The Brama Cukerman (Cukerman’s Gate) Foundation in Będzin, Poland, has recently published “Our Cemeteries,” a detailed, 50-page report on the state and status of the dozens of Jewish cemeteries in the Silesia Vojvodship (Province). Congratulations to authors Dariusz Walerjański , Piotr Jakoweńko and Rafał Cebula.
The full report, in Polish, can be viewed HERE — below we publish the English translation of part of the Introduction. (We are hoping eventually to publish a translation of the full report.)
From the Introduction to “Our Cemeteries”
At present Jewish cultural heritage in the province of Silesia can be estimated at 65 cemeteries, of which only 42 have been preserved with more than one tombstone. Other cemeteries were destroyed, during or after World War II and converted into parks, car bases or wasteland.
Most of the cemeteries are nowadays closed for the purpose of burial. Only five of them are still open to the needs of the present Jewish community — in Bielsko-Biala, Bytom, Katowice, Sosnowiec and Gliwice. The reason for this is very small number of Jews who lives now in the region. The official Jewish Community is based in Katowice with branches in Bytom and Gliwice, as well as the Jewish Community in Bielsko-Biala. These cities and Czestochowa are the only places in the province of Silesia where any Jewish people live. It’s clear that such a small community can’t provide proper managemant and care taking on such a great number of inactive Jewish cemeteries in the whole Silesia region.
Cemeteries described in the report have different status of ownership – mostly belongs to the Polish State (Skarb Państwa), much less to Jewish Community and very few are owned by the local government as municipal land.
Eight cemeteries in Silesia region belong to the Jewish Community in Katowice:
Katowice, Gliwice ( Poniatowski Street 14 and Na Piasku Street 9), Sosnowiec (Stalowa Street and Pastewna Street), Zawiercie (Daszyńskiego Street), Kromołów (Piaskowa Street) and Pilica .
Five cemeteries in Silesia region belong to the Jewish Community in Bielsko-Biała:
Bielsko-Biała, Cieszyn (old and new), Skoczów and Żywiec .
The rest of Jewish cemeteries in the province of Silesia (aprox. 50 cemeteries) are owned by Polish State (Skarb Państwa) acording to the Decree from March 8, 1946, which nationalized all “abandoned and formerly German property.” It is these cemeteries that are the most devastated. Given this legal status, it should be considered as a false popular claim that “these neglected Jewish cemeteries has no owner” – the actual owner is the Polish State.
In addition to the concept of ownership of Jewish cemeteries in the legal sense, there should also considered the question of the inclusion of these cemeteries in the local cultural heritage and therefore what the responsibility of contemporary local communities for the condition of these cemeteries is.
In local Polish society there are common colloquial opinions, such as, “the cemetery is Jewish so Jews should take care of it.” That kind of “anti-Semitic subtext” does not lead us to the solution of the problem. The contemporary local Jewish community has no financial or technical capacity to take care of all closed cemeteries. In the Jewish diaspora often there is are no one who has a family relationship with these towns. So who really should take care of the Jewish cemetery if not the present inhabitants of the town?
In fact, this problem should be presented clearly: if contemporary Polish society will not became interested in the state of a historic, Jewish cemetery and accept it as a part of local cultural heritage, it will disappear irreversibly.
The assertion “OUR CEMETERIES”, which is the title of this report, should be understood as an appeal to the authorities and local communities of Silesian province to finally recognize the problem of neglected, historic Jewish cemeteries in their towns and recognize them as part of our common cultural heritage which should be protected and preserved. It is also important that “closed Jewish cemeteries” should be treated legaly as historical monuments and be protected as a monuments with appropriate support of local authorities.