Short history of Jewish cemeteries in Brzesko
„These Jewish cemeteries are part of our shared past. These are places with a particularly deep spiritual, eschatological and historical meaning. Let these places connect Poles and Jews, because together we await the day of the Judgment and Resurrection.” Jan Paweł II
(Based on the book „Jewish cemetery in Brzesko” by Iwona Zawidzka, Brzesko, 2001; used with permission from the author and the publishing house)
Old Jewish cemetery
It is difficult to determine the date when the first Jewish cemetery in Brzesko was established, most probably at the end of the 17th century. The first known history connected to this cemetery located at present Głowackiego street, opposite the town hall, was described at the end of the 18th century. It was then that the owner of Brzesko submitted a request to the National Authority for the transfer of the Jewish cemetery due to the planned expansion of the mill and the construction of craft houses near the Jewish necropolis. According to the representative of Count Żeleński, Antoni Krasuski, called by the commission on 30 June 1787 to settle the dispute between Jews and the count, the only reason for the proposal to move the cemetery was the reluctance of Jews themselves to bury their dead in the close vicinity of Christians. Żeleński was ready to give the Jewish community the same amount of land on the other side of Uszwica river for free. However, representatives of Brzesko Jews present at that meeting, explained that their religion does not allow arbitrary leaving the cemetery without the rabbi’s consent (it should be noted that at that time the Brzesko Jews did not have a spiritual leader of their own). They renewed the request to leave the cemetery in its current place. In addition, they expressed their readiness to raise the height of the 7-foot cemetery fence from the side of the imperial street, and even the remaining parts of the fence, if that was the desire of Count Żeleński. The commission decided to leave the dispute resolution to the High Governorship in Lviv.
On August 21, 1787, the opinion on this matter was sent to Lviv also by the Bochnia local government. According to this document, the arguments of Count Żeleński were irrelevant and at the same time harassing Jews. New location proposed for the cemetery was particularly negatively evaluated. The spot near the border with Okocim, on the other side of Uszwica was being flooded by the river several times a year. This was considered a great difficulty for Jews who, having no access to the place of burial during the flood, would have to keep the bodies of their deceased for a long time. It was also emphasized that the present cemetery, located 400 steps away from the city border, met the requirements of the law. In the final part of the document, the need to protect harmless rituals of every legal religion was emphasized, especially when the burial of ancestors and relatives is a religious issue for Jews. Decision of Lviv authorities from August 29, 1787, stated that request of the owner of Brzesko should be unceremoniously rejected as an example of intolerance aiming at persecution of Jews, and Brzesko Jewish cemetery remained at its place.
The fact is that the old cemetery continued to serve the Jewish community for the following years. Over time, it became neglected and in the inter-war period its condition was rather bad. Devastation deepened in the years of German occupation during World War II, and was completed in the post-war period: a dozen or so tombstones that had survived the war and German devastation, were stolen. Currently, the area of the old Jewish cemetery is used as a parking lot. In 2018, an obelisk was erected to commemorate this place.
New Jewish cemetery
It is not easy to determine the cause and date of establishing the second Jewish necropolis at Czarnowiejska Street. It may have been created after the old cemetery had been filled.
The oldest of the discovered at the new cemetery matzevot was placed on the grave of a woman who died in 1824. Of course, it is difficult to recognize this date as the year of the necropolis foundation, after all, there could have been earlier graves, which have not survived to our times. It seems quite probable, as the central part of the necropolis with the oldest gravestones (from the 1820s and 1830s) has vast empty spaces indicating serious damages.
The oldest surviving matzevot in Brzesko resemble those from Wiśnicz from the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries, characterized by large convex letters carved in stone and modest symbolism. Tombstones from mid-nineteenth century are also somewhat similar to matzevot from Wiśnicz: epitaphs were written with flat letters; decorative motifs surrounding the entire inscription included leaves, flowers, fruits on twigs, as well as rosettes, birds and griffins. On the other hand, tombstones from the second half of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries, are characterized by inscriptions carved in stone and a symbolic motif often appearing only above the inscription.
From the central gate, located in the southern part of the fence, the alley leads to two ohels. Graves of women are located to the left of this alley, while those of men – to the right of it. One of the ohels, funded in the 1960s by Elimelech Glantz from New York in place of a smaller one, destroyed during World War II, is a kind of center of the cemetery. It was built to protect the graves of three Brzesko rabbis from the Lipschitz dinasty and their wives, including Tzaddik Arie Leibusz son of Chaim who died in 1846. Right next to it, in the mid-nineties, the second ohel was built over the graves of rabbis from the Templer family.
Brzesko necropolis occupies the area of about 1.45 ha. This state has been maintained since 1902, when the superiors of the Jewish community asked the city council to sell part of the municipal land, adjacent to the cemetery from the west and south, to enlarge the burial site. The Council agreed to the purchase of land. A year later, the Jews were allowed to move the communal road from the plot purchased from the city to the neighboring plot purchased from private hands. Fence was built around the entire enlarged area of the cemetery. This fence eighties was renovated in 1980ies by Bresko city administration.
It is difficult to determine the place where the pre-burial house used to be located. It surely existed as it played an essential role in pre-funeral rite of tohorach, ritual cleansing of bodies, carried out by the members of Chevra Kaddisha, funeral fraternity. It might have been located on Puszkina Street (former Łazienna), in the same building as the ritual bath, mikvah).
Brzesko new Jewish cemetery is marked with the traces from the First and Second World Wars. Within its territory, there is a war cemetery No. 275 with graves of 21 Jewish soldiers who served in the Austrian army during World War I, and died in the vicinity of Brzesko.
Military quarters with the graves of 21 Jewish soldiers murdered in World War I, 2018.
(See a separate article)
Tragic events of 1939-1945 are reflected in epitaphs on many post-war symbolical graves and monuments on mass graves:
- monument erected in 1947 by A. Grunberg and S. Bransdorfer in honor of 200 Jews murdered by Germans on June 18, 1942
- Monument at the mass grave (2017, author of the project – Damian Styrna)
- monument at another mass grave (2018, author of the project Damian Styrna)
There are separate articles about the last 2 mass graves.
© 2001, Brzeska Oficyna Wydawnicza; Iwona Zawidzka
Pictures and information about the monuments at mass graves come from the archive of Anna Brzyska