28.03.2022 | Redaktor

10. The oldest tombstones

There were 2 Jewish cemeteries in Brzesko: an old (at Głowackiego street, opposite the city hall) and a new one (at Czarnowiejska Street). The old cemetery was most probably founded in the 17th century. After it had been overfilled at the beginning of the 19th century, the Brzesko Jewish community bought a plot of land for the new cemetery, further from the city center.

A very detailed 1847 map indicates that back then the new Jewish cemetery occupied a small part of the present territory. It was not until 1902 that the Brzesko Jewish community bought part of the municipal land adjacent to the cemetery to increase the burial place. A year later the entire area of the enlarged cemetery was fenced with a wall.

New Jewish cemetery in Brzesko, 1847. Photo of the map from szukajwarchiwach.gov.pl website. Pink rectangle most likely marks the house where gravedigger lived and where the pre-burial house might have been located
New Jewish cemetery at the present-day map (dark green). Area marked with red marker shows the area of the cemetery in 1847

The oldest matzeva so far discovered at this cemetery dates from 1824. That does not mean that this cemetery was actually established in 1824, since there could have been earlier graves whose tombstones have not survived till today. That seems quite likely, since there are large empty spaces in the part of this cemetery where the oldest gravestones (from the 1820s and 1830s) are to be found, suggesting that that area suffered serious damage at some point. It is possible that some of the matzevas in this area of the cemetery have fallen over and are lying covered with a layer of earth. It seems quite likely because the tombstones used to be placed in the ground without any foundation. In the last few years, we have found several matzevas from the 1820s that had been covered with dry leaves. However, according to Jewish law, such discovered tombstones cannot be erected if their exact original location in the cemetery is not certain.

The oldest matzeva is located in the northern part of the cemetery, behind the ohel of Lipschitz rabbis.

Matzeva of Yettel, daughter of Hershel Shachne. who died in 1824

Here lies
The important woman
Modest Mrs Yettel
Daughter of Hershel Shachne
Died… [indecipherable]
5584 [1824] May her soul be bound in the bundle of life

The oldest tombstones at the new Jewish cemetery are characterized by large, beautifully carved in relief letters but with little decoration, though sometimes there is a floral motif. Their inscriptions are rather short and almost never include the family name of the deceased person.

Matzeva of Feigele, daughter of Moshe, who died in 1828

A virtuous woman

Mrs Feigele, daughter of Moshe

Her soul departed on 8 Shevat 588 [27 January 1828]

May her soul be bound in the bundle of life

Matzeva of Reisha Rachel, daughter of Arie, who died in 1826

Here lies

important and righteous woman

Reisha Rachel daughter of Arie

Died 15 Av 5586 [August 18, 1826]

May her soul be bound in the bundle of life.

Matzeva of Freidel, daughter of Yaacov, who died in 1828

Here lies

Modest woman

Freidel daughter of Yaacov died 12

Av 5588 [July 23,1828]

May her soul be bound in the bundle of life.

Starting from the second half of the 19th century, the lettering on the tombstone became carved into the stone and the inscriptions more elaborate and literary, drawing on biblical texts and listing qualities of the deceased that reflected Jewish values. Decorative motifs of symbolic meaning — including crowns, lions, deer, birds, and candelabra – also came to be introduced at that time.

Matzeva of Chaya Yuta, daughter of Menachem Zvi Katz

The tombstone of this young woman who died shortly after giving birth to her child in 1881, is characterized not only by many ornaments and an elaborate epitaph, but also by the fact that the Hebrew inscription is arranged in acrostic – the lines begin with the letters that make up the name of the deceased Chaya Yuta, יוטא חיה

With her own hands she supported the poor
Crown of good name
Here lies
An innocent, honest and pure Chaya
Who would be able to describe her righteousness?
Her soul will rest in purity, peacefully and safely
The fear of God was like a crown on her head
And she devoutly kept the commandments of God
Did good deeds and charity
To God her spirit returned at the time of her delivery
This day was set for weeping since she was taken to heaven
And there the brightness would shine, Mrs Chaya Yuta
Daughter of Menachem Zvi Katz
Deceased on the 9th of Av, 5641 [August 4, 1881]
May her soul be bound in the bundle of life

(English translation by Idan Livne)

© Anna Brzyska, 2022