Kraków (PL): New Jewish Cemetery

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Being in Kraków to participate in a conference I had some spare time to visit local cemeteries. I was curious about the Jewish Cemetery. I have visited quite some Jewish cemeteries in Europe and they are always confronting places, that are sadly very often about the past. A past that came to a final end in the early 1940s. Most of these cemeteries have prominent Auschwitz/Holocaust memorials to testify the near destruction of Jewish life in Europe. Entering this cemetery ‘destruction’ was probably the first thing that came to mind. The Holocaust memorial is constructed of broken tombstones, retrieved and recovered from the area after WWII. These broken pieces are numerous and can be found all over the grounds and on the surrounding walls. The keeper of the cemetery told that tombstones were recovered from roads and buildings, as the valuable stonework was actually sold to masons and was widely used as construction material. With the official restoration of the cemetery in 1957 they were returned to the cemetery. In 1999 the graveyard and the 1903 Mortuary building got an official monument status and are now part of the ongoing plan to revitalize the Jewish history of the former Jewish quarter Kazimierz. The district has become a major tourist draw and a pilgrimage site for Jews, which has led to the return of contemporary Jewish culture in the area.

The ‘new’ Jewish cemetery in Kraków originates from the early 19th century and is one of the two surviving Jewish cemeteries in the city.  Two more burial grounds that were used by the local community after this one got full (around 1932) ironically became part of the Plaszów concentration camp that was built in 1942 (The film Schindler’s List shows the entrance road to the camp paved with Jewish gravestones).

I was probably most intrigued by the relatively new graves – as I am quite interested in the lively aspects of cemeteries and the ongoing bonds between the dead and the living. Recent graves were placed on what once was a path, and are therefore placed in a row behind each other. I saw a mix of Jewish and Polish traditions (flowers and grave candles). I heard that during the annual memorial days for the dead (Catholic, AllSaints/AllSouls, 1&2 November) candles are also burnt on this Jewish cemetery.

Photos were taken by Claudia Venhorst, May 5 2017.

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