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Jewish Journal

The New Cemetery in Cieszyn

Pavel Pustelnik

September 14, 2012 | 6:56 am

The journey through Cieszyn Silesia continues and after Skoczów and Wilamowice we come to the centre of the region – Cieszyn, a town that used to be an important place for the Jewish community before the 2. World War.

 

It has been raining cat and dogs since days. The Polish summer is not always as nice as it could be for those who are trying to enjoy their holidays. When we approach Cieszyn we see heavy clouds above the centre. Not a good sign if you plan to take some good shots at a cemetery. Arriving from the North we go first to the cemetery called “The New Jewish Cemetery”. A large white gate looks locked but surprisingly after stronger pushing, it lets us in.

The cemetery was built once the old site has been fully occupied and the decision was taken to organise a new structure. The decision has been granted after several problems encountered by the Jewish community of Cieszyn. First of all there was considerable opposition from coming from the neighbourhood that was not happy with an extension of the cemetery. Even though the land for the venue was bought already in 1898, it was only in 1906 when any works could be started. The first funeral took place in 1907.

Today it is not easy to imagine the old good days of the place. By the entrance you can see a golden sign that commemorates the works that were done at the cemetery in 1997-1999. It has been only 13 years ago but in between visibly, not enough care has been given to Cieszyn's site. The graves are covered by a thick layer of leaves, some soil, some of them almost disappeared. The cemetery house practically does not exist any more. A large decorative structure based on several arches has been partially demolished during the restoration. It was not possible to save the building as a whole therefore the roof has been removed and today only pale-yellow walls are witnessing the past.

What is interesting about the New Cemetery is the fact that the War and the German Occupation did not harm the place. In march 1943 the decision was taken to change the role of the Jewish cemeteries in Cieszyn and they were supposed to be reshaped into parks. It is easy to imagine what this would have meant for the site. Fortunately, the implementation of the decision has never happened. Why than the cemetery is almost completely destroyed? The last funeral took place in 1961. The communist regime did not treat Jewish cemeteries as a part of the Polish heritage and there was a silent approval of “using the place”. This has been happening in a very obvious place – the graves became a source for the buildings around Cieszyn. Well, if you flip hamsas and menoras, you can recycle a Jewish grave into a Christian one. This has been a wide practice as well and led to a further decline of the site.

The rain does not stop. The depressive atmosphere of the place is doubled by the weather. Time to find the other Jewish cemetery in Cieszyn.

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Jews visiting Central & Eastern Europe frequently come with stereotypes and prejudices about the region.  In particular, group heritage and education tours for young Jews...

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