A visitor’s center housing a permanent exhibition on Jewish funeral traditions has opened at the Bródno Jewish cemetery in Warsaw’s Praga district.
The opening February 6 of the Bet Almin – House of Eternity represented a major step in the reclamation and restoration of the cemetery, which was devastated during and after World War II. Many of its thousands of gravestones were removed and used for construction.
The exhibition consists of two parts. One presents the concepts of death and burial in Jewish tradition, religion and culture. The other focuses on the history of the cemetery itself. Founded in 1780 (though burials are believed to have taken place there earlier), it is the oldest surviving Jewish cemetery in Warsaw and the largest in terms of the number of burials — some 320,000 are believed to be interred there. It occupies 14 hectares.
The Nissenbaum Family Foundation had fenced the cemetery, erected a monumental gate and began some restoration work in the 1980s, but this was not completed at the time, and the cemetery was not secured. Thousands of uprooted gravestones were piled in heaps around the site.
Ownership of the cemetery was returned to the Warsaw Jewish community in 2012, and since 2014 the Community has carried out extensive restoration work, allocating about $1 million for the project. This has included completion of the fence and renovation of the main gate, as well as preparation of the House of Eternity and its exhibition.
At the same time, hundreds of matzevot and fragments that had been used to build a pergola and stairs in a park in the city’s Praga district were returned to the cemetery.
A description on the Warsaw Jewish Community web site said the the new exhibit presents the role of the cemetery in Jewish world, describes types of tombstones, and explains the inscriptions and symbolism of carved decoration, as well as the ritual of burial and Shivah.
“I am convinced that it will interest those who are not familiar with this topic, as well as experts on the subject,” Anna Chipczyńska, the president of the Warsaw Jewish Community said in the web site report. “I hope that Bródno Jewish Cemetery will become an important place on the map of Jewish Warsaw.”
The Exhibition concept was devised by Natalia Romik, Sebastian Kucharuk, Piotr Jakoweńko. The architectural design of the exhibition was by Sebastian Kucharuk and graphic design by Piotr Jakoweńko. Curators were Agata Korba, Remigiusz Sosnowski, Andrzej Jankowski.