Saturday, March 10, 2007

The Jewish Cemetery on Bracka Street – Lodz





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Bracka Street is the southern borderline of the Jewish Cemetery in Lodz. At the end of Bracka Street, corner of Chryzntem Street, we turn left (northward). An unpaved road will lead us to the cemetery parking lot near the entrance to the cemetery. The big building on the east is the funeral home, designed by Adolf Zeligson and was funded by Mrs. Mina Konsztadt. In exchange for her donation of 18,000 rubles, she requested to have the right to place in front of the building the sign in Polish ”H. & M. Konsztadt Fund", and an allocation of a family plot to Herman Konsztadt which would be combined of 8 burial plots (section D, plots: 1, 2, 3, 4, 26, 27, 28, 29). The building was inaugurated in April 1898 and at the time was the largest in Poland (850 sq m).
Once entering the eulogy hall via the designed entrance we see, at its corner, a carriage dated the early 20th century, which was used for carrying the deceased. The funeral home consists of five rooms for male deceased, which are accessible through the corridor from the eulogy hall, where we are standing now. Further down there are more rooms for female deceased and an additional hall. The modest gable roof is supported by 2 posts, and the interior is set up according to the rules of the religious ritual. The corpses were brought into the hall from one of the a.m. rooms. The only ornament and source of light in the hall were metal and glass lamps, and from its window old factory buildings could be seen. Exiting the funeral home, we will see, on our right, the monument commemorating the Lodz victims, built by Muszko in 1956.
On November 10, 1892 the governor authorized the establishment of a new cemetery on an area of 14 hectares that was donated by Kalman Poznanski on 25.9.1891, in exchange for a family grave for the Poznanski family measuring 511 sq m. The first to be buried in the cemetery were the victims of the cholera plague, occurred in the city at that time.
The price of a family grave in those years was between 100 – 500 rubles. A square foot of land, near the main walkway, cost 5 rubles. The price of a similar size plot alienated from the main walkway was 3 rubles.
The infrastructure works and the construction of the maintenance buildings were done during 1893-6 under the planning and supervision of the renowned architect Adolf Zeligson.
In 1898 an inner wall and a gate were put up, in order to separate the funeral home and other buildings from the graves. In 1900 the Konzstadt family financed the construction of a building for the cemetery maintenance staff, and a water tower. In the same year a near by land, owned by Albert Zuker, was added to the cemetery area. Out of total 37 hectares, 18 were designed for graves and the rest for gardens, working area and reserve. In 1914 a police standpoint was put up, due to claims of vandalizing and thefts of tombstones.
During the Second World War, the wooden fence around the cemetery was taken off for burning necessities, and was gradually replaced by a stone wall.
With Poland independence in 1918, the Jewish community was instructed to change all of the signs at the cemetery premises from Russian to Polish. The cemetery was connected to the sewage system in 1911 and to the electricity during 1930-31.
In winter 1939 the Nazis were allowed to chop the cemetery trees for refueling necessities. During the war there were no tombstones and the graves were marked by metal plates or by plain stones.
The cemetery area was the place where underground members, Jews, Polish and Gypsies (whose burial place is not known) were murdered.
In 1945 the building serving the maintenance staff and the water tower were destroyed. In 1973 the southern part of the cemetery was expropriated for road paving. The tombstones were collected and centered in the northern part of the cemetery.
The principal layout of the cemetery is similar to one of a chessboard, with pedestrian walkways that divide the area to rectangular plots. The huge Iron Gate in the wall, divides the cemetery in two parts, symbolizing the passageway from the living to the dead, and is made of three smaller gates, decorated with David stars using a 'leaves' motive. Please pay attention to the similarity between this gate and the one of Poznanski factory on Ogtodowa Street. It is assumed that this gate was brought here from Wosula Street.
The main walkway leading from the gate creates the main path going through the center of the funeral home. 12 walkways cross this path and 25 parallel walkways divide the cemetery area to 125 plots.
In the beginning, the area was divided into 135 plots, some of which were later united. Most of the plots are identical in size and shape, except for the few that are of unusual size and were used for masses burial of the plagues victims, and for those died in the Ghetto.
The stone wall surrounding the cemetery was built in 1925, around which tombstone manufactures started to build up their business and were later developed into an industry manufacturing thousands of tombstones made of imported stones from both inland and abroad. Among the manufacturers were: Fibigers, Froms, Zimanskis and Orbanowskis. The latter was probably the one who made the Poznanski Mausoleum.
In addition to the above mentioned manufactures were more stonecutters who started their business here, among them were: Bojnol, Bacincki, Broder, Pirtokowski and Stass.
The lines of tombstones covering 90% of the cemetery area create a homogeneous pattern, being changed around the main walkway. The plots around the main walkway were reserved for the esteemed members of the community, the most distinguished ones and the wealthiest ones. Here are the most varied graves and tombstones as far as sizes and architectural styles are concerned. The plots on the first walkway, along the wall, were saved for the respected representatives of the religious life and for the active members in the religion domain of the Jewish community.
Today there are approximately 180,000 graves, and about 132,000 tombstones.
The most interesting tombstones design and architecture wise are placed on both sides of the main walkway. Most of them were designed by renowned architects such as: Zeligson, Hirshenberg and Landa.
Towards the end of the 19th century the tombstones style was neo classic and classic, which changed in the early 20th century, to modern and Secessionist style merging art nouveau and new classicism. After 1910 the design was of simplicity tendency, and most of the tombstones were plain bearing the Star of David.
The most interesting tombstones in this cemetery are those of Poznanski, Zilberstein, Jarocinski, Hertze, Sasecs, Konsztadts, Rapaport, Prussak and Kohn.
Once passing through the gate, the main walkway leads us to an impressive area of graves, those of the leaders of the wealthy Lodz community, designed in the neo classical style. The prominent one is the Poznanski mausoleum, built in a shape of a Greek temple. This part of the cemetery shows us the intention of the community's affluent families to demonstrate their wealth and desire to adapt themselves the 'burial cultural' of the Polish society of their class. These tombstones also reflect the assimilation tendency characterizing certain circles in the Jewish community.
Next to this graves area we can see those of the 'ordinary' people. The major difference of the tombstones in these two adjacent plots points out the gap among the various classes of the Jewish community in Lodz.
After the war, the cemetery was returned to the Jewish community, and was operated by a small maintenance staff.
The post War tombs are similar to those of Polish cemeteries. Since 1980 the cemetery was declared as a historical site. The Poznanski mausoleum was renovated in 1992 and once again in 2006.
Nowadays this cemetery indicates a vast green area in the northern part of the city, maintaining some 132,000 tombstones, 100 of which were declared as historical monuments.

A walking tour of the cemetery
Once entering through the main gate we reach the main walkway, in which we'll head northward and walk parallel to the wall, to visit the graves of some of the Lodz respected Jews: the grave of Rabbi Meizels, as well as those of the Holocaust victims. Walking towards the exit, we'll pass by the open burial holes, in which Jews were not buried, and the graves of the members of the youth movements, who were murdered after the war.
On our right we'll see a sign referring to David Shirakoviak, the young intellectual from Lodz Ghetto.
David, born in 1924, had a literary talent, vast intelligence and clear political orientation. He was born to a poor family and as a result of his many talents and diligence; he got a scholarship to study in a Jewish high-school. Shirakoviak was a student of the late Dr. Philip Friedman, the distinguished historian. His found diary was only a part of his large work written in the Ghetto, of which only 2 notebooks were published, encircling the periods between April 6 and October 22, 1941, and June 4 to September 6, 1942. In total 3 of his written notebooks were found.
The introduction to his first notebook, says: "Starting the new notebook of my diary, I would like to express a wish that this new period of my life, will be clearer and better from the previous one… It seems to be an illusion… there is no hope for an improvement." (6.4.41). The fact that he had previous notes indicates that, most probably, Shirakoviak wrote in between the mentioned periods, as the first lists of the second notebook are a natural continuation of the preceding one, and there is no indication for a recess. Moreover, it is not known whether the tragedy of the death of his beloved mother caused him to quit writing after September 6, 1942, meaning a year prior to his tragic death. Shirakoviak's notes are day-to-day and matter-of-fact, equipped with self evaluations and critical remarks. They give us first hand information about life in the Ghetto from various aspects, mainly with regard to the severe lack of food, being the major problem of this tragic period.

The Meizel graves
30 meters away from Shirakoviak's tomb, we'll find, on our right, the tombs of Rabbi Eliyahu Haim Meizel (1821-1912) and his male descendents.
Meizel, Eliyahu Haim, son of Moshe and grandson of Aharon Shmuel Kajdamower, was born in 1821 in Gródek. He was the chief Rabbi of a few towns in Poland, until settled down in Lodz and became its community chief Rabbi. He died in 1912 (the Jewish year of 5372) in Lodz. The Rabbi was known in his charities and there are some folk legends, for example: during the plague in Russia he founded a hospital and invested all of his energy to fight the plague. At that time the cholera plague was also occurred in Lodz. They tell that Rabbi Meizel gathered a group of people to pray Tehilim (Psalms) near by the cemetery inner gate. When they finished praying the Rabbi asked "who has the key?" and was replied: "the cemetery guard has the keys." Rabbi Meizel asked for the key of the inner gate, put it in his pocket, and said: "I do not return the key." And the plague ceased.
This story was told to Yhuda Widawski by a Jew nicknamed 'the black wolf', who lived in Balucki, and was Baal Mussaf on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur in the Shtibel (literally: little house refers to a small Jewish congregation) of Suchaczefv Hassidim in Balucki; Rabbi Meizels tried and succeeded to decrease the Jews enlistment quota to the Russian army; he established in Lodz a new type of Talmud Torah; while the Jews were expelled from their jobs in the factories, he put up a new factory for their employment; arranged programs to found a company for acquiring Polish lands on which he planned to build training farms for the youth and have them prepared towards their immigration to Eretz Israel to work as agricultures (this program raised objection and was never fulfilled!!! about his hospitality and charity activities, see the funeral photo).
Further on the right is the burial site of the children and the victims of the cholera plague.
We'll return to the main walkway and continue southward towards the center of the cemetery, the location of the graves of the city's wealthier and more famous personas.
On your right, stands the black shining granite tombstone of the Konsztnadt family. It is made of 2 rows of poles, connected with a chain and decorated in Tuscany style geometrical shapes. As opposed to the style of the tombstone, the metal fence is curved and has a banister, decorated with heavy detailed ornaments.
The next tombstone is the one of the Prussak family, well known manufactures and merchants. The square granite tombstone that was built in 1900 is decorated with a domed roof situated on 4 supporting posts, sticking out in its simplicity.
Further on, to the left, is the tombstone of Jarocinskis, who were businessmen and manufactures, known as philanthropists.
This is a square marble tombstone, put up in 1900 and designed on round Greek pillars, centrally joined and forming a banister. This tombstone was renovated in the past years.
Continuing on this side of the main walkway, we'll reach the largest grave in this cemetery, the mausoleum of Izrael and Eleonora Poznanski.
The mausoleum was built during 1902-1903, most probably by the architect Zeligson, who had been employed by the Poznanski family for a long period.
This is a round structure, made of gray granite, and its massive dome is supported by pillars. Its design is classical, but has modern characteristics, and its gigantic stone walls are decorated with bronze patterns. The interior of the dome is made of impressive mosaics combined of 2 millions Venetians pieces imported from Salviati studio in Venice.
Izrael Poznanski (1833-1900)
I. Poznanski was born in Alexandrov, near Lodz, son of the merchant Kalman Poznanski. In 1834 his family moved to Lodz and lived in an apartment building in the old city. His education was unusual: he studied in a German-Russian school and later became an apprentice in weaving and in weaving craftsmanship. In 1851 he wedded Eleonora Hertz, the daughter of the administrator of Warsaw's Orthodox hospital. He became self-employed at a rather early age, which had a major influenced on his business activity. With the money he inherited from his father, he established the I. K. Poznanski firm. In 1861 the company employed about ten thousands workers who produced annually tens thousands square meters of cotton, linen and wool fabrics, and was quite strong on the Lodz market. In 1863 he acquired an awful lot of real estates in the city and was also involved in commerce. In 1872 he mechanized his factories, as well as opened new markets in the east. His large investments started to take place in 1885, when his empire became the second in Lodz and his business continued to flourish until 1890. Among them he built a synagogue (presently Kosciuszki Street); in 1882 he donated a plot of land to build a hospital on Taragova Street (presently Sterling Street), as well as an additional plot of land to the new cemetery on Bracka Street. In 1898 he founded a philanthropic society to support Jewish artists and to build Jewish libraries in Lodz. He died in Lodz and was buried on 29.4.1900 in the family mausoleum. His assets were valued at 8 million rubles.
The next one is the tombstone of Zilberstein family, who owned a number of textile factories. It was built in 1900 from Carrera marble, and has a shape of a delicate Greek cross; round and quadrangle posts with Corinthian Style elements that support the decorated levels, on which rests the roof. The tombstone was designed by Zeligson and was built by a foreign company.
Across and diagonally from the main walkway, stands the grave of the Rapoport family, built in 1906. This is a rectangular shaped structure of an innovative design. The central arch is decorated with leaves motive leading down to the banister. The banister façade is ornamented with copper castings.
Polish Graves
Group of Polish Karjova army (homeland army) were killed by the Germans in 1944. They were buried next to the Poznanski mausoleum, within the premises of the Jewish cemetery, on its right side.
The site is fenced off and signposted by a plate bearing an emblem resembling the one of the scouts. In 1992 the buried were transferred to a Christian cemetery, but the post sign and the reference still exist in this place.
The Ghetto burial field
We'll now turn northward and continuing along this walkway, walking a similar distance we did on the main walkway, we'll reach the Ghetto burial field of the 43,500 Jews died in the Ghetto during 1940-1944.
The IDF (Israel Defense Forces) regiment commander course placed wooden memory plates on a few tens of graves, in the memory of the Ghetto Jews, killed in plagues, died of hunger and murdered.
From here we'll walk westward, towards the exit. On our way to the gate, we'll notice 8 dug holes on the right side of the walkway, adjacent to the wall. These were the burial holes for the 857 last Jews remaining in the Ghetto to collect its left over equipment. When they heard that the Germans intended to kill them, they decided to escape. They were never caught by the Germans, as the city was freed by the Red army.
Not far from those burial holes, a symbolic grave was established for 84 Jewish women from Lodz, who were taken to the Stuthoff concentration camp and were killed by the Nazis in January 1945 near Wejherowo.

The four members of Bnei Akiva
Walking towards the exit, we'll see on our left, the tombstone of the four members of Bnei Akiva, who were murdered in 1946 by Polish nationalists, as they were on their way from Lodz to attend a conference in Krakow. The four members of the 'Kibbutz Ha'mizrahi' movement were active members of the Bnei Akiva movement in Lodz prior to the Holocaust: Zipi (Perla) Strovinska, Shmulik Richbard, Avrum Pearl and Chilik Friedman, who survived the Holocaust and were active in the rehabilitation of the Jewish religious-movement around the world.
On Adar 1st and 2nd 5306 (February 1946) the 'Mizrahi' and 'Bnei Akiva' movements in Poland held a general conference in Krakow. Those four left Lodz on a transporting food truck to Krakow. On Adar 27th 5306 (28.2.1946) on their way, near Piotrkow, they were murdered by 8 Polish, who stopped the truck, checked each passenger's identity and killed the Jews. The group of friends tried to influence Zipora to identify herself as Polish, but she refused and got killed. The Polish driver and his assistant testified on the execution of this murder.
Their funeral was held on Adar 1st 5306 (3.3.1946) at the Jewish cemetery in Lodz. (Jorek-David Plonski, member of kibbutz Megido, said that he was among the armed security guards standing on the cemetery wall, protecting the funeral, together with a few members of the youth movement).
Other famous inhabitants of Lodz are buried here, among them: Maximilian Kohn, a well known doctor, served as the first director of the hospital built by Poznanski; Izrael Lichtenstein, the leader of the Bonds organization in Lodz; Severin Sterling, famous doctor and social worker; the parents of Arthur Rubinstein, the world known pianist; the parents of Julian Tuwim the renowned Polish national poet.
Information regarding the deceased is available at the Jewish community on 18 Pomorska Street, as well as at the Memorandum Foundation for Lodz Jews (Fundacja Monomentum Iudaicum Lodzense) at the same address. One can also purchase the booklet 'The Jewish Cemetery in Lodz' (by Myroslaw Zevgeniew Wojalski, exists in English).
The cemetery is opened all week (except for Saturdays and Jewish holidays). Entrance to the cemetery is by appointment with the Jewish Community head office, located on 18 Pomorska Street.
The cemetery is located 3 Km north of the city center. It is accessible by the following trams, leaving from the city center to the cemetery (their terminus): No. 1 - from 15 Kilinskiego Street; No. 15 - from Volnosci square, and No. 19 - from Kosciuszki Avenue.
Links
The site of the Jewish cemetery in Lodz
Collection of tombstone photographs

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