Unidentified vandals destroyed six 19th-century gravestones in a Jewish cemetery in Mysłowice, Poland earlier this week, JTA reports. Resident Ireneusz Skwirowski told a local website that police would be informed of the incident, adding that she had photographs of the people reportedly behind the vandalism. Skwirowski was part of a group of local residents who, working with a councilman and an historian, restored the long-neglected Jewish cemetery late last year—making the act of vandalism one that very much impacts the community.
Jewish cemeteries throughout Poland, in many towns and villages the last vestiges of pre-war Jewish life, are today a haunting reminder of the country’s lost Jewish community—both for visiting Jews, like myself, searching for their family’s roots, as well as for local Poles living in their midst.
Even the burial markers, or matzevot, can be contentious (as depicted in the haunting Polish film Aftermath, recently released in the U.S). Last year Tablet profiled Polish photographer Łukasz Baksik, who hunts matzevot which have been “repurposed” by the Nazis (and in years since) as paving stones for courtyards and passageways, or else to patch crumbling walls and curbstones in need of reinforcement. (There’s a moving slideshow with images of the recovered gravestones.)
But while many Jewish cemeteries in Poland are a reminder of what was, the Mysłowice cemetery had become, through the restoration and maintenance of the local community (here’s the work they did on the place), very much a space existing in the present. Which makes the act of vandalism for some reason seem, at least to me, like that much more of an affront.
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Related: Poland’s Undead Gravestones
Stephanie Butnick is deputy editor of Tablet Magazine and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.