Heritage Florida Jewish News - Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

Jewish cemeteries in Poland are in danger of demolition

 


WARSAW, Poland—The City Council in the town of Bialystok recently rejected a zoning plan that would have prevented a meat production plant’s plans to build a high-rise apartment building on the grounds of a Jewish cemetery. The vote was 12-8 with one abstention.

“In the center of Bialystok there were six cemeteries,” said council member Zbigniew Brozek at the meeting. Using this reasoning for rejecting the zoning plan, he explained, “If we want to protect them it would be impossible to build anything [in the city].”

Another councilman stated that “we are in Poland, not Israel,” a reason that was highly offensive to Lucy Lisowska, a representative of the Jewish Community in Bialystok, the largest city in northeastern Poland.

“I am Polish, and I am a Pole of Jewish origin,” she stated. “I respect Polish law because it is my law, but there is still our religious law, which does not allow exhumations, the violation of peace of the dead and prohibits digging at the cemetery.”

A representative of Arsa, the private company that owns the meat plant, which was built at the cemetery during the communist period, said that the last burials at this cemetery were in 1892 and that it was secularized in 1964.

The Jewish population in Poland today is roughly 3,200-25,000, according to Wikipedia. By estimation, that means there is one Jew per 11,983 people. The “enlarged Jewish population” (which includes non-Jewish members of Jewish households) is between 7,500 and 100,000.

Still, even though the Jewish population is small, respect and care for Jewish cemeteries should be the standard procedure.

The cemetery in Bialystok may or may not be lost to city expansion, but with the right advocates, the Jewish cemeteries in Poland can be preserved.

One year ago, the town of Grodzisk Mazowiecki prepared a development plan to build a residential complex with underground parking on the grounds of a Jewish cemetery.

The Jewish community of Warsaw and local activist Robert Augustyniak, who is not Jewish, protested the plan. “I showed the map of the area from 1927 and 1934,” Augustyniak told JTA in November 2014. “It clearly shows that the area of the cemetery was much larger than it is today. It seems that the council did not know about it. I hope that now they will change their plans.”

The town’s city council held a public discussion on the plan and decided to suspend action on the plan pending clarification of the cemetery’s boundaries.

The Jewish community of Warsaw also raised objections to the development plan, and asked that the cemetery be register as a protected area.

“Taking into account the new facts disclosed during public discussion on Nov. 24, I made the decision to suspend the procedure, pending clarification of all doubts,” said Mayor Grzegorz Benedykcinski. “Thank you for your attention and I declare that I will make every effort to ensure that the new plan, which is a local law, pays attention to the history of the Jewish people residing in Grodzisk Mazowiecki.”

The mayor also asked the Jewish community in Warsaw for help in identifying historical and actual boundaries of the cemetery.

“The Jewish community in Poland is so small, that we are not able to monitor all matters relating to cemeteries, synagogues and other places important from the point of view of the pre-war communities,” Piotr Kadlcik, president of the Union of Jewish Communities in Poland, told JTA. “That is why we appreciate the initiative of people like Robert Augustyniak, who care about local history and the fact that it was not forgotten. I also thank the Mayor of Grodzisk for his quick response and willingness to cooperate in this regard.”

As of this date, the suspension is still in place and there has been no construction on the site.

Christine DeSouza compiled this information from JTA articles.

 

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