Longtime Jewish cemetery researcher Krzysztof Bielawski has published a major new book on the destruction of Jewish cemeteries in Poland before, during, and after WW2 — up until the present day: the majority of the 280-page book deals with the devastation after WW2..
Focusing on the territory of today’s Poland, the book, Zagłada cmentarzy żydowskich, is the first publication to deal with this subject is such a comprehensive, documented way.
So far it has only been published in Polish, but parts of the section on the destruction of Jewish cemeteries under Nazi rule between 1933 and 1945 (when parts of today’s Poland constituted part of Germany) have been translated into English,
We are privileged to publish excerpts in our “Long(er) Reads)” section.
The book provides detailed description and background information as well as case studies, detailing how the Jewish cemeteries were targeted for wanton violence and were used as quarries, how they were damaged during military action, and how they were damaged by the digging of mass graves for mass executions.
The excerpts are illustrated by photographs from the “Presently Absent” project, which creates temporary installations of transparent matzevot at the sites of destroyed Jewish cemeteries.
“This is a historic book, based on my own experience, research in archives, and other sources,” Krzysztof says. “It includes many quotations from those who destroyed the cemeteries and witnesses of the process.”
Krzysztof is the founder of the Polish Jewish Cemeteries web site — www.cmentarze-zydowskie.pl
Jewish cemeteries became a good starting point to discover the local history. I took photos, wrote essays about the cemeteries and published on my website. From the beginning I realized all these cemeteries have been devastated. I wanted to find out who and how did it.
Fully footnoted, Krzysztof’s research disproves some myths, including that of the mass destruction of Jewish cemeteries during Kristallnacht and that “cemeteries were totally destroyed by Germans.” In fact, he writes, even if a cemetery was devastated by Nazis during the war, it was also destroyed by the local population — and very often by the postwar state. After the fall of communism the situation changed, but, he says, “Jewish cemeteries are still in danger.”