Sunday, June 27, 2010

Poland: Recovery of Matzevot from Nowy Dwór Mazowiecki and Protection of Cemetery Site

Nowy Dwor, Poland. Recovery of Jewish gravestones that had been used as the foundation for a sidewalk by the river. Photos courtesy of

Poland: Recovery of Matzevot from Nowy Dwór Mazowiecki and Protection of Cemetery Site

(ISJM) A new effort is underway to protect and preserve the Jewish cemetery of the central Polish town of Nowy Dwór Mazowiecki. You can read more and see photos here. The cemetery had been desecrated and destroyed after the evacuation of the Jews from the Nowy Dwór Ghetto to the concentration camps, had been all but abandoned. The graves had been opened and plundered of their concrete caskets and headstones (Matzevot); bones were scattered, leaving little to no evidence of what happened to the generations of souls that had been laid to rest there. In the 1980s squatters had begun to build houses on the edge of the property that they claimed, “Belonged to no one.” People excavated the hillside of the property for sand and gravel.

The goal of the Nowy-Dwór-Maz-Jewish-Cemetery-Restoration-and-Memorial is "to preserve and protect the cemetery as a physical attestation to what happened. One just has to look at it to understand the significance. We have a proposal to secure the property with a proper fence, similar to that used in local public parks. The length of the fence is 670 meters with a cost in excess of $40,000. Our wish is to make the newly discovered headstones part of a memorial and interpretive area at the entrance to the cemetery to tell the story of what once was. We would also like to install a “Scroll of Remembrance” listing as many names as can be found: Names of people who were buried there before the Holocaust and names of people who died in the camps that were not able to live their lives out in peace. This is just a concept at the moment, as we need to develop a program that would be most appropriate and respectful."

Beginning last year soil from the construction site of the new Jewish Museum in Warsaw has been brought to cover the many now-exposed bones which are scattered throughout the cemetery. Plans are to fence the site and then to build a memorial incorporating matzevot that have been recovered form sidewalk paving elsewhere in thew town.

The local municipality has been very cooperative in the developing the project, but the cost of the fencing is estimated at $40,000 which must be paid with outside funds. So far, a little more than $10,000 has been raised. To make (USA) tax-exempt contribution consult the website.

For addition information contact:

Ze’ev Shaked (USA):

David Wluka (USA):

Yosef Kieliszek (Israel)
(972) 3-503-2461

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Poland: Two Jewish Cemeteries and One Monument Vandalized

Poland: Two Jewish Cemeteries and One Monument Vandalized

(ISJM) The Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland reports several recently discovered acts of destructive vandalism against Jewish sites. These are the only details we have atthe moment:

The a section of the fence around the Jewish cemetery in Gdansk (a site previously attacked several times)was seriously damaged.

Jewish gravestones at the Jewish cemetery in Debrzno have been overturned and partially destroyed by unknown attackers. The cemetery was recently cleaned up by the pupils of the Youth Correctional Facility in Debrzno.

Lastly (we hope), The monument at the Jewish cemetery in Suwalki was also vandalized. This same monument was also attacked in 2007.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Synagogues in Advertisements

Synagogues in Advertisements
by Samuel D. Gruber

New York, NY. Congregation Shearith Israel, Brunner and Tryon architects.
Architectural League of New York Annual Exhibition Catalog (1897)

When I see advertisements in old architecture catalogs and magazines ads touting recently constructed synagogues, I often wonder about the long disconnect between synagogue architecture and its acknowledgment by architectural historians. Until quite recently synagogue architecture was virtually absent from any mainstream teaching and writing in the field.

In years of study in the 1970s and 1980s at prestigious universities I remember only encountering one or two synagogues in the curricula of dozenS of art and architecture classes. These included, of course, the ancient synagogue at Dura-Europos and Frank Lloyd Wright's Beth Sholom synagogue in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania. And even those buildings got short shrift. Why was this? Is it because synagogue architecture did not measure up in the architectural canon? Or does this - or did it - reflect an inherent bias against synagogues - in the teaching of architectural history?

The truth probably lies somewhere in between. There are plenty of bad - or just derivative - synagogues. But there have been many innovative and beautiful synagogue designs, often created by the leading architects of the time. Often, it seems, architects have been less reluctant to take on synagogue work than critics and historians have been willing to write about those works. Leading architects such as William Strickland and Gottfried Semper in the 19th century, and scores of important 20th century architects designed synagogues. But through the early 1990s there were only a few books - in any language - written on the topic of synagogue architecture (this has now changed). A particularly galling example to me of neglect is the failure to mention Gottfried Semper's influential Dresden synagogue in the long entry on the architect in the Macmillan Encyclopedia of Architects - no mention even in the appended list of the architect's works! There are many other such examples of neglect.

What now surprises me is that synagogue architecture was hardly unknown. It was not a secret guarded by the Jewish community, or somehow shunned by embarrassed architects. Important new synagogue buildings were often illustrated in popular magazines and newspapers in the 19th century. By the 20th century they begin to appear with some regularity in building ads in the trade magazines. These are ads aimed at professionals, and represented architects, engineers, contractors and material suppliers boasting of their accomplishments in the search for new work.

Chicago, Illinois. Temple Isaiah, Alfred Alschuler, architect, 1924.
Ad for R. Guastavino Tile from Architectural Forum, April 1925.

Houston, Texas. Former Beth Israel, Joseph Finger, arch (1932). Ad from Pencil Points (Feb. 1933)

I include here three such ads that I have recently stumbled across in old architecture magazines. Two of them are for buildings that I have previously mentioned in this blog - New York's Congregation Shearith Israel and Chicago's Temple Isaiah (now Isaiah/KAM) . The Chicago example is relevant in that it emphasizes the role of Guastavino vaulting in the the making of impressive domed synagogues. It also gives more information about the use of a Guastavino material - Akoustolith - for the interior construction of the sanctuary. Akoustolith is a light plaster like materials used to give the illusion of heavy stone work. As its name suggests, it is also intended to improve acoustics.

Such ads are not cataloged and therefore their discovery is usually accidental. These ads span the period of the 1890s through the early 1930s - very good years for synagogue building in America. I invite my readers to alert me to more such public references to synagogue design and construction.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Ukraine: Apartment Building to Rise on Kremenets Mass Grave Site?

Ukraine: Apartment Building to Rise on Kremenets Mass Grave Site?

Local sources in Kremenets, Ukraine have confirmed that the City has sold the site of a Holocaust mass grave to a developer who plans to construct an apartment building (or buildings) on that location. Local Jewish activists have obtained a three month injunction that has stopped activity at the site for now, but the injunction only has only 2 more months to run.

I do not yet know which of the several known mass grave sites in the vicinity of Kremenets this is. To my knowledge, only one of these sites has been adequately marked with a monument (see:

For several years there has been an international effort to protect and preserve the extensive Jewish cemetery of Kremenets and Jewish cemeteries in nearby towns.

To recevie updates on the situation contact Dr. Ron Doctor, Co-Coordinator, Kremenets Shtetl CO-OP/Jewish Records Indexing-Poland An activity of the Kremenets District Research Group (

Monday, June 14, 2010

Poland asks prisoners to care for Jewish cemeteries

Poland asks prisoners to care for Jewish cemeteries

(ISJM) Here is a link to a BBC video report about prisoners in Poland providing labor to help maintain Jewish cemeteries.

This may sound a little odd, but remember that in America prisoners routinely are used for roadwork and other public works projects. It is a very old tradition. The bitter irony of course is that in many cases Nazi prisoners - often Jews themselves - were used to destroy Jewish cemeteries by uprooting gravestones during the years of the Holocaust. It should also be noted that many other groups in Poland - including youth groups, scout groups, and church groups carry out cleaning work at Jewish cemeteries.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Polish prisoners are helping to clean up some of the country's neglected Jewish cemeteries. Before World War II the graveyards were taken care of by Europe's largest Jewish commmunity. But 90% of Poland's Jews were murdered by the Nazis, and the population now numbers only several thousand.
Adam Easton reports from Warsaw.

(click on link below for video report)

Romania: Restoration of Vandalized Bucharest Cemetery

Romania: Restoration of Vandalized Bucharest Cemetery

(ISJM) Dr. Aurel Vainer, President of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Romanian (FedRom) reports that the graves at the Jewish cemetery at 162 Giurgiului Road in Bucharest, that were vandalized in October 2008 are being restored, thank to assistance from the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad. The cemetery is the the largest Jewish cemetery in Bucharest. The 131 damaged monuments were vandalized on h Simchat Torah two and half years ago.

Restoration by the Federation of Jewish Communities of Romania (FEDROM), is being supported by the United States Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad. The U.S. Government agency is providing $46,000 of the cost estimated at $53,000. FEDROM will provide the rest of the funds. The restoration began in April and is expected to be completed in August.

In a public statement The Federation of Jewish Communities of Romania expressed "its sincere thanks, and deep appreciation to the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad – the donors, and particularly Member Larry Steinberg, who is providing $35,000 of the money –for such generous support. The Commission regularly carries out research and diplomatic advocacy on behalf of the protection and preservation of cultural monuments in more than twenty countries, and is especially active on behalf of sites of significance to ethnic and religious minorities, and the sites that have suffered due to historic and contemporary acts of intolerance. Funds to restoration projects come from private donors on an as needed basic. Commission members, appointed by the U.S. Congress and the President are encouraged to take an active role in fund raising for this work."

Vainer said “We, Jews of Romania, do believe that the project demonstrates rejection of intolerance, and is also a gesture of human solidarity, promotion of understanding, tolerance, and respect for Jewish heritage, as valuable part of the national and world heritage of all mankind.”

FedRom is responsible for over 1,000 Jewish cemeteries across the country. A small staff and limited funds makes the monitoring and maintenance of these far flung sites always difficult, and often impossible. Private funds are always needed for the work. Sadly, acts of violence and vandalism such as that of two years ago force a redirection of already limited resources.