Jewish Journal


September 14, 2012

The Old Cemetery in Cieszyn


Cieszyn is called “Little Vienna”, the reason being architecture that was to emulate the city that rich bourgeoisie has been enjoying in the period of the Hungary-Austria Empire. A large, lovely market square, narrow streets and a centre for contemporary design on the Castle Hill. What brought us here is the Old Jewish Cemetery, called a cemetery for the gravestones. Cieszyn has two Jewish sites that neighbour each other. The New Cemetery is smaller and less gravestones has been preserved there (http://www.jewrnalism.org/news/item/118-the-new-cemetery-in-cieszyn).

The Old is a true jewel that literally moves you to the past. It is hard to imagine a more dramatic location than a hill that faces the whole town, its towers and elegant houses. The cemetery is fenced and locked. No signs about how to enter, no information about who could have a key to the gate. We decide to trespass and use a hole in the fence. The area is densely populated, but nobody sees us. Muddy and slippery ground does not really invite to spend more time here. The details of the gravestones are amazing enough to stop caring about the state of the outfits. There are no paths, no idea how to embrace the whole site. Once you enter you can finally see crystal clear why the place is called a cemetery for graves.

There is no structure, some of the graves are lying covered by soil and some are still standing, lining towards the ground. One or two looks as if they were flying barely touching the ground. Another couple of gravestones are barely readable, but nicely smooth after being touched after countless raindrops. The place is awkwardly silent and untouched. As if it was a sanctuary of the past that will never come back. The cemetery conserves a much longer past than its new counterpart. It has been founded in 1647 and is the oldest in the area. Some people suspect that there was a cemetery already in the Middle Ages but there are no strong proofs for that. At the beginning the site was serving only an opulent Singer family who later on sold it to the community and it became the main necropolis in the area. In the 19. century a cemetery house was built together with a house for a guardian and a stable for the horses that were used to pull the caravan. The building is in a painfully bad shape and entering it would be too risky, so we leave the large orange structure behind.

We learn though that this was the place where the German Gestapo killed 81 people taken into hostage, among them 11 Czech scouts. A sad story of the decline that touched the New Cemetery is retold at the older site as well. It did not suffer much during the war, but what hurt it the most was the value of stones used to decorate the graves. The site was regularly used as a free deposit of marble and GRANIT???????????? used later in the area. In this way the cemetery has been slowly disappearing. An interesting project has been organised to help in preserving the site. In 2009 through a cooperation of the prison in Cieszyn and the Jewish community in Bielsko-Biala, the prisoners have been engaged in works at the site. In return the were offered educational meetings related to the Jewish culture. It is difficult to estimate what the impact of the project was. The town that looks at us calls for a further exploration. Given the fact that the two Jewish cemeteries in Cieszyn are so large, there must be some more Jewish traits downtown. Perhaps some Jewish design on the Castle Hill...

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