Jewish Cemetery, Józefów
Narodowy Instytut Dziedzictwa pl

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A Jewish cemetery featuring one of the best-preserved and largest collections of matzevot in all of the Lublin region.

History

The Jewish cemetery in Józefów was founded somewhere around the mid-18th century, south of the synagogue, among the nearby fields and in the close vicinity of a stone quarry. In 1848, it was extended through the inclusion of the land situated east of the original cemetery site. It was surrounded by a stone perimeter wall with a gate, from which a path towards the synagogue led alongside the axis of the graveyard. The matzevot were made of locally quarried stone by a nearby workshop. The oldest surviving headstone dates back to 1762, with the vast majority originating from years 1907-1940. During World War II, the Germans have engaged in deliberate vandalism on the cemetery site. The headstones were routinely used as building material for roadworks. After the war, the local residents often used the stone matzevot for construction purposes. Nevertheless, about 380 matzevot have managed to survive to the present day. In 2012, a group of activists from Germany launched an initiative to save the cemetery, in partnership with the Foundation for the Protection of Jewish Heritage, the “Sign of Penance - in Service of Peace” Initiative as well as the Józefów Municipal Office.

Description

The Jewish cemetery is located to the south-west of the city, near Kamienna street. It is situated on a hillside, in the vicinity of a quarry, surrounded by meadows. It occupies a rectangular plot of land with a total surface of approx. 1 hectare, separated from the surrounding area by a low hedge which replaces both the original stone wall and the modern picket fence. Most of the area is overgrown with grass, although there is also a number of trees, mostly in the southern section of the burial ground.

The total number of surviving headstones is about 380. The matzevot take the form of stone slabs in various state of conservation. Most of them are positioned upright, although some have been either overturned or split into fragments. The graves are arranged in rows along the north-south axis, with the site being divided into distinct areas for men, women and children. The headstones are made of locally quarried sandstone, their front sides all facing west, which is a departure from the traditional arrangement where all headstones are oriented towards the east. The oldest surviving headstones are located on the western side of the cemetery. In this relatively large area, only a few headstones have survived to the present day; the other, more recent section of the graveyard fared better in this regard, with a relatively large number of surviving matzevot alongside the western edge of the necropolis. The oldest existing matzevah carries the date 1762, with the most recent one dating back to 1940. Despite the fact that the headstones in the eastern part of the burial ground have been toppled (possibly due to the subsidence of the steep hillside), their arrangement vis-à-vis one another is nevertheless believed to have been preserved intact.

The matzevot are designed in a traditional manner, their design resembling that of a portal. Some of them feature deep, arcaded niches and projecting engaged columns or pilasters. Others still are simplified designs with shallow carved inscriptions. The top sections of the headstones are either semicircular, rectangular, segmental or polygonal in shape.

A few of the matzevot (most likely the older ones) are much more diverse in terms of both design and the variety of ornamentation used. These matzevot are most interesting due to the archaic nature of the reliefs which adorn them. Most of them feature rectangular top sections and convex lettering. Most of the headstones are adorned with geometric ornaments in the form of simple arrangements of triangles or semi-circles, rosettes, stars, interlacing patterns and foliate decorations, the latter appearing in the form of wreaths, palmettes or urns filled with flowers. Some of the more recent matzevot feature ornaments which are largely symbolic in nature, such as hands extended in a gesture of blessing, cupboards filled with ancient books or trees with broken branches. Traces of painted decorations have also survived on certain gravestones. The matzevot are covered with inscriptions. All of the epitaphs are written in Hebrew script, yet not all of them are actually expressed in the Hebrew language, with some headstones featuring inscriptions in Yiddish as well as Hebrew transliteration of Polish names.

In the more recent section of the cemetery there is a fallen headstone which lacks both its surround and its pediment, with the latter most likely having been destroyed.

This headstone is in fact dedicated to a copy of the Torah which has been destroyed and features an intriguing epigraph that bears testimony to a unique religious custom of the past and is therefore rightly considered to be a great rarity today.

The Torah scrolls themselves have most likely been lost to the blaze in a small prayer room, with the remaining fragments being buried in the cemetery alongside human remains.

The structure is accessible all year round.

compiled by Anna Sikora-Terlecka, Regional Branch of the National Heritage Board of Poland in Lublin, 21-11-2014.

Bibliography

  • Kawałko D., Cmentarze województwa zamojskiego, Zamość 1994, p. 97
  • Trzciński A., Śladami zabytków kultury żydowskiej na Lubelszczyźnie, Lublin 1990, p. 17
  • Trzciński A., To, czego pragnąłem, spłonęło w ogniu”. Hebrajski epigraf z Józefowa, /in:/ Studia Żydowskie. Almanach, Konrad Zieliński (ed.), Zamość (no date of publication listed), pp. 11-16

General information

  • Type: Jewish cemetery
  • Chronology: poł. XVIII w.
  • Form of protection: register of monuments
  • Address: Józefów
  • Location: Voivodeship lubelskie, district biłgorajski, commune Józefów - miasto
  • Source: National Heritage Board of Poland

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