Jewish Cemetery, Biała
Narodowy Instytut Dziedzictwa pl

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The cemetery in Biała near Prudnik is one of the oldest and largest Jewish burial grounds in Silesia. It has more than 900 preserved head- and tombstones. Such a large number of preserved and studied tombstones in a cemetery functioning from at least 1621 to 1938 offers a unique opportunity to study the Jewish sepulchral art from the period of the Renaissance to the period before WW2.

The tombstone epigraphs rekindles the memory of the once numerous community dwelling in this part of Silesia for over 300 years. There is a a richness of symbolic meaning behind the forms of stelas, ornamentation, and the themes of books, blessing hands, tree, candle, pitcher, lion, deer, or bird. Both the content and form of the Jewish sepulchral art also cast light on the socio-cultural transformation of the community in the political context. We can track the process of gradual assimilation of Jews and their increasing identification with the European culture manifested in, for example, the departure from Hebrew and the use of German in tomb inscriptions (initially written down by means of the Hebrew alphabet) in the mid-19th century. Progressive Jews were more and more willing to refer to the pan-European eschatological symbolism by incorporating, for example, the motif of hourglass.

History

According to tradition, the history of the Biała Jews goes back to the late 14th century. In the 1580s, their number was growing rapidly as Biała became - next to Głogów - another Silesian town where Jews were able to settle in accordance with the law. In the second half of the 16th century, the Jewish community was already well-organized. They maintained a school and synagogue and, most probably, their own burial ground. In 1688 the Jewish district covered 1/3 of the town, and at the end of the 18th century, they were in the majority.

The most conclusive knowledge of the cemetery was gathered by Prof. Jerzy Woronczak and Dr Jan Paweł Woronczak of the University of Wroclaw in the 1980s and 1990s. During the research in 1984, in the close vicinity of the present-day cemetery, they identified the oldest known headstone dated 1621 or 1622. It shows that the cemetery must already have operated at that time. Between 1664 and 1810, the cemetery was enlarged five times.

Today, there are no more followers of Judaism in Biała. Thanks to the residents and the involvement of the youth, who cleared the area as part of the Anyschematy project, the site is maintained in a condition that allows its rehabilitation. Also, the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland has cleared the cemetery a number of times.

Description

The Jewish cemetery in Biała is located south of the town, on a slope of the Kopiec hill, formerly known as Schweden Schanze. Today, it occupies an area of 0.67 hectares.

907 matzevahs have been preserved in whole or in part. Most of them date back to the first half of the 19th century. The oldest of them (four) were raised in the 17th century (the oldest preserved in situ is from 1645). The matzevahs are vertical, single stelas (except for 18 double headstones), mainly of limestone and sandstone. In the past, there were probably also wooden graves.

Of the stone fence from ca. 1700, only a damaged gate has survived, terminated with an arch back in the 1980s. Also, the foundations of the funeral home are identifiable as well as the rubble of the gravedigger’s house from the 19th century.

The monument is available to visitors.

Compiled by Joanna Szot, Regional Branch of the National Heritage Board of Poland in Opole, 10-06-2014.

Bibliography

  • Teczka ewidencyjna, Cmentarz żydowski w Białej (woj. opolskie, powiat Prudnik), oprac. Woronczak J., Woronczak J.P., Wrocław 2000, mps, Archiwum Wojewódzkiego Urzędu Ochrony Zabytków w Opolu.
  • Lewin L., Aus dem Zülzer Ghetto, Der Oberschlesier 1927, Jg. 9, H. 11, s. 635-639 (fot. między s. 642 i 643).
  • Rabin I., Die Juden in Zülz, [w:] Chrząszcz J. (red), Geschichte der Stadt Zülz in Oberschlesien, Zülz 1926, s. 117-160.
  • Wodziński M., Hebrajskie inskrypcje na Śląsku XIII-XVIII wieku, Wrocław 1996.
  • Woronczak J., Inskrypcje nagrobne z cmentarza żydowskiego w Białej, Annales Silesiae 1989, t. 19.

General information

  • Type: Jewish cemetery
  • Chronology: 1 ćw. XVII – 2 ćw. XX w.
  • Form of protection: register of monuments
  • Address: Parkowa , Biała
  • Location: Voivodeship opolskie, district prudnicki, commune Biała - miasto
  • Source: National Heritage Board of Poland

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