Jewish Heritage Europe

History, Art, Context: new book on Metropolitan Jewish Cemeteries in Central and Eastern Europe, by Rudolf Klein

Rudolf Klein’s magisterial new book, Metropolitan Jewish Cemeteries, is a richly illustrated, detailed examination of 19th and 20th century Jewish cemeteries in Eastern and Central European cities in all their aspects — funerary art, layout, topography, architecture, the impact of religious streams, and much more, including their destruction during and after WW2.

Its publication comes just in time for the conference on Urban Jewish Heritage, to be held in Krakow September 3-7.

Formally titled Metropolitan Jewish Cemeteries of the 19th and 20th Centuries in Central and Eastern Europe: A Comparative Study, the book, published by Imhof Verlag, is described as:

the first comprehensive work on metropolitan Jewish cemeteries in Central and Eastern Europe on an international level. Based on a comparative analysis of numerous examples, from the Baltic to the Balkans, and from Russia to Germany, it touches upon art history, architecture and planning, landscaping, Jewish studies, and on general and modern Jewish history. An important aspect of this work is the cultural background of Jewish funerary art: Christian-Jewish dialogue, the inter-Jewish influence between different European regions, including the impact of the Reform Movement that started in Germany and spread across the whole continent, and the Ashkenazi-Sephardi dialogue in some parts of the old continent.
It is also the first work which touches upon the entirety of issues related to Jewish burial places of the 19th and 20th centuries: urban level, morphology of cemeteries, gravestone typology, stylistic analysis, symbols and inscriptions – language, content, typography – tahara and ceremonial halls, wells, benches, pergolas, row-and section-markers and gravel holders.
Rudolf Klein photographing the historic Jewish cemetery in Hamburg-Altona (which is not however in the book).

“Unlike many other studies that concentrate mainly on the gravestones, this book intends to look at the entirety of the cemetery, starting with its ‘urban’ and gardening aspects, morphology, and general image, touching upon the social sphere, discussing all types of segregation — gender, religious, and financial — as a mirror of the structure and hierarchy of Jewish communities in the disapora,” writes Klein in his Introduction. 

“[…] Metropolitan Jewish cemeteries go beyond the fences of a minority; they portray a larger picture of modern societies, including interfaith relationship, general artistic and historic significance, thus testifying to the fruitful coexistence and cultural cross-fertilization of European culture and the Jewish heritage from the Gründerzeit to the Holocaust,” he writes.

Klein, a professor of modern architectural history at Szent Istvan University in Budapest, has researched and written widely on synagogue architecture and other aspects related to Jewish built heritage. His massive book Synagogues in Hungary 1782-1918 has recently been published in an English language edition.

Tomb designed by Bela Lajta in the Salgotarjani utca Jewish cemetery in Budapest

Metropolitan Jewish Cemeteries is divided into two sections.

The first includes 19 chapters devoted to general topics and issues: from the history of Jewish urban cemeteries in Europe, to specific topics regarding how they look, were arranged, and were used.

The second section includes a general overview of cemeteries that Klein researched, as well as comparative case studies on 21 urban cemeteries in the cities of Belgrade, Berlin, Bratislava, Bucharest, Budapest, Krakow, Lodz, Prague, St . Petersburg, Sarajevo, Sofia, Vienna, Vilnius, Warsaw, Wroclaw, and Zagreb.

The 451-page book is richly illustrated with hundreds of photographs, most taken by Klein himself, and enhanced by maps, charts, and other images. There is also a detailed glossary of terms.

The concluding chapter summarizes the data and analyzes challenges and possibilities in maintaining and preserving metropolitan Jewish cemeteries, as well as their use as both religious sites and for education and tourism. 

The destroyed Uzupis Jewish cemetery in Vilnius, showing part of the memorial there

Table of Contents, PART ONE – Aspects of 19th and 20th Century Jewish Funerary Art –

  • Introduction
  • A Short History of Jewish Cemeteries before the Emancipation
  • Short History of Metorpolitan Jewish Cemeteries in Europe
  • Gentile Influence on Metropolitan Jewish Cemeteries
  • The Impact of Jewish Religious Reform on Cemeteries
  • Topography, Layout and Urban Context, Extensions, Layout Changes, Relocations, and the Orientation of Gravestones
  • Segregation Inside the Cemetery – Gender, Religious, Social – and Its Morphological Consequences
  • Morphology of Cemeteries – Paths, Edges, Nodes, Districts and Landmarks, Grouping of Tombs
  • Gates, Fences, Edifices (Entrance Buildings, Ceremonial Halls and Tahara Houses, and Common Facilities), and Other Space-Modulating Elements – Pergolas, Balusters, Stairs, and Changes of the Ground Level
  • Collective Monuments and Memorials
  • Genizot, Buried Torah Scrolls, Benches, Wells, Storages Among Gravestones, Gravel Holders, Row Indicators, Temporary Markers
  • Shape and Material of the Gravestones – Basic Formal Typology Unfolding Over Time
  • Stylistic Considerations ; Symbols and Other Representations
  • Inscription of Names
  • Eulogies (Family Grief, Social Contribution, Accomplishment), Visual References to Social Achievement
  • Typography (Hebrew; Roman, Gothic, or Cyrillic Letters (Versal, Italic, Serif, or Sans Serif; Initials and Decorations), Inscriptions Carved or in Relief
  • Vegetation – Form, Transparency, Dialogue, Spontaneity
  • Destructions at European Metropolitan Jewish Cemeteries.
Lodz, Poland — gravestone showing broken candles and a charity box
Mausoleum of the Schmidl family, Kozma utca Jewish cemetery, Budapest
Detail of tomb of Ber Sonnenberg, 1822. Okopowa Jewish cemetery, Warsaw


2 comments on “History, Art, Context: new book on Metropolitan Jewish Cemeteries in Central and Eastern Europe, by Rudolf Klein

    • In our article, you can click a link to the publisher and get it there, or at the moment there is at least one copy available on

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