New technologies are changing the way we can document Jewish heritage sites — or at least how we can see them in the context of their surroundings.
Photography, archival searches and on-site examination are still extremely important, with digital photography and video and internet sharing and online searchable databases making it immeasurably easier — and much more immediate — to share information.
We have posted links to various searchable databases on this web site and have also posted about various documentation projects and developments.
Beyond the basics, we have also reported about new scientific tools, for example such as how ground-penetrating radar has been used to to search for the graves of tzaddikim on the site of a destroyed Jewish cemetery in Mielec, Poland, and how 3-D scanners can be used to help decipher weathered inscriptions.
Meanwhile, Google Earth can show us aerial photographs of Jewish cemeteries, demonstrating their placement and (allowing for foliage) arrangement of gravestones and monuments.
Going beyond Google Earth — Drone photos and videos can also now be used as part of the cemetery documentation process.
We have recently come across this Drone video of the Bagnowka Jewish cemetery in Białystok, Poland, on a Polish travel web site/blog, called podrozniccy.com.
The cemetery, the only one of Białystok’s pre-war Jewish cemeteries to have survived largely intact, has long been documented in detail, thanks to the heroic efforts of our JHE friend Tomek Wisniewski — his huge bagnowka.com website hosts digital photos, translations of epitaphs, videos and other ditigal resources on the Bagnówka Jewish cemetery as well as scores of other Jewish cemeteries (and other heritage sites) in northeastern Poland. Volunteers with the “Operation Peace Sign” (Aktion Suehnezeichnen) and the Polish-Israel Center for Civic Education (as well as others) have also carried out restoration work there in recent years.
Moreover, the scholar Heidi Szpek has translated the epitaphs found on the 2,000 remaining Białystok gravestones and written about the people buried there. We reported last summer about a new initiative to install signage in the cemetery, bearing Szpek’s translations and other information, coordinated by Lucy Lisowska, president of the Polish-Israel Center for Civic Education and the representative of the Jewish Community of Warsaw, Białystok and Podlasie.
Added to these other resources, we found the drone view extremely effective in showing the extent of the cemetery and its relationship to the rest of the city.
The important Bratislava Statement on good practices in managing Jewish built heritage recognizes documentation as a key part of the ongoing process of caring for and learning from Jewish heritage sites:
All past and present Jewish communal properties, and all Jewish properties and sites deemed to have historic, religious and/or artistic significance, should be documented to the fullest extent possible. […]
Information on Jewish sites is most useful when it is most widely available. Efforts should continue and expand to make documentation available in publicly accessible research centers and through publications and on-line presentation, all the while considering safety, security and privacy concerns. […]