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GRODNO GUBERNYA POLAND IMAGING PROJECT
SURVEY OF JEWISH CEMETERIES
by Heidi M. Szpek, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy and Religion Studies
Central Washington University
Partial funding provided by: The Department of Philosophy & The Office of International Studies and Programs Grant Committee,
Central Washington University, Ellensburg, Washington 98926, USA
A resource providing photos of, directions to, and current condition of
26 Jewish Cemeteries in the Bialystok region.
published here with permission of the author
Editor's Note: Professor Heidi Szpek from Central Washington University teaches Hebrew Bible, Extra-Biblical Literature, Sacred Literature, Judaism, Western Religions, Holocaust Studies. Her interests and Specialties include Holocaust & Post- Holocaust Response, Eastern European Jewry, and Jewish Epigraphs. Her current projects are:
* Report for Site Survey of Jewish Cemeteries in the Grodno Gubernya Poland.
* And the Children Played at Sobibor: Essays on Post-Holocaust (Manuscript in Progress).
“Epitaphs and Acrostic Poems in the Jewish Cemetery of Bagnowka, Poland.”
(Monograph in Progress)
* “On the Nature of Biblical Quotes in Jewish Epitaphs.” Conference Paper for 2008
Pacific Northwest Society of Biblical Literature Regional Conference.
Professor Szpek's interest in Jewish Tombstones and the vanishing presence of their existence in Poland's northeast led to this Survey and an application for a National Endowment for Humanities Material Reference Grant for The Grodno Gubernya - Poland Imaging Project.
The Grodno Gubernya - Poland Imaging Project seeks to create a digital photographic record of Jewish tombstones dated c. 1700-1945 and to catalogue these images, with select informational fields, in a permanent searchable database. This database will serve as a Material Reference Tool to be deposited in select institutions in the United States, Poland and Israel. The significance of and focus on this specific gubernya (province), located in Northeastern Poland, is that from c. 1724-1929 it was like a heartland of Jewish life in Europe (Wisniewski, Synagogues) and, unlike southeastern and central Poland, the Grodno Gubernya has not yet been the subject of intense research and documentation. Thus, this project will fill this void, provide accessibility for further research involving tombstones often the only remaining artifact for unraveling Jewish heritage in NE Poland, and become the first systematic and comprehensive project involving Jewish tombstones in Eastern Europe.
This Project is supported by BIALYGen. A letter of support accompanied the grant application and, in part stated:
This project to document and help preserve the monuments (Matzevot) from dozens of Jewish Cemeteries in the region of Bialystok is a necessary project. The resulting photographs, maps, and supporting documentation derived from this project will be a benefit to many.
The history of the Bialystok area is diverse having been at times part of Poland, Russia and Prussia. The always large and active Jewish population of this region was influenced by these cultures as well as others from Western Europe and the Jewish homeland of Eretz Yisrael. The artwork of these monuments (Matzevot) is eclectic, inscribed in many languages and with illustrations that represent the lives and vocations of many ancestors of American Jews.
This project will ensure that the history, culture, art, and genealogy of the Jewish population in this region will be enhanced and made easily available to those wanting access anywhere in the world including, Poland, U.S. and Israel. I understand that images of the tombstones, their translation to English, and maps of the Cemeteries will be made available on the Internet. BIALYGen, the organization that I founded, will make available online to the public a database of all burial records as well as other information arising out of and/or pertinent to this project.
Since the start of World War II, these Jewish Cemeteries have been abused by occupying forces, local governments, and local non-Jewish citizens and, without anyone to take care of these Cemeteries, the weather and pollution have also taken their toll. These Cemeteries need the attention now to document what is left before more vandalism, theft, carelessness, and the elements further destroy the very valuable historical, artistic, and spiritual record of Jewish life in this area that once was the home to hundreds of thousands of Jewish people, many of them with descendants in the U.S. today.
All these Cemeteries are now on lists of Jewish communal property being restored to ownership of the Jewish Community of Poland through the auspices of the Foundation for Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland. The Foundation does not have the funding to restore, secure, document, and preserve all these Jewish cemeteries. The work of Dr. Szpek and Central Washington University will provide much needed documentation and historical information allowing Foundation to allocate their limited funds to restoration, security, and long-term preservation of these Cemeteries.
|Bialystok - Bagnowka|
The following report provides the most current information on 26 Jewish cemeteries in
the Grodno Gubernya in Poland. For each cemetery general information is first provided:
the GPS location - in degrees, minutes (and seconds when possible);
the approximate size of each cemetery;
the number of extant matzevoth (tombstones);
a link to cemetery gallery of images maintained on Tomasz Wisniewski’s website/database,
a General View of the cemetery.
In addition, for each cemetery additional information is also provided in respect to:
1. Directions to the cemetery – often incomplete or vague in the records of the International Jewish Cemetery Project Alphabetical listing of cemeteries and in Tomasz Wisniewski’s Jewish Bialystok and Surroundings in Eastern Poland (Ipswich Press, 1998); and
2. Conditions for each cemetery – information here relates to the condition of the land upon which the cemetery rests, the condition (i.e. legibility, position, etc.) of extant matzevoth, additional structures on the cemetery, as well as any visible threats.
The reader is encouraged to compare this report with the earlier report of:
Samuel Gruber and Phyllis Myers, Survey of Historic Monuments in Poland. A Report to the United
States Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad. 1993/Rev. 1995
And the cemetery information provided by:
Tomasz Wisniewski, Jewish Bialystok and Surroundings in Eastern Poland: A Guide for Yesterday and
Today. Ipswich Press, 1998.
The International Association of Jewish Genealogical Studies - Cemetery Project. Available at:
One glaring fact is obvious from the comparison of this report with the earlier documentation: the number of matzevoth have significantly decreased. As to the conditions of the cemeteries, legibility of inscriptions and visible threats, no general statement can be offered. Each cemetery entry must be individually consulted.
The ultimate goal of this report is to assist in the documentation and preservation of the Jewish epitaphs in these cemeteries as planned in the Grodno Gubernya-Poland Imaging Project by Dr. Heidi M. Szpek of Central Washington University (seehttp://www.cwu.edu/~szpekh under Research). However, it is also hoped that the Survey of Jewish Cemeteries information in these following pages will be of benefit to all those interested in the preservation of these Jewish cemeteries in Northeastern Poland. Moreover, corrections to, clarifications of or additions to this report are welcomed, with queries and comments sent to the author at email@example.com.
Special thanks are extended to Frank J. Idzikowski for patiently trekking with me from cemetery to cemetery in May of 2007 and for his photographic skills, and to Tomasz Wisniewski and Mark Halpern for their knowledge and guidance in this endeavor.
This research group, its mailing list, and this website are hosted by JewishGen, Inc. at no cost by JewishGen, Inc., the Home of Jewish Genealogy. If you have been aided in your research by this site and wish to further our mission of preserving our history for future generations, your JewishGen-erosity is greatly appreciated.
Copyright © 2004-2008 BialyGen, Mark Halpern, Coordinator, All rights reserved.
Last Updated on 30 August 2008.