The World War I Austro-Hungarian military cemetery in Štanjel, Slovenia is a haunting sight, noted — in our context — for its two Jewish gravestones in what is today a vast empty field.
JHE’s Ruth Ellen Gruber first visited in 1996, when she carried out a documentation of Jewish heritage sites in Slovenia for the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad. She returned this month for an update.
Located beneath the hilltop village near the railway tracks, the cemetery was once extremely grand, with a broad central alley leading from imposing gates up to a massive monument in the style of a Greek temple, which bears the Latin inscription, “Filiis optimis – patria grata” (“To its finest sons, the Homeland gives thanks”).
Row after row of gravestones/crosses originally stood either side of this.
The cemetery was designed by a military architect, Oberleutnant Joseph Ulrich, and is believed to have been built by Russian prisoners of war.
Most (if not many) of those approximately 1,000 soldiers interred here died at the nearby military hospital at Štanjel’s castle (or its subsidiaries), to which they were brought along the railway line. Most were Austro-Hungarian soldiers or Russian prisoners of war, but there were also Italian soldiers.
In the 1930s, the Fascist Italian government disinterred Italian soldiers from many military cemeteries in the area, including at Štanjel, and brought them for reburial in huge ossuaries, which hold the remains of thousands or (like that at Redipuglia) tens of thousands of soldiers. According to information provided on a panel at the cemetery, Austrian sources counted 993 soldiers buried there; the Italians in the 1930s counted 1,315 all told.
According to Slovenian sources, the crosses that marked almost all of the soldiers’ grave were wooden, and apparently disintegrated over time. This, along with the Italian disinterments, left the field empty.
All that survives today are the massive Art Deco stone pillars of the gates, dated 1915 and 1917; the huge Greek temple-style monument; and a few scattered grave markers.
Among the markers two Jewish gravestones near the gates stand out: those of the Hungarian officer Dezső Steiner, died August 18, 1917, and Solomon Gerschow Fomin, a Russian, believed to have been a prisoner of war, died May 13, 1918.
Each is marked with a Star of David. (Interestingly, Steiner’s brief epitaph is in Italian and Fomin’s is in German.)
Ruth place pebbles on each….
She noted some changes at the site since her first visit.
Back in 1996, the field was almost totally empty, and there was no signage.
Now, some scattered stone crosses have been positioned on the site (see top picture).
There is also now a light fence, and an information panel in several languages, and with a QR code, provides background. It was installed by the Hungarian Defense Ministry in 2015.