A New Book on the Destruction and Desecration
The book, entitled The Destruction of Jewish Cemeteries (Zagłada cmentarzy żydowskich) is published in Poland. This is the first historic synthesis on the subject regarding just one country.
Its author is Krzysztof Bielawski. While working as the manager of a travel agency in Warsaw, he became interested in Jewish history and in 2005 created his own website concerning Jewish Cemeteries in Poland (www.cmentarze-zydowskie.pl). In 2009 Bielawski joined the team at the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, returned to his university and graduated from its Jewish Studies Faculty.
"As early as my primary school days I enjoyed writing, photography and history. Jewish cemeteries proved a good starting point to learn more about local Jewish history. I took photos, wrote essays about the cemeteries and published these on my website. From the outset I realized that all these cemeteries had been devastated and determined to find out who was responsible and why" - says Bielawski.
His book examines the destruction or desecration of Jewish cemeteries in Poland, both within its contemporary borders and those areas of the country that were part of Germany until 1945.
"This history book is based on my own experiences, archive research and other sources" - says Bielawski - "It often includes the testimony of those who destroyed the cemeteries and witnesses to the events. My aim was to discover who they were and what motivated them".
The work dispels several myths, including the mass destruction of Jewish cemeteries during the Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass) pogrom carried out by the SA and civilians in Nazi Germany in November 1938, and the commonly held belief that "cemeteries were totally destroyed by the Germans". The fact is that even if a cemetery was devastated by the Nazis during the war, it was also destroyed by the local population. Considerable desecration continued under the communist regime after World War II. The situation changed following the downfall of communism but Jewish cemeteries are still in danger today.
"Krzysztof Bielawski has compiled hundreds of examples of Jewish cemetery destruction in Poland. This is a completely unknown phenomenon, and at the same time staggering in its scale. Since the earliest Jewish settlements, some 1200 Jewish cemeteries were established, but probably not a single one avoided either destruction or desecration. The author describes a sad reality that evokes indignation and shame" - wrote Polish Academy of Science's Dr. Krzysztof Persak.
Other chapters focus on destruction or desecration as a result of military operations or archaeological works, the reactions of Jews and Poles, and attempts to restore Jewish cemeteries. The book also includes photos, for example a German artillery unit at a Jewish cemetery in the Kolno district, a cowshed built using Jewish tombstones, or matzevas used to pave a square next to a Catholic church.
"The book may likely shock many readers. On the other hand, I hope it will encourage people to take more care of Jewish cemeteries in my country" - Bielawski adds.
The book is published by "Więź", whose president, Zbigniew Nosowski, is also head of the Social Committee for the Commemoration of the Otwock and Karczew Jews, an organization involved in the restoration of local Jewish cemeteries. Its publication was funded by the Association of the Jewish Historical Institute in Poland, the Nissenbaum Family Foundation, and the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland.
The book can be purchased at https://wiez.pl/wydawnictwo/ksiazki/zaglada-cmentarzy-zydowskich-2/. Krzysztof Bielawski hopes the book will in time also be available in English and is looking for a publisher in the USA.