on cleaning and preservation activities when these have taken place.
The Brama Cukerman (Cukerman’s Gate) Foundation has also been active in the preservation of an important Jewish prayer house in Bedzin that retain many fragments of painted decoration.
Of the 65 cemeteries, only five — in Bielsko-Biala, Bytom, Katowice, Sosnowiec and Gliwice - can still be used for Jewish burial. Only a small number of Jews live in a few communities in Silesia.
According to the report, "The official Jewish Community is based in Katowice with branches in Bytom and Gliwice, as well as the Jewish Community in Bielsko-Biala. These cities and Czestochowa are the only places in the province of Silesia where any Jewish people live." Ownership of the cemeteries varies, but about 50 are owned by the Polish State (Skarb Państwa) "according to the Decree from March 8, 1946, which nationalized all “abandoned and formerly German property.”
Overall, these are the most devastated cemeteries. There destruction goes back to World War II, and subsequent neglect, especially in the first decades under Communism. The fate of these cemeteries remains unresolved, more than two decades after many were first identified and brought to the attention of local officials. Because many of these sites have no visible stones, they are often not seen as sacred sites, or as significant cultural heritage sites. Because these cemeteries are the legacy of German Jews, they are often not seen as important to the local culture.
According to the report:
"In local Polish society there are common colloquial opinions, such as, “the cemetery is Jewish so Jews should take care of it.” That kind of “anti-Semitic subtext” does not lead us to the solution of the problem. The contemporary local Jewish community has no financial or technical capacity to take care of all closed cemeteries. In the Jewish diaspora often there is are no one who has a family relationship with these towns. So who really should take care of the Jewish cemetery if not the present inhabitants of the town?"
The Foundation and the researchers are to be congratulated on sponsoring this work, and restating and restarting the discussion about the future care of these cemeteries.
Read more about the cemetery report here, including an English translation of part of the introduction, cross posted from Jewish-Heritage-Europe.eu, January 18, 2014
The Brama Cukerman (Cukerman’s Gate) Foundation in Będzin, Poland, has recently published “Our Cemeteries,” a detailed, 50-page report on the state and status of the dozens of Jewish cemeteries in the Silesia Vojvodship (Province). Congratulations to authors Dariusz Walerjański , Piotr Jakoweńko and Rafał Cebula.
The full report, in Polish, can be viewed HERE
For the English translation of part of the Introduction, click here.