Poland: New Jewish Cemetery Monument at Police School in Pila to be Unveiled June 2, 2015
by Samuel D. Gruber
(n.b. some information is adapted from a text in Polish by Anna Fons)
(ISJM) Summer is the time for new monuments in Central and Eastern Europe. I recently reported on the vandalism of new Jewish cemetery monument in Poland. Here is a new monument which will soon be unveiled next week. It is doubtful it will be harmed - as it is on the grounds of the Pila Police School.
Next week a new monument will be unveiled on the site of the Jewish cemetery in Pila (near Poznan), Poland, which is now occupied by the local Police School. The school occupies part (or all?) the Jewish cemetery which was probably founded in the early 17th century and was completely devastated by the Nazis in 1939. It subsequently used as a park, and then as the site for a kindergarten and the gymnasium of the Police School. All visible components of the cemetery, with the exception of a fragment of brick cemetery wall (in the courtyard of the house at ul. Konopnickiej 5 and Wiązów alley) were removed by the end of World War II and by the 1970s and 80s structures had been erected on the site. Basketball courts and a parking lot were also on the area. Presumably, however, many of the burials remain intact and undisturbed, and this remains a cemetery despite its subsequent use and present appearance.
Art Nouveau metalwork at Jewish cemetery of Schneidemühl (Pila) before its destruction in 1939. Photo from Shetlinks.
More photos of the cemetery before its destruction courtesy of M. Cohen can be seen here.
Before 1945 Pila, was Schneidemühl, Germany and was home to a Jewish community from the 17th century. Until now, there have been no visible remains of that community or markers commemorating their passing. Peter Cullman has documented the history and fate of the town's jews in his book History of the Jewish Community of Schneidemühl: 1641 to the Holocaust. A burial register of the community, based on a booklet by Martin Rosenberg, head of Schneidemühl's Chevra Kadisha and safely taken to Chile in 1940, can be found at the Leo Baeck Institute, NY. No doubt, the remains of many of the individuals listed in the register are still buried beneath the school grounds.
One can also read about the community on the page of the International Jewish Cemetery Project, which includes information form the first site survey in 1991 by the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad, when the site of the cemetery was identified.
Before new work began to remake and expand the sports facilities, Poland's Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich and Alicja Kobus, Vice-President of the Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Poland and the President of the Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Poznan Branch, visited the school and met with officials. Following additional consultation with the Committee of Protection of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe, the Pilska Police Academy eventually received approval to carry out their planned expansion but with provisions to protect and commemorate the cemetery.
A new granite monument shaped like the Star of David has been installed on the school premises (reached from the Konopnickiej street) has been inaugurated. It was designed by Professor Janusz Marciniak from the University of Arts in Poznan, working with Eng. Arch. Eugene Skrzypczak from the same university. Marciniak said "I tried to make the monument simple and minimalist in form, and at the same time full of content. The granite's color is reminiscent of human ashes. The disc was mounted on a steel frame to create the impression that the star floats above the ground. The monument is an open book, which invites you to read. The top of the star was slightly raised - according to tradition - facing east (towards Jerusalem). On its smooth surface, like a mirror, is reflected the sky and trees. Under the star is a concrete replica of its shadow. This is the basis of the monument and at the same time symbolic seal the memory of the people buried in this place and to emphasize the permanence of this memory."
On the monument is an inscription telling the religious and historical character of the site with the message "As we remember, that will be remembered." Sponsors of the monument are the Police School in Pila and the Pila City Council.
There was once another Jewish monument in Pila. According to Peter Cullman,"an impressive monument, dedicated to the Russian-Jewish soldiers of the First World War, was erected in the post-war years by the Jewish community of Schneidemühl. Alas, as early as 1934, in an orgy of anti-Semitic hatred, Schneidemühl’s own Nazis saw to its destruction." Apparently the monument was built (according to the International Jewish Cemetery Project) "with massive, rectangular columns crowned by a Magen David. Most gravestones were identical, displaying a Magen David. The gravestones from this cemetery were used to shore up the river banks. Only three gravestones remained including two restored in the 1990s, but later destroyed by local vandals. The place where the monument stood is still clearly visible."
The unveiling of the monument is scheduled for June 2, 2015 (next Tuesday) at. 10.00 a.m. The ceremony will begin in the auditorium of the School Police with a lecture by Prof. Marysia Galbraith of the University of Alabama. Then, at about 10.30 the participants will head to the monument for the unveiling of the monument, with the (usual) speeches, and a recitation of Kaddish. The ceremony will be attended by representatives of various religious groups, institutions, organizations, uniformed services and county authorities and municipalities, the media and citizens.
For further information contact the Section Head of School Executive Deputy Inspector of Police in Pila. Dorothy Witkowska, Tel. 67 352 21 60, tel. Kom. 695 820 161, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org