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2007 UPDATE ON WSCHODNIA STREET CEMETERY IN BIALYSTOK
For many years, Lucja (Lucy) Lisowska has done everything one person could do to fix up and maintain the Jewish Cemetery on Wschodnia Street in Bialystok – also called the Bagnowka Cemetery. Lucy has been appointed by the Union of Jewish Communities in Poland to represent Jewish interests with local Governments and religious organizations in the City of Bialystok and Podlaski Wojewodztwa (Province).
In 2005, as a result of Lucy’s actions, the previous Bialystok City government had decided to build a wall separating the Wschodnia Street Jewish Cemetery from the adjoining Catholic Cemetery. The funds had been budgeted and a construction plan had been developed.
Location of Wschodnia Street Jewish Cemetery
Catholic Cemetery borders on North and West
Original Pre-War Borders of Jewish Cemetery are Outlined
The lack of a wall along this long northern border of the Cemetery allows the dumping of waste on Jewish sacred ground and unfettered access by locals to the grounds of the Cemetery. The Cemetery has been used for parties, picnics, and dumping of refuse. Without the wall, cars and trucks can drive into the Cemetery and cart off Matzevot for use as building materials.
Debris and Trash Dumped on Jewish Cemetery
Remains of Pre- War Cemetery Wall
The procedure for restitution of Jewish Communal property is proceeding slowly under the 1997 Polish Law on the Relationship between the State and the Union of Jewish Religious Communities. Included amongst over 5,000 claimed Cemeteries, Synagogues, and other Jewish communal buildings is the Wschodnia Street Jewish Cemetery, which is currently owned by the City of Bialystok. The Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland (“FODZ”) was established by the Union of Jewish Communities in Poland and the World Jewish Restitution Organization to manage the restitution process for claimed properties outside the jurisdiction of existing Jewish communities. FODZ has responsibility for all properties under restitution in Podlaski Province, including the Wschodnia Street Cemetery.
It was later in 2005 that the Bialystok City Government reversed their decision to build the wall citing that the process had begun for restitution of the Cemetery to the Jewish Community. In April 2005, Mark Halpern, BIALYGen Coordinator, and Lucja Lisowska met with Bialystok Deputy Mayor Krzysztof Sawicki concerning the Cemetery. Mr. Sawicki was very honest and frank in his discussion, saying that the City would not be contesting the return of the Cemetery to the Jewish Community and, without any future interest, could not allocate City funds to build the wall. He also implied that such a project would not be popular with the voters in Bialystok and could hurt the chances for re-election of the current administration.
Although very upset at this change in position of the City of Bialystok, Lucy was not discouraged. Lucy formed the Centre of Citizens Education Poland-Israel in Bialystok. Lucy and her organization asked the Mayor of Bialystok to better protect the Cemetery from vandalism. Police patrols were instituted at least two times per day. Lucy also worked with FODZ to close an entryway into the Cemetery on its Western wall. This small project will limit access to those who would dump garbage and hold parties in the Cemetery or use this entrance to cart off Matzevot. To read more about this project, click here.
is now 2007 and a new administration is in place in the City
of Bialystok under Mayor Tadeusz Truskolaski. Undaunted, Lucy again
approaches the City about building a wall between the Jewish and Catholic
Cemeteries to protect the Jewish Cemetery from further destruction. After a
number of meetings with officials, the City of Bialystok agrees to build the
wall. Lucy only needs the signatures of three Jewish officials to finalize the
arrangements – Piotr Kadlick, President of the Jewish
Community of Warsaw and the Union
of Jewish Communities in Poland; Andrzej Zozula, Executive Director of
the Union of [Orthodox] Jewish
Congregations in Poland; and Rabbi
Michael Schudrich, Chief Orthodox Rabbi of Poland.
signature was acquired on Monday, March 26, 2007 when Rabbi Schudrich traveled
to Bialystok, visited the Wschodnia Street Cemetery and, along with Lucy, met with
Bialystok Mayor Truskolaski.
Rabbi Michael Schudrich and Ms. Lucja Lisowska at Meeting with Bialystok Mayor
The building of the wall is
scheduled to start in April 2007. The entire project will cost about 230,000
Zloty (about $79,000 US).
Lucy Lisowska, the Jewish Angel of Bialystok, must be credited with these first steps to secure and restore the one remaining Jewish Cemetery with extant Matzevot in Bialystok. Lucy spends much of her time being the voice, the soul, and the conscience of the Jewish Diaspora of Bialystok. She views this work as her duty to past generations, current generations, and future generations of Bialystokers. We Bialystokers view this work as a Mitzvah and thank Lucy for all her hard work and dedication to our shared vision.
As construction of the wall proceeds, we will update this webpage with status reports and photos of the progress.
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Copyright © 2004-07 BialyGen, Mark Halpern, Coordinator, All rights reserved.
Photos courtesy of Mark Halpern
Last Updated on 6 April 2007.