Welcome to the JHE Jewish Cemetery Forum, where we draw together news, information and resources about Jewish cemeteries, as well as information on best-practices on preservation and documentation, and how to ask for advice on projects — through the new European Jewish Cemetery Advisory Network.
The Lo-Tishkach database includes more than 11,000 Jewish cemeteries and mass graves in Europe. They range from tiny isolated plots to vast urban sites with tens of thousands of burials. Particularly in countries and regions where few or no Jews live, most are in neglected or abandoned condition.
Grave markers range from simple slabs to highly decorated stones to elaborate mausolea; epitaphs and inscriptions range from brief notations of name and dates, to elaborate poetry: in Hebrew, Yiddish, and many local languages.
We hope that readers will use this Forum to ask and answer questions, exchange information, network, and deepen involvement and awareness regarding research, work, and study related to Jewish cemeteries and their preservation and maintenance.
This is a new and growing dedicated section of our web site, and we will be adding more and more links, articles, images, and reports. Please let us know if there are specific topics you would like us to address here, or if there is specific material you would like to see.
Click on the links in the sidebar to access a wide range of resources
“A Tribe of Stones”
In a famously evocative passage published in the early 1980s, the Polish poet Anna Kamienska described the power of abandoned Jewish cemeteries. They were, she wrote
… a tribe of stones, a people of stones, an obstinate tribe which is ever marching and ever shouting and calling voicelessly. Against the background of native grasses, trees, nettles and blackberries, exotic Hebrew letters are still talking about those who lived here and passed away. About righteous men, just and charitable, about God-fearing and loving women who toiled for others.
Kamienska’s words describe the importance of Jewish cemeteries as commemorative markers for both individuals and entire communities, and they also speak volumes about the sad state of neglect found in most Jewish cemeteries in Poland — and also in many other countries.
Years after Kaminski wrote her poem, another Polish poet, Ryszard Krynicki, described his own lack of knowledge at what to do when he found a Jewish gravestone that — like so many others — had been uprooted and cast aside, in a prose poem called “Kamien z Nowego Swiat.”
I found this stone behind a yard overgrown with nettles and weeds.[…] I do not ask when and how it appeared here or who committed a barbarian act. I only want to protect it against further destruction. I look for a shelter for it […] I do not know what I am allowed to do and what I am not allowed. I do not even know if I may be a temporary guard of a tombstone. I do not know whom I should ask for advice and I do not know if I make it.
Krynicki’s questions echo questions raised by many other people across Europe in their efforts to help restore, preserve, clean up and protect long-neglected Jewish cemeteries or recover uprooted or abused gravestones.
It is the aim of this Forum to address many of these questions and provide resources to help resolve them.