Thursday, 5 November 2015

New Jewish Cemetery

Many people visit Kazimierz but only trudge to the obvious, well frequented areas. Places such as the New Jewish Cemetery are therefore sadly ignored. However, it is actually a very interesting and poignant reminder of the life that once flourished here and how it was cruelly snuffed out. History is still here, in the raw for the intrepid visitor to seek out.

Its name is actually a misnomer as it is distinctly not new! This enormous cemetery was established in 1800 and was the burial ground for many of Kraków's distinguished Jews in the 19th and early 20th centuries. It was built on land bought from Augustinian monks and is now accessed by crossing ul. Starowiślna at the end of ul. Miodowa, and walking under the archway underneath the main Kraków/Tarnów railway line. The road bends round to the left and you will see the cemetery wall and red brick pre-burial hall in front of you. Just before the pre-burial hall is the main entrance. Men, please make sure you cover your head. There is usually a small table with skull caps and a donation box when you enter.

The pre-burial hall is in a very sad, graffiti covered state at present, but hearteningly it is about to undergo renovation. Ahead you will be faced with a wall of gravestones inscribed in Hebrew lettering: some clearly very old, others distinctly new and shiny! Candles and flowers show that many people still come here to pay their respects.

Immediately on your right is a large memorial dedicated to the victims of the Holocaust. It is reads to "The memory of murdered Jews, victims of Nazi genocide 1939-45". The plaques on it commemorate individuals and whole families that perished. There are also pieces of nineteenth century tombstones with Hebrew inscriptions embedded into the monument.

Holocaust Monument 
Beyond this, is a lengthy mosaic on the inside of the cemetery wall of broken up gravestones. Sporadically along this wall are plaques inserted here by survivors dedicated to Jews killed in the death camps. I defy anyone not to be very moved when reading these!

The cemetery itself is very overcrowded which is typical of Jewish cemeteries across Europe. Indeed here, it became so crowded they even had to put graves onto the walkways between the rows of tombs!

Graves in the paths between tombs!
Towards the bottom right hand end of the cemetery, the graves become altogether more broken up and wrecked. This area conveys a sinister air as it is here that the German Nazis destroyed the tombstones, broke them up, including smashing ceremonial objects, opened up graves and scattered the bones. Despite an attempt to tidy up this devastation in 1957, the mess still remains to this day. It is evidence of Nazi anti-Semitism for all to witness. The ground is still covered in broken up tombs, smashed urns, glass and rubble.
Smashed up graves - the work of the Nazis
Many of the tombstones in the cemetery are now actually no more than memorials to entire families that were killed in the Holocaust, which now lie in overgrown clusters. There are a number of notable people who are commemorated or buried here which are very well documented in the small guidebook entitled "Jewish Krakow" by Eugeniusz Duda. It is sad that rebirth of Kazimierz has not yet spread to the New Cemetery, but I do recommend a visit here.
For more on Kazimierz, click on the link to the Kazimierz Page at the top of this blog.

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