Documentation & new technology… the Jewish cemetery in Białystok, by drone…


General view of Bialystok Bagnówka cemeterty. Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber

General view of Bialystok Bagnówka cemeterty. Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber

New technologies are changing the way we can document Jewish heritage sites — or at least how we can see them in the context of their surroundings.

Photography, archival searches and on-site examination are still extremely important,  with digital photography and video and internet sharing and online searchable databases making it immeasurably easier — and much more immediate — to share information.

We have posted links to various searchable databases on this web site and have also posted about various documentation projects and developments.

Beyond the basics,  we have also reported about new scientific tools, for example such as how ground-penetrating radar has been used to to search for the graves of tzaddikim on the site of a destroyed Jewish cemetery in Mielec, Poland, and how 3-D scanners can be used to help decipher weathered inscriptions

Meanwhile, Google Earth can show us aerial photographs of Jewish cemeteries, demonstrating their placement and (allowing for foliage) arrangement of gravestones and monuments.

Going beyond Google Earth — Drone photos and videos can also now be used as part of the cemetery documentation process.

We have recently come across this Drone video of the Bagnowka Jewish cemetery in Białystok, Poland, on a Polish travel web site/blog, called

Screen shot from drone video

Screen shot from drone video

The cemetery, the only one of Białystok’s pre-war Jewish cemeteries to have survived largely intact, has long been documented in detail, thanks to the heroic efforts of our JHE friend Tomek Wisniewski — his huge website hosts digital photos, translations of epitaphs, videos and other ditigal resources on the Bagnówka Jewish cemetery as well as scores of other Jewish cemeteries (and other heritage sites) in northeastern Poland.  Volunteers with the “Operation Peace Sign” (Aktion Suehnezeichnen) and the Polish-Israel Center for Civic Education (as well as others) have also carried out restoration work there in recent years.

Moreover, the scholar Heidi Szpek has translated the epitaphs found on the 2,000 remaining Białystok gravestones and written about the people buried there. We reported last summer about a new initiative to install signage in the cemetery, bearing Szpek’s translations and other information, coordinated by Lucy Lisowska, president of the Polish-Israel Center for Civic Education  and the representative of the Jewish Community of Warsaw, Białystok and Podlasie.

Added to these other resources, we found the drone view  extremely effective in showing the extent of the cemetery and its relationship to the rest of the city.

The important Bratislava Statement on good practices in managing Jewish built heritage recognizes documentation as a key part of the ongoing process of caring for and learning from Jewish heritage sites:

All past and present Jewish communal properties, and all Jewish properties and sites deemed to have historic, religious and/or artistic significance, should be documented to the fullest extent possible. […]

Information on Jewish sites is most useful when it is most widely available. Efforts should continue and expand to make documentation available in publicly accessible research centers and through publications and on-line presentation, all the while considering safety, security and privacy concerns. […] 



8 thoughts on “Documentation & new technology… the Jewish cemetery in Białystok, by drone…

  1. Pingback: Genealogy Round-Up March 14th-20th | Copper Leaf Genealogy

  2. I am looking for the cemetry in Augustow in Bialistock region.
    My mother’s family Glickstien and Scabelscaya
    Where can I find details,pictures etc.

  3. Aerial photography in archaeology has long been prized – especially in dry months – when changes in sub-surface density, minerals, etc. – often the result of former holes, ditches, graves, walls, etc. – are often visible through different coloration or vegetation density. Especially when no good maps exist for the earlier cemetery boundaries, and also when there is uncertainty whether certain areas within designated cemeteries were ever used for burial, drone photography may be another tool to use. Of course beyond simple video there are many more sophisticated infrared, sonar and other applications that can enhance this type of documentation.

  4. “Moreover, the scholar Heidi Szpek has translated the epitaphs found on the 2,000 remaining Białystok gravestones and written about the people buried there.”

    Is there a place online to view the translated epitaphs? Search by name? Read the stories?

    THANK YOU for the article – and look forward to learning more about accessing this incredible information.

    • We have posted links to some of Prof. Szpek’s articles. Check the publication pages and also search the web site, or see the bagnowka and other web sites

  5. In addition to those people mentioned above, I would like to add the name of Lucy Lisowska. Lucy lives in Bialystok and is the official representative of the Jewish Community of Warsaw in Bialystok. She has worked tirelessly over the last 15-20 years to preserve the memory of Jewish Bialystok. Working with Heidi Szpek, the Jewish Community, the City government, 3rd party NGOs, schools, and Jewish diaspora groups, Lucy has cleaned up, preserved, maintained, and documented this last Jewish Cemetery in Bialystok with extant matzevot. There are probably about 2,000 remaining matzevot out of an estimated 40 or 50 thousand burials in the Cemetery from 1892 through the 1960s.

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