Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Poland: Jewish Gravestones from Poznan Found in Strzeszyńskie Lake

Poland: Jewish Gravestones from Poznań Found in Strzeszyńskie Lake
by Samuel D. Gruber

(ISJM) When I was involved in documenting Jewish cemeteries within the present-day boundaries of Poland in the early 1990s about two thirds of the approximately 1200 cemeteries identified had no visible gravestones, and several hundred mroe cemeteries only had a small number still in situ.  In most cases, matzavot  had been toppled during the Holocaust and often removed for use as paving stones by the Nazis to make more passable the many dirt (and mud) roads their mechanized army traversed.  

But stones were used in a variety of ways.  In 1990, I was shown matzevot used to build a pigsty on a farm in the northeastern town of Krynki, and gravestones were also used to pave an area at a monastery in Kazimierz Dolny when it was used as a Gestapo headquarters.  In some case stones were hauled away whole.  Other stones were broken up.  Often Jews were forced to do the work of destroying the gravestones.

 Krynki, Poland. Jewish gravestones used a foundation for a pigsty. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber, 1990

 Krynki, Poland. Jewish gravestones used a foundation for a pigsty. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber, 1990

 Radom, Poland.  Cemetery monument made of recovered gravestones. Photo: FODZ.  Click here for more.

Those stones not removed by the Germans were either hauled often for building material by Poles in the post-War period (probably this is how matzevot from the cemetery of Wyszkow came to used as foundation stones for a local barn), or during the communist period, when many cemeteries were cleared for roads or buildings.  In the luckiest circumstances old stones knocked over just lay in place and were covered by a half century of vegetation, soil and sometimes trash.

Since 1990, more and more  Jewish gravestones,  though still only a tiny percentage of what's been lost, have been re-discovered and often moved, either back to cemeteries here they are often made into lapidary commemorative monuments, or to museums.  Those found in Radom in 2008 are a good example.  Most recently, as reported on the Virtual Shtetl website  matzevot identified as originating from the Głogowska Street cemetery in  Poznań were discovered by Joanna Członkowska, who spotted German and Hebrew inscriptions on stone slabs of a breakwater used to protect a meadow against flooding.  Ms Członkowska immediately notified the Museum of the History of Polish Jews which in turn notified  the Jewish Religious Community in Poznań, the Jewish Cemetery Rabbinical Commission and local media in Poznań.

 Strzeszyńskie Lake,  Poland.  Recently discovered Jewish gravestones:  Photo: Virtual Shtetl

According to Virtual Shtetl, the cemetery was established in 1803 and was severely damaged during WWII, when most tombstones were used to pave roads, including the Poznań-Berlin highway. Under Communist rule, the International Poznań Fair Complex was erected in the cemetery.  I do not know thew extent of excavation on the cemetery for the construction of the Fairgrounds and whether the actual burial were disturbed or if they remain underground and intact.  In only a few cases in Poland and elsewhere has post-Word War II construction been removed from known cemeteries.

Over the past several years, a number of tombstones have been found in various parts of Poznań. Some of them were included in the collection of stone monuments in an undeveloped area at the Jewish cemetery. Others were transported to and secured in the Martyrs’ Museum in Żabikowo.  It is not known where the recently discovered stones will be taken and whether their discovery will lead to more in other places around the lake.

Poland: After Two Decades, a New Generation Takes Leadership in Care of Jewish Monuments

After Two Decades, A New Generation of Poles Takes Leadership in Care of Jewish Monuments
by Samuel D. Gruber 

Dzialoszyce, Poland.  A much younger Sam Gruber, with synagogue historians Maria and Kazimierz Piechotka, learns of Jewish sites from local villagers in 1990.  Photo: Judith Meighan (1990).

When I first began to work in Poland in 1989-1990 for the documentation, protection and preservation of Polish-Jewish heritage sites (synagogues, cemeteries, Jewish quarters, Holocaust sites, archives,  etc.) it was immediately clear that the task was so enormous, that any hope of success depended on educating, engaging and empowering local Poles to assist and indeed to take leadership roles in the work.  At the time the international Jewish community was mostly indifferent to the need and financially not supportive of the job, and the local Jewish community could hardly be identified; it was so small, so fragmented, and leaderless.

I was lucky to work with a dedicated group of (mostly) young Poles, Jewish and non-Jewish, who identifying themselves as the Citizens’ Committee for the Protection of Jewish Monuments, who had quietly begun this work under Communism in 1981.  The excitement of political and cultural freedoms experienced during the Solidarity Movement percolated through many areas of Polish life, and also helped the first stirring of Jewish renewal.  

Despite the setbacks of Marshall Law in 1981 -1983 and following, the Citizens' Committee and a small group of Polish intellectuals and cultural leaders such as the late Józef Gierowski (d. 2006) of the Jagiellonian University and Januz Smólski of the Citizen's Committee for the Restoration of Krakow's Historical Monuments and others, were ready and receptive to engage Jewish cultural issues almost immediately after the end of Communist rule in 1989. With this group, and with the support of the World Monuments Fund and the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad, I directed a massive (but very modestly funded - the total budget was around $35,000) project to document the standing synagogue buildings and identifiable Jewish cemeteries within the modern border of Poland.  

Many of the leaders and participants in that project continued their good work and have been honored in many ways since. Citizen’s Committee co-founder and survey Research Director Jan Jagielski received the Irena Sendler Memorial Award by the Taube Foundation in 2009 and Eleanora Bergman was just last week awarded the French Legion of Honor (congratulations Lena!).

Much has changed in the past twenty years since we published Survey of Historic Jewish Monuments in Poland. An entire new generation, many of which hardly remembers Communism, has grown up increasingly aware of the history of Jews in Poland and the enormity of the Jewish cultural contribution.  Still, there remains much work to do. The pending opening of the new Museum of the History of Polish Jews will  accelerate this process. 

The following article from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency focuses on this new generation.  These (mostly) young people, in collaboration with the still small but now robust Polish Jewish community, will be the primary custodians of Jewish heritage sites in Poland in the future.  This process has been evolving.  These new participants are part of a continuum of polish involvement.  As Ruth Ellen Gruber, JTA senior correspondent and editor of reminds me, "For something like 15 years, thanks to Michael Traison, non-Jewish Poles who have devoted themselves to preserving and documenting Jewish heritage and culture have been honored each year at a ceremony in Krakow at the summer Festival. It is wonderful -- and necessary -- for new generations to pick up the reins. But it should not be forgotten that their interest and activities by now form part of a continuous and continuing process, not a startling new development."

Not every new project is to my taste or meets my critical approval, but the same can be said of projects by Jewish groups and the many self-appointed Jewish "protectors" of heritage sites.  what is important is that collectively their is continuing and growing recognition of the  religious, cultural, artistic and community importance of these places, both for memory and for the creation a informed dynamic future.
For growing number of Polish gentiles, Jewish culture seen as part of their own heritage

By Katarzyna Markusz · October 28, 2012 (Jewish Telegraphic Agency)

WARSAW, Poland (JTA) -- Marek Tuszewicki is doing doctoral work at the Institute of Jewish Studies at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, teaches Yiddish at the Krakow JCC, and leads a club that brings together those who like to sing Chasidic songs and read Yiddish literature.
He also co-founded a Jewish literature and art quarterly called Cwiszn and publishes articles and poems in Yiddish.

There’s just one thing: Tuszewicki is not himself Jewish.

"There is the whole Polish background with the ruins of cemeteries and synagogues from which there is no escape," Tuszewicki told JTA.

"There are more and more people interested in Yiddish and opportunities to learn," he said. “What are the proportions of Jews and non-Jews I cannot say exactly, but I'm sure at the university there are more students from non-Jewish backgrounds."

Tuszewicki is among the growing number of non-Jewish Poles who are immersing themselves in Jewish culture. They organize Jewish events or ceremonies commemorating the Jews who lived in their cities. They are building monuments and teaching others about the history of their Jewish neighbors. They write in Yiddish.

Many Poles have begin to look at Polish Jewish history as part of their own cultural heritage -- something to be appreciated and remembered, not cast aside.

"I know that many Poles are interested in Yiddish because it is the heritage of Poland,” Tuszewicki said. “Yiddish developed here and great Yiddish literature has been written here. Besides, it not only coexisted with Polish, but it also entered with it into intensive contact. Forgetting Yiddish we would forget an important part of our culture.”

Martyna Majewska is another of the many Polish gentiles to have charted a Jewish path. She was granted a scholarship from the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous to teach about the Holocaust and Jewish history. She took part in education courses organized by Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and museum.

Majewska also co-authored a book called "Warsaw: City of many cultures" that helps educators teach about Poland’s minority communities.

Now Majewska, along with Marcin Kozlinski, a fellow Polish gentile, is preparing the first postwar Polish animated fairy tale in Yiddish. It’s part of the Multicultural Mosaic of Tales and Legends project funded by the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw. The Jewish story is titled "Happy Man" and will be a short animated film in three languages: Polish, English and Yiddish.
  "We decided to create a series of stories so children could learn more about the fairy tales in different cultures and see that they have universal appeal,” Majewska said. “And another advantage of every fairy tale is that it can be seen in its original language, giving the opportunity to familiarize children with an unknown language.”

Bogdan Bialek does not speak Yiddish. He grew up in a Jewish neighborhood in Bialystok, where he had Jewish friends. One was a neighbor who was a survivor of Auschwitz from whom he learned about the Holocaust. Poland’s anti-Zionist campaign of 1968 decimated what Jewish life remained in Bialystok, and Bialek eventually moved away, marrying a girl from Kielce, the site of a 1946 pogrom resulting from a blood libel.

In Kielce, Bialek wanted to learn more about the massacre, in which 37 Jews and three non-Jewish Poles were killed. The locals, however, were reluctant to talk about it.  "In 1982, one of the priests warned me to not talk about this because Jews kidnapped children and made them into matzah,” he said. “I met with a Poland which I did not know before. Thus began my stubbornness confronting the city with the pogrom."

Even in the 1990s, with Poland emerging from its communist shell, it wasn't easy to talk openly about Jewish history. Bialek endured several attacks for delving into Jewish history. Perpetrators threw grenades into the newspaper office where he worked. But in 1996, on the 50th anniversary of the pogrom, Bialek organized a ceremony commemorating the murdered Jews. Then he began to organize annual memorial marches, the first of which drew just three people. At this year’s there were 300.  He built a monument of a menorah in town as well as a statue of Jan Karski, a hero of the Polish resistance who delivered news of the extermination of Polish Jewry to the outside world. Today, Bialek says, Kielce is a different city than it was a generation ago.

"For many years in Kielce there have been no anti-Semitic slogans on the walls,” Bialek said. “Yes, there are anti-Semites, but they understand that divulging this is indecent." A few weeks ago, thanks to Bialek, a sukkah was erected in the mall in the center of Kielce. Locals came to listen to stories and watch films about Kielce’s Jewish past. In the central Polish town of Grodzisk Mazowiecki, a group of locals convened in 2009 to try to figure out how to commemorate their town’s local Jewish heritage. They started their project, called Jewish Street, by lighting up the walls of the old Jewish cemetery one night.
  "I wanted to let people know that the current area of the cemetery is only one-tenth of its original area,” said Robert Augustyniak, one of the project’s initiators. “Since 1953 on the rest of the area of the cemetery there is a junkyard. Most people today do not know that there was also a cemetery.”

In 2010, Augustyniak managed to excavate Jewish gravestones that had been used to build a sidewalk in one of the backyards in town and return them to the cemetery. It was an eerie undertaking, he recalls. "It was raining that day. From the mud began to appear some symbols: hands, candles, ornaments, plants and finally the Hebrew inscriptions,” Augustyniak said. “Jan Jagielski of the Jewish Historical Institute was with us then. He read inscriptions from the gravestones and we felt that behind these strange-sounding names there are people who ask to be remembered."

That same year the group organized Grodzisk’s first Jewish cultural festival with workshops, a book fair, meetings, and theater and concert performances. The town’s mayor was an enthusiastic supporter, according to Augustyniak. In 2011, the Israeli Embassy in Warsaw gave Jewish Street an award.

“The memory of the Jews is now fashionable in the city," Augustyniak said. Sixty miles away, in Minsk Mazowiecki, Justyna Jekalska decided recently to restore the old Jewish cemetery in her city. Thanks to her efforts, the place was cleaned up and soon will have a new fence.

Jekalska says she was motivated by simple human decency. "I was ashamed that the cemetery in my city looks like that," she told JTA. "I'm not associated with Judaism in any way. I phoned rabbi's office. It turned out that they liked the idea that I wanted to do that. It is, after all, not only to clean but also to preserve human knowledge about this place and change the way it is seen."

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Eruv and Art: Some New Exhibitons

Eruv and Art: Some New Exhibitions

by Samuel D. Gruber


In recent years there has been as revival - I would even say an assertive revival - of the institution of the eruv in American and European cities, inclusion neighborhoods not traditionally associated with Orthodox Jewish practice.  Both the idea and the material fact of the eruv - a single line that can seemingly create "Jewish Space" out of thin air - have attracted the attention of a wide range of Jewish writers an artists, including (especially?) many non-Orthodox or non-Traditional and secular Jews.  This despite the fact the the eruv primarily exists (or at least has so existed in the past) - as a convenient doge or hedge against halacha (Jewish law) to "enhance" or facilitate the carrying of objects on the Sabbath.  for an traditionally observant community this can be important as it allows men to carry their tallit, and women to push baby strollers and carry diaper bags. 


The theme of the eruv was central to Michael Chabon's fanciful novel the Yiddish Policeman's Union (2007) and last year (2011) the art historical journal Images: A Journal of Jewish Art and Visual Culture devoted an entire issue to the theme "Visualizing the Eruv."


The push for expanded and new eruvs (Heb: eruvim) in American and European cities is evidence of physically expanding Orthodox populations, their settlement in new urban areas, but also an expanded social and political confidence that allows communities to be more forthright in their requests (even demands) for more eruvim.  In America, Hasidic Orthodox communities have considerable political clout, especially locally, when they can turn out large numbers of bloc voters.  In the past, this power has been used to gain increased social services for large and largely poorer Hasidic families, and also for all sorts of zoning permissions and variances for new house additions, new construction and other permit-requiring neighborhood changes, including the installation of eruvim. 


What is surprising about the new eruv movement is how many non-Orthodox Jews have embraced this effort, clearly indicative of a new Jewish particularism, including among more-secular intellectuals and artists.   This more broadly reclaiming and rebranding of the eruv by many non-traditional Jews is similar is many ways to the re-acceptance, and even championing of the mikveh, among Jewish feminists of the previous generation.  It is also probably due to the increase number (in America) of  secular Jews, including artists, who have Jewish Day School of University Jewish Studies experience, allowing them to comfortably combine contemporary creativity (and skepticism) with traditional values and ritual (The Jewish Museum's recent Reinventing Ritual exhibition is another example).


There are other factors at play, too.  Cityscapes are already awash with a tangle of electrical, cable and other wires and ropes strung along street and yards, and even public places, with plenty of poles every few yards to support them.  This is a ready-made infrastructure for stringing an eruv, and can make it much easier to promote an almost invisible eruv over local (non-Jewish) objections.  For artists, however, such invisibility can runs counter to their desire to assert more boldly the presence of "Jewish Space," and so in recent years there have been projects to embellish and celebrate the eruv.  The eruv is not an imposed "ghetto" wall restricting Jews; but a self-created line that helps define and support traditional Jews, and Jewish communal life.

To me, as a Reform Jew, the notion of an eruv is unnecessary, as I see the designation of carrying a diaper bag as Sabbath work quite absurd, but then I think that using a electric timer to turn lights on and off during the Sabbath is equally silly.  Both are convenient ways to live the letter of the law, but avoid the consequences.  But then again, I believe Judaism is a religion of acceptance and accommodation of contemporary realities, and it may be that devices such as the eruv and timer are ways the Orthodox community can acknowledge this.  I also like the idea of marking space, whether with signage about historic sites or more off-beat messages.  I can accept the eruv, since it marks space - but in such a delicate, literally transparent way, that one sees and understands only what one needs.


In any case, all this is a prelude to announcing exhibitions about the eruv  at Yale University (!), that centuries-old bastion of American Protestantism.  What is world coming to?

Shaping Community: Poetics and Politics of the Eruv


Three exhibitions exploring a Jewish spatial practice

curated by Margaret Olin in three parts at the ISM Gallery of Sacred Arts, the Allan and Leah Rabinowitz Gallery (Slifka Center), and the 32 Edgewood Gallery.


Ellen Rothenberg. Measure 1, (c) 2012.

with tour of all three exhibitions
Thursday, October 18 | 4:30-6:30 pm
simultaneously at all three galleries -- begin anywhere and hop on a gallery shuttle bus to see the others!

guided tours available. Call 203.436.5955

Israel: Gated Community

October 8 - November 16
Allan and Leah Rabinowitz Gallery*
Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale
80 Wall Street
Hours: M-F: 10am-5pm; Weekends: noon-4pm

This Token Partnership

October 10 – December 14
ISM Gallery of Sacred Arts
409 Prospect Street
Hours: W-F: noon-6pm; Weekends: noon-4pm

Internal Borders

October 17 - November 30
32 Edgewood Gallery
Yale University School of Art
Hours: M, W-Sun:1-6pm; closed Tuesdays
 presented by Yale Institute of Sacred Music with support from the Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale and Yale School of Art.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Lack of Funding Closes Museum Housing Sarajevo Haggadah

Lack of Funding Closes Museum Housing Sarajevo Haggadah

Cross-posted from Jewish Heritage Travel  by Ruth Ellen Gruber  (Wednesday, October 3, 2012)

Sarajevo Haggadah in bank vault, 2001. Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber

By Ruth Ellen Gruber
This post also appears on my En Route blog for the LA Jewish Journal

The Bosnia-Herzegonia National Museum in Sarajevo, where the priceless Sarajevo Haggadah is kept, is being forced to close for lack of funds -- the latest in a number of major cultural institutions in Sarajevo forced to shut their doors due to political wrangling and the central government's halting of funds for culture.

In my brief JTA story I write that Jakob Finci, the longtime leader of the Jewish community in Sarajevo, said the museum, founded in 1888, would close on Thursday due to “lack of money, financing and support from the State.”

He called the decision “tragic,” but said he did not fear for the Sarajevo Haggadah, which, he said would be kept in a safe place.

The haggadah, handwritten in Spain in the 14th century and brought to Sarajevo after the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, has been owned by the museum since 1894.
During the Bosnian war in the 1990s, the lavishly illustrated, 109-page book became a symbol of the shattered dream of multi-ethnic harmony in Bosnia. After the war ended in 1995, the U.N. Mission, along with the Bosnian Jewish Community, the Joint Distribution Committee, and the Yad Hanadiv and Wolfenson Foundations, facilitated a $150,000 project to restore the Haggadah and prepare a secure, new, climate-controlled room in which to put it on display. 
This was opened with a gala ceremony in December 2002. But Finci told JTA that, in recent years, the actual Haggadah was only displayed on four days a year – all the rest of the time a facsimile was shown.

In 2001, before it went on public display, I had the rare opportunity of viewing the Haggadah in the underground bank vault in Sarajevo where it was kept, when I accompanied a JDC delegation to Bosnia.

A bank functionary led us through corridors and down narrow stairways into a basement vault lined with safety deposit boxes.

Wrapped in white tissue paper, the Haggadah was removed from a sealed, blue metal lock box and placed on a table.

Wearing clean, white gloves, a staff member from the Sarajevo national museum then opened the book, turning over page after page to reveal the elegant Hebrew calligraphy and brilliantly colored and gilded illustrations.

An article in April in The Art Newspaper provided some background to the museum crisis.

The National Gallery closed to the public last September. It had been without a director and chief financial officer since May. The Historical Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina, also in Sarajevo, was forced to shut its doors on 4 January after running out of money for maintenance and heating. Staff at both institutions have worked without pay since the respective closures.

The National and University Library, which has had no heating since early January, is next on the list of anticipated closures. [...]
The current crisis is a result of national elections held in 2010, which failed to create a coalition with a parliamentary majority. Without a functioning government, there was no funding for cultural institutions last year.

Museum administrators in Sarajevo say that grants from the new government, formed this February, will not solve the structural problem affecting the institutions. They believe that the institutions need to be funded at a national level if they are to operate effectively in the future. They also want a national cultural ministry to be created.

For further information on the culture crisis in Bosnia see the web site