A new video about the restoration of the Bagnowka Jewish cemetery in Białystok, Poland is specific to that ongoing project — but it also is very relevant to many other Jewish cemetery restoration projects planned, wanted, or under way elsewhere.
Posted on vimeo.com, it shows the methods used in cemetery restoration — especially in a cemetery that suffered serious devastation. And it also includes interviews with project leaders, scholars, and volunteers from several countries, about the reasons they got involved and what they hope to accomplish — and why.
The producers of the video and project organizers ask the questions that people who organize, fund, and take part in Jewish cemetery clean-ups and more extensive or detailed restoration efforts must deal with.
Is it possible to “fix” the hate crimes of the past or present? In the city of Bialystok, Poland, volunteers from the United States, Germany, Poland and Israel gather every summer to “right a wrong.” The group is restoring Bialystok’s last surviving Jewish cemetery, desecrated by the Nazis in World War II and later looted by neighbors who used gravestones as building materials. The volunteers know they cannot undo the horrors of the past, but say every toppled stone they stand in the sun again is a step in the right direction.
Click to read Epitaphs: Poignant Connections to a World Now Gone, the JHE Have Your Say essay by Prof. Heidi M. Szpek about the Bagnowka cemetery and her own involvement in the restoration work there.
I still remember my first glimpse of Bagnówka Jewish Cemetery in Białystok and its fraction of the once 35,000 tombstones that marked the graves of its Jewish community from 1892-1969. Vast and unkempt, with gaping holes in its walls; littered with garbage from the adjoining Catholic cemetery; with pathways for dog-walking and hidden fire-pits within its forested acres: this religious institution had been devastated during and after the Holocaust. Yet amidst this disarray, sun and shadows highlighted the inscriptions that remained. Though overlaid with moss and lichen, they beckoned me to translate and discover life’s depiction as found in the language of these stones.