Between the 23rd and 24th of October, 30 participants, involved in the protection and care of Jewish cemeteries, came together for the ESJF’s EU Masterclass to intensively discuss and exchange their experiences and knowledge on the topic of Jewish cemeteries in Poland.
As a result of the Holocaust, most of the 1,500 existing cemeteries in Poland are in a critical need of immediate preservation and commemoration. In many places, they remain the only materially preserved monument to the Jewish communities that lived on Polish soil for more than 1,000 years.
Thanks to funding from the European Commission, the ESJF and the “Grodzka Gate – NN Theatre” Centre, invited Lublin based people who are actively involved in caring for Jewish cemeteries in Poland. This included Jewish heritage activists such as representatives from the Matzevah Foundation, the Markuszów Municipality and the Lubartów Municipality, the Zapomniane Foundation, and ESJF’s consortium partner – Centropa. The event was also joined by representatives of Jewish organisations (Jewish Community in Warsaw, Rabbinical Commission for Jewish Cemeteries in Poland, Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland).
Welcoming words were delivered at the event opening by the Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany, Thomas Bagger. During his speech, the Ambassador emphasised the importance of the preservation of Jewish heritage in Poland and Europe, which the Federal Republic of Germany has been supporting for many years.
On the first day of the event, a seminar took place in the historic „Grodzka Gate-Theatre NN”. For centuries, the Grodzka Gate was also known as the Jewish Gate, as it was the passage between the Old Town and the Jewish quarter. Several other important speeches took place in the first part of the masterclass:
• Professor Małgorzata Bednarek provided an overview on the legal situation of Jewish cemeteries in Poland. During her lecture, she described the main legal norms, implemented in the post-war period, which led to the complicated ownership situation of Jewish cemeteries. After the lecture, an important discussion on the new government project on the regulation of the status of Polish cemeteries ensued. Finally, Professor Bednarek briefly presented her new publication on the problems of cemeteries in the light of administrative law
• During his presentation, Krzysztof Bielawski took a closer look at a little-known and researched aspect of Jewish burials in Poland – ghetto cemeteries, from the World War II period. Bielawski’s presentation is part of his PhD dissertation being currently prepared.
• Professor Monika Adamczyk-Garbowska focused on literary representations of Jewish cemeteries. During her presentation, she showed how the topic of Jewish cemeteries was presented in pre- and post-war literature.
• Dr Teresa Klimowicz took the masterclass participants on a journey into the past, telling us about the Jewish community of Lublin. Dr Klimowicz showed us the moving exhibition of the „Grodzka Gate- Theatre NN”, which in various ways commemorates the life and extermination of the 43,000 community of Lublin’s Jews.
On the second day, those attending met at the Ilan Hotel. The Ilan Hotel is located in the historic building of Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin, a pre-war yeshiva founded by Rabbi Majer Shapiro.
• At the beginning of the day, Chief Rabbi of Poland, Michael Schudrich gave a lecture on the religious norms of Jewish law which condition the functioning of Jewish cemeteries in Poland.
• During a panel discussion, attended by Rabbi Michael Schudrich, Piotr Puchta (FODZ), Dariusz Kopciowski (Provincial Monument Conservator), Agnieszka Nieradko and Filip Sczepański (Rabbinical Commission for Jewish Cemeteries) and Witold Wrzosinski (Jewish Religious Community in Warsaw), the panellists discussed, thanks to the moderation of Monika Tarajko, current challenges in the care of Jewish cemeteries in Poland.
• Maciej Rymkiewicz (National Heritage Institute) presented the framework of a national programme to identify and mark Jewish cemeteries in Poland.
• Dr Teresa Klimowicz and Dr Kamila Dąbrowska led a workshop and discussion on the needs and challenges facing the protection and commemoration of Jewish cemeteries in Poland. The discussion focused on the creation of a Regional Cemetery Association in the Lubelszczyzna region. The course of the discussion and its conclusions will be written down and sent to the discussants.
• The final event of the seminar was a guided tour of the oldest Jewish necropolis in Lublin. The oldest tombstone identified in the cemetery belongs to Jakub Kopelman, a Talmudist who died in 1541. Professor Andrzej Trzciński, who has been researching the cemetery for many years, described in a fascinating way the history of the cemetery and familiarised us with the biographies of the people buried there (including Salomon ben Jechiel Luria, Yaakov Yitzhak ha-Levi Horowitz).
Seminar participants stressed the need for regular seminars aimed at community people actively being involved in protecting the Jewish heritage in Poland. Indeed, expert seminars are an opportunity to broaden knowledge as well as to exchange experiences and find solutions together. Seminars of this kind have a reinforcing effect, creating a sense of collective action in favour of the same values.
Among the needs, there were suggestions for a seminar on conservation issues, as well as seminars to strengthen grant-writing skills. The need of organising such seminars in other parts of Poland was also underlined.
The project was carried out as part of ESJF’s collaboration with „Grodzka Gate-Theatre NN” Center. Special thanks are due to Dr. Teresa Klimowicz and Monika Tarajko, who have been working intensively for many years for the preservation and protection of Jewish cemeteries.
It was planned and organised by Dr Kamila Dąbrowska from ESJF within the framework of the EU grant “Preserving Jewish Cemeteries”, which is implemented in a consortium with Centropa and the Foundation for Jewish Heritage.
Photo credits: Monika Tarajko