Bet Almin – House of Eternity, the visitor’s center and permanent exhibition on Jewish funeral traditions and cemetery history at the Bródno Jewish cemetery in Warsaw’s Praga district provides a powerful introduction to a visit to the cemetery.
We wrote about it (from afar) after it opened in February and were impressed after a recent visit. The center marks a major step in the reclamation and restoration of the cemetery, which had been damaged in WWI and was already neglected by the 1930s, but was devastated during and after World War II, with its gravestones uprooted and used as building material.
It also adds a well-designed, informative, and easily visited Jewish heritage site as an attraction for visitors to the city.
The exhibition uses text, photos, maps, and other images to present the concepts of death and burial in Jewish tradition, religion and culture.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, and Andrzej Jankowski. All the material is presented in both Polish and English.
Besides Jewish funerary traditions, the exhibit also focuses on the history of the cemetery itself: founded in 1780, Bródno is the oldest surviving Jewish cemetery in Warsaw and the largest in terms of the number of burials — more than 250,000 are believed to be interred there. It occupies more than 12 hectares. (Click HERE to read a history of the cemetery, on the Virtual Shtetl web site.)
Many of the gravestones were removed and used for construction, and most of the vast area is now bare fields or covered by new wooded areas, though a few stones have been re-erected in random positions.
But many thousands of uprooted gravestones still lie piled up in huge heaps at the far end of the cemetery grounds — an eerie, desolate, and powerfully moving sight. A mausoleum memorial begun in the 1980s but never finished, made of gravestones and fragments, stands in their midst.
The stones have lain there for decades: we saw one case where a tree has begun to grow around and engulf a stone leaning against it.
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 — which had been installed by the Nissenbaum Foundation in the 1980s — 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. Many of these fragments have been secured in wire frames.
Only a few hundred stones have been documented and their information uploaded into the digital database run by the Foundation for the Documentation of Jewish Cemeteries in Poland.
One stone that has been found in the cemetery is that of an American, Nat Litinger, who died in Warsaw on September 1, 1932, while on a visit to family members.
The address of the cemetery is:
15 św. Wincentego Street, 03-505 Warsaw
Tel: (+48) 22 678 74 53, (+48) 505 796 886
Find further visitor information HERE.