Jewish Cemetery, Szczebrzeszyn
Narodowy Instytut Dziedzictwa pl

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Founded in the early 16th century - or perhaps even earlier than that - the Jewish cemetery in Szczebrzeszyn is a truly unique site on a regional scale and, indeed, one of the oldest cemeteries of this kind anywhere in Poland. Its uniqueness stems mostly from the large area it occupies (1.8 hectares) as well as the number of the surviving headstones (about 2000 in total), including some dating back to the 16th century, with the necropolis having remained in constant use for about four hundred years.

History

The cemetery occupies the area of a small hill positioned alongside what is now known as the Cmentarna street (Cemetery street) and was most likely founded in the early 16th century. The very first mentions of the cemetery in written sources date back to 1593, when the erstwhile owner of the town, Jan Czarnowski, officially allocated the site to the Jewish community to use as a burial ground. The oldest surviving matzevot stands over the grave of one Yechiel, the son of Moses, and dates back to 1545. The cemetery was extended on a number of occasions and remained in constant use right until the onset of World War II. After the war broke out, it became the site of mass executions of the local Jews. The cemetery was partially destroyed during the war. After the hostilities ended, the process of gradual decay and dilapidation continued right until 2009, with numerous acts of vandalism causing a varying degree of damage to the surviving matzevot. The first attempts to preserve the site were made back in 1991, in connection with the ceremony intended to commemorate the tragic fate of the Jewish community. Once the brushes and weeds were removed, the oldest, eastern part of the cemetery could finally be accessed. In the middle of the necropolis, a monument funded by the Society of the Jews of Szczebrzeszyn in Israel and in Diaspora was erected. As a result of the lack of care and absence of security measures, the cemetery found itself in a truly catastrophic condition. In 2010, the Foundation for the Protection of Jewish Heritage, in cooperation with the Peacework organisation, made an attempt at rescuing the cemetery. It was at the initiative of the Foundation and through its ceaseless efforts that in 2011 the construction of a fence has begun. The investment received financial backing from the Heritage Foundation for Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries - Avoyseinu (United States) which collected most of the necessary funds. In the end, despite the numerous events which threatened its existence, the largest ensemble of Jewish headstones in all of the Lublin region has managed to survive.

Description

The Jewish cemetery is located in the south-western part of Szczebrzeszyn. It is situated on a hill alongside Cmentarna street, near the synagogue. It occupies a site designed on a polygonal plan, its surface being approx. 1.8 hectares. The cemetery is surrounded by a perimeter wall. Parts of the wall are made of brick and limestone. It is also in this section of the perimeter wall that a wrought iron gate was installed, each of its leaves shaped as a menorah - a traditional Jewish candelabrum. The rest of the perimeter wall is made of concrete slabs. Researchers believe that the total number of headstones in the burial ground is about 2000, their state of preservation varying widely. Some of the matzevot have survived intact, but many of them can only be seen in vestigial form. Many of the matzevot have been completely or partially buried underground. Most of the headstones are arranged in regular rows. They are predominantly made of sandstone. The most valuable examples, dating back to the 16th century, can be seen in the north-eastern part of the necropolis. The oldest of them all was made in memory of Yechiel, the son of Moses, who died in 1545. Other matzevot from this period include the gravestones of Chana, the daughter of Abraham, Rosa, the daughter of Menachem, Israel, the son of Yitzhak and Isachar Ber, the son of Naftali ha-Kohen, also known as Berman Ashkenazi from Szczebrzeszyn, a renowned thinker and Talmudic scholar. These headstones are rectangular in shape, devoid of any decorative flourishes save for the inscriptions engraved in stone.

To the south lies the burial site that was used in the 17th and 18th centuries, featuring a multitude of lavishly decorated matzevot, mostly adorned with foliate motifs. The most valuable of these are the headstones from the 1st half of the 17th century, exhibiting typical features of the Renaissance style and notable for their excellent workmanship. The inscriptions on these headstones are convex, with individual verses separated by horizontal strips. Even today, these headstones clearly show the outstanding precision of the stoneworkers who made them.

Most of the surviving headstones, however, date back to the late 19th century and the early 20th century. They are located mostly in the western part of the necropolis. Most of them are flat, with the centre section framed by a decorative surround and adorned with geometric motifs in the form of an arch, rosette or interlacing patterns. Some headstones are rectangular in shape, while others feature top sections in the shape of a segmental arch. Many tombs feature a longitudinal stone block positioned along the axial line of the grave itself. The inscriptions are carved in stone. The headstones feature numerous symbolic images which are typical for Jewish sepulchral art, including the blessing hands on the graves of religious figures or the jug and the bowl which adorn the headstones of Levites. Women’s graves are mostly adorned with a candlestick symbol - a reference to the traditions of lighting candles at the beginning of the Shabbat.

The headstones also feature many of the typical epitaphs of that period as well as traces of painted decorations.

Near the main entrance one can admire the matzevah of Elimelech Hurwicz - the tzadik of Jaworów - which, over the years, has become embedded in the trunk of an ancient oak as the tree grew around it.

There are also three mass graves on the site, all of them serving as the final resting place for the Jews murdered by the Nazis during World War II. In the centre of the necropolis there is a stone monument commemorating the horrors of the Holocaust; it takes the form of a rectangular wall with three matzevot bearing inscriptions in Hebrew and Polish as well as the symbols of the Star of David. The cemetery is overgrown by numerous species of trees, including poplar, birch, elm, oak and ash.

The site is accessible all year round.

compiled by Anna Sikora-Terlecka, Regional Branch of the National Heritage Board of Poland in Lublin, 09-30-2014.

Bibliography

  • Kawałko D., Cmentarze województwa zamojskiego, Zamość 1994, pp. 211-212
  • Trzciński A., Śladami zabytków kultury żydowskiej na Lubelszczyźnie. Lublin 1990, pp. 16-17.
  • Trzciński A., Woronczak J., Nagrobki z XVI wieku na cmentarzu żydowskim w Szczebrzeszynie, [in]: Krzysztof Pilarczyk (ed.), Żydzi i judaizm we współczesnych badaniach polskich. Materiały z konferencji, Kraków 21-23 XI 1995, Cracow 1997, pp. 349-365.
  • Trzciński A., Cmentarz żydowski w Szczebrzeszynie, (part 3), “Zamojski Kwartalnik Kulturalny” 1996, no. 4(50), pp. 80-84.
  • Trzciński A., Cmentarz żydowski w Szczebrzeszynie, (part 3), “Zamojski Kwartalnik Kulturalny” 1997, no. 1(51), pp. 65-69.
  • Trzciński A., Cmentarz żydowski w Szczebrzeszynie, (part 3), “Zamojski Kwartalnik Kulturalny” 1997, no. 4(54), p. 8.

General information

  • Type: Jewish cemetery
  • Chronology: 1510 - 1939
  • Form of protection: register of monuments
  • Address: Szczebrzeszyn
  • Location: Voivodeship lubelskie, district zamojski, commune Szczebrzeszyn - miasto
  • Source: National Heritage Board of Poland

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