Poland was once home to the largest community in Europe. More than 1,000 Jewish cemeteries, most of which are overgrown or in ruins, remain. However, not all of them contain tombstones. The Jewish cemetery in Bodzentyn was established in the latter half of the ninetieth century and is located on a hillside called Góra Miejska. Find the location on Google Maps
Repairing the world...
The Jewish cemetery of Bodzentyn was projected to restoration in 2008—2009. This event was preceded by local projects aiming to involve people clearing bushes and weed, for example, on the initiatives of the Roman Catholic priest Father Leszek Sikorski in 2005/2006 and the chairman of the cultural association Odnowica Krystyna Nowakowska in 2007.
A joint project
Since 1997 when Max Safir (Shimon Manes Szafir) of Sweden, born in Bodzentyn, visited Poland for the first time after the war, he looked for ways to restore the Jewish cemetery. In 2008, at last, it became possible for him to cooperate with others who had begun to put the Jewish cemetery in order.
Several men and women in different parts of the world related to the former Jewish Community of Bodzentyn contributed to the funds raised in co-operation with the Editor. The project also received funds from churches, associations, one school and one municipality and many private donors in Sweden.
Supporting Max Safir, the Swedish Committee Against Antisemitism (SCAA), headed by the current CEO Lena Jersenius, helped fund-raising and transferred the money to the Dawid Rubinoiwcz Society founded in 2009, headed by Jan Pałysiewicz at the time of the restoration. The SCAA also gave the list of donors to the municipality at the end of the project.
The video shows part of the events that took place during the Dawid Rubinowicz Days II in 2009, organized by Towarzystwo Dawida Rubinowicza (the David Rubinowicz Society), the Odnowica, the Communal Office of Bodzentyn, the Jan Karski Society, and Towarzystwo Przyjaciół Bodzentyna (Friends of Bodzentyn Society).
Bogdan Białek, Editor-in-Chief of the publishing house Charaktery and president of the Jan Karski Society, had heard about the local initiatives to clear the grounds and got involved in restoring the Jewish cemetery in 2008. Throughout the project, he consulted the work with Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich so that it would be following Jewish law (you may not, for example, uproot the roots of the ground at a cemetery so that the bones of the diseased will be disturbed as will their souls in heaven, however, is allowed to clear bushes, trees and weeds from the surface).
Rededication of the cemetery
In co-operation with the Dawid Rubinowicz Society, Bogdan Białek organized the celebrations connected with the rededication of the cemetery and made arrangements with the renowned ceramist artist Marek Cecuła and paid him for the work on the design—a beautiful gate as a symbolic memory of the victims of the Holocaust.
"The design of the gate and its appearance have quite open space for interpretation," Cecuła says. "Many people will probably see in this gate many different things; this part is important and central to this design. The language chosen for this design is an expression through simplicity; the concept of the gate with the symbolism is expressed only through the physical structure and construction of the gates. The notion of confinement and freedom, boundaries and openness are represented in the breakdown of the iron grid. The gate's top has the most expression and represents all we associate with spirit, freedom and liberation. This is the transformation of the iron gate which transforms its purpose to become the poetry of spirit."
"It is really not about buildings, monuments everywhere. Our soil, our nation, many of our nation’s sons and daughters deserve to be immortalized in stone and metal. What matters is stopping the memories from dying, for this is the sole thing that we can still do," Bogdan Białek says.
People descended from the Bodzentyn Jewish community who currently live in Canada, the US, France, and Israel were informed about the restoration. Some were also present at the solemn opening ceremony on August 26, 2009. At the rededication of the cemetery – led by the Chief Rabbi of Poland Michael Schudrich – Max Safir read a ceremonial prayer, kaddish, in the memory of his family.
In 1983, as part of the nationwide action of tidying up Jewish cemeteries connected with the 40th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the Bodzentyn Municipal Office ordered the clearing of bushes and setting up an information board. Marek Kos, one of the people that volunteered to clean the grounds of the Jewish cemetery over the years, shows an old sign that states the cemetery was founded in 1867 and that the site is protected.Religious buildings
Browse the list of tombstones in the Jewish cemetery in Bodzentyn. (In the list you will find photos and identified first names. Only a few family names have been identified: Appelbaum, Berkowicz, Birenbojm, Borenstein, Chmielnicki, Cukierman, Ejnesman, Klajnminc, Segal, Szachter. Sztarkman.)
- In the book Cmentarze Bodzentyna: 1801–1980, by Artemiusz Wołczyk; Elżbieta Postoła; Julian Mróz, it is mentioned that the Jewish cemetery was overgrown with bushes and trees in the early 1980s. Around that time, representatives of the Jewish community in Krakow also came to discuss a possible restoration.
- According to regionalist Stefan Rachtan, the Jewish cemetery was fenced with wires in the 1960s and 1970s to prevent cows from grazing as pastures surround the hilltop.
- Read an article in Polish on Wikipedia about the Jewish community and cemetery in Bodzentyn, including bibliography
- Editor's interviews with Max Safir, Father Leszek Sikorski, Bogdan Białek, and email correspondence with Marek Cecuła and local historian and regionalist Stefan Rachtan. Facts and information: Editor's archive.