Recycling Millstone(s) and a New Type of Lapidarium at the Seduva (Lithuania) Jewish Cemetery
by Samuel D. Gruber
I mentioned the use of concrete matzevot in a recent post and that is representative of the wide range of materials Jews used - by choice of necessity - to mark graves. Surveys of Jewish cemeteries have grave markers of wood, boulders and field stone, red. blue, brown and white sandstones, all sorts of limestone, slates, granites, and marbles, and in the case of Šeduva, Lithuania and a few other places, the recycling of old mill stones.
Šeduva is in an agricultural breadbasket area and there were once many windmills where flour was ground, and Jews often owned and operated these mills. Millstones are made of especially hard material, and when their milling life was over, there were often re-purposed to serve a gravestones in a cemetery where field stones and small boulder were also employed to mark graves. I don't know if the stones were used by families associated with the mills, or were just any another type of available stone. A few examples can be seen here.
The restoration of the Jewish cemetery in Šeduva , about 175 kms north of Vilnius, is one of the best such projects I've ever seen, and I will be writing a more substantial review of the project and sites. for now, you can read this article by Evaldas Balčiūnas about the dedication on October 9, 2015. The cemetery restoration is part of an expansive effort by the privately funded Šeduva Jewish Memorial Fund, that also includes the protection and proper presentation of three mass graves sites. There are plans for a small museum on a plot of land across from the cemetery.
As part of the restoration, the team confronted the difficult decision of how to treat the many matzevot which were scattered on the site. After mapping and photographing, several solutions were adopted. Those stones that still stood - at whatever angle - were protected but not straightened. Those that had fallen were cleaned and conserved, and set upright as close to their original position as could be ascertained. But there were hundreds of small fragments of gravestones - what to do with these?
A new and wonderful solution was devised. Instead of cementing them to the perimeter wall as has been done elsewhere, or boxing them and burying them in storage, the restorers created a new type of open air genizah or lapidarium that serves to protect and present the stones, but also to make a new monument to all those buried which the stones once commemorated as well as all those dead who were deprived proper burial.
A steel frame - much like a Richard Serra sculpture - creates a large six-pointed star-shaped basin, into which the fragments have been carefully laid. I'm sure water drainage has been considered, and because the site is open and devoid of trees, there is no danger of the memorial filling with vegetation. Still, this constructed element of the site will have to managed, just like the rest of the cemetery grounds.
This isn't construction ruble, but the rubble of a destroyed civilization that has been lovingly collected and returned with respect to sacred ground. This may be a one-of-a-kind solution, but it encourages us that even in the most traditional of activities - preparing a cemetery - creativity and innovation can still be applied to make a meaningful and aesthetically inspired solution.