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The old Jewish cemetery of Schneidemühl

Jewish cemeteries are documents of history. As such they often mirror the culture of the time—they invite to linger and to observe. A Jewish burial ground and its planning has always been one of the first obligations for a Jewish community after establishing themselves in a town or village. That cemetery was hallowed ground, to be kept in perpetuity.

In Schneidemühl of the nineteenth century, the path from the living to the realm of the departed was unusually short,
located no further than a fifteen-minute walk from the vicinity of the synagogue. It was fortuitous for the community that after the town's first great fire, more than 300 years ago, the crown had allotted the Jewish community land for a burial site, at that time the area was surrounded by empty fields and meadows, a fair distance from the nearest habitations.

At the economic height of the Jewish community’s life, in 1854, Schneidemühl’s second Jewish cemetery was consecrated. The new grounds were an extension to the original burial ground that lay immediately adjacent.

The earliest burial date recorded is that of Meyer ben David Baer who died on Thursday, 23 November 1854
(2 Kislev 5615) and
laid to rest in field III; no information about his person or lineage could yet be ascertained.
      SchneideCemetery1
Featuring an ornate iron gate held by two tall square pillars — the entrance of the newly laid-out cemetery
(ca. 1870), before a customary brick wall surrounded the burial fields.

In the distance the memorial, built to honour the fallen of the Prussian Wars
 

*

Today, only these few extant photographs give us but a glimpse of this once beautiful cemetery.
            An example of an epitaph with elaborately rhymed text, embodying an acrostic,
 was that of
Louis Kronheim, father of the community's popular house doctor Emil Kronheim.

gravekronheim
.
(Photo courtesy M. Cohen, USA)

Hebrew inscriptions on grave stone of Louis Kronheim (centre)



Below, the Erb-Begräbniss, a family grave, of Salomon and Ernestine Simonstein, (great-grandparents of the author of this website) differed from a traditional burial site. Salomon Simonstein had died in 1904 at the age of fifty-six;
          his widow Ernestine (née Lösser) was laid to rest there beside him a quarter of a century later in 1929.

              The slender but ornate wrought-iron enclosure, presented in the Art Nouveau style of the day, with
                                        its love
for natural forms, defined the perimeter of these graves.
   Facing the graveside were the traditional Hebrew inscriptions with the dates and name of the deceased’s father.


Simonsteinhebr
.
(Photo courtesy M. Cohen, USA)

Hebrew inscriptions on grave markers of
Salomon and Ernestine Simonstein, née Lösser




  
.
(Photo courtesy M. Cohen, USA)

Facing the opposite direction, the reverse showed the German
inscriptions
on grave markers of Salomon and Ernestine Simonstein,
née Lösser, — plainer and less detailed, alluding to liberal burial influences.





  jacob
.
(Photo courtesy M. Cohen, USA)

German inscriptions on gravestone of Sarah Jacob, née Lösser



julieGumpGrave
.
(Photo courtesy Henny Nossig, née Simonstein, Brazil)

German inscriptions on grave stone of Julie Gumpert, née Heymann




moritzGrave
.
(Photo courtesy Henny Nossig, née Simonstein, Brazil)

German inscriptions on g
rave stone of
Moritz
Simonstein and his second wife Henriette, née Lewin




graverosenberg
.
(Photo courtesy J. Rosenberg, Chile)

Graves of Jacob and Bertha Rosenberg, née Simonstein

These above photographs are but some of the precious few remaining witnesses to the existence of the once fine Jewish cemetery.
Beholding these images, one can sense the sentimentality expressed by those who used to visit here regularly
— they knew the language of the gravestones, they knew that the cemetery was the collective memory of the community.

     The Nazis' destruction of this cemetery in March 1939 points directly to the prevailing anti-Semitic climate in Schneidemühl throughout the 1930s.

Every single gravestones had been stolen by the town's people. Many a matzevah was re-used in the city's non-Jewish cemeteries
or utilized for profane purposes—a travesty reminiscent of events in the Middle Ages and the Crusades.

During a visit to his ancestral city, the author of this website stood here with great emotions, trying to grasp that so much more than
the graves of generations of his maternal family had been obliterated.



cemetery
.
(Photo Peter Simonstein. Cullman, Canada, 1998)

"Beware of well-kept lawns!"


In post-war years after the city had assumed its Polish name Piła once again, a new communist government saw no reason to preserve,
let alone honour this site.
City officials took the dispassionate decision to disregard this cemetery's holiness by
expropriating a portion of its grounds upon which to erect a police school
.

For the following seventy-five years there existed no sign, no plaque that would tell the citizenry or the casual visitor that here,
in this fenced-in expanse of lawn, twelve generations
— silent witnesses of a once vibrant Jewish community — lie buried.

However, on 2 June 2015, in a solemn ceremony
commemorating this 17th-century cemetery and the city's almost forgotten
Jewish community
a Memorial in the form of a raised Magen David, a Star of David, was unveiled.


  PilaMonument1        Pila monument






Pila.cemeteryMemorialUnveiling3
The occasion was given the appropriate dignity by the presence of Poland's Chief Rabbi.
      In a solemn moment of remembrance
Rabbi Michael Schudrich recited kaddish.     

PilaCemeteryMemorialUnveiling1
                                                         
Unveiling the memorial, draped in a ribbon of Poland's national flag, dignitaries at the ceremony included the city's clergy,
the mayor,
the commandant, officers and cadets of the police academy, personalities from the city's administration
as well as members of the local press.


PilaMonumentUnveiling1


PilaCemeteryMemorialUnveiling12


(Some of the above material has been excerpted from the book
History of the Jewish Community of Schneidemühl: 1641 to the Holocaust
)


















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