In an effort to broaden interest in Jewish cemeteries and their preservation, Jewish heritage activists in Hungary have published a brightly colored informal booklet — or Zine — about the art and iconography found on Jewish gravestones in the country.
Called “Art of Abandoned Jewish Cemeteries of Hungary,” the publication was the brainchild of Illyés Bence, in collaboration with graphic designer Judit Borsi.
They began the project in the summer of 2021 with the support of the Paiedeia European Institute of Jewish Studies in Stockholm.
Visiting a number of Jewish cemeteries in various parts of Hungary, they selected carvings on individual gravestones that represented 10 common ritual motifs: Levite pitcher, willow tree, lions, broken rose, bird, handshake, candle holder, bird with candlesticks, hands of the Cohen, and crown and mantle.
These were reproduced with a digital program that created drawings that looked like lino- or wood-cuts.
They were then combined on the bright yellow pages with flowing text in hand-written letters that describes both the iconography and other elements, including information about the deceased and the pre-WW2 Jewish community.
There are small maps to locate the cemeteries.
“We created this zine with goals in mind,” states the web site where you can see a preview of the publication.
Our one aim was to present and preserve at least a small part of the very rich cultural and and artistic values that we can find in the Jewish cemeteries of Hungary. Our goal is to introduce the reader to the fascinating and interesting world of symbols of the Jewish cemeteries, and also to preserve the memories of the former rural jewish communities of the country through this zine.
The zine’s aim also [is] to raise attention to the state of Jewish cemeteries in Hungary (and in Eastern-Europe in general). Today in Hungary there are approximately 1600 Jewish cemeteries, most of them, according to some estimates close to 1200 of them, are abandoned, neglected cemeteries. Due to the Holocaust and the extermination of the rural Hungarian Jewry, these cemeteries remained without owner and caretaker, and slowly they are going towards destruction. In many cases, these cemeteries are the only remained built heritage or sight […] left of the once thriving rural, Hungarian jewish communities.
The Zine is available in both Hungarian and English editions, for sale on etsy.