Monday, November 9, 2009

Lithuania: Kalvarija Jewish Cemetery

The Jewish cemetery in Kalvarija - southern Lithuania - has just been recorded by Ralph Salinger of Kfar Ruppin in Israel.

Born in the UK and raised in New Zealand, Ralph lives on Kibbutz Kfar Ruppin. He has researched his family history and discovered that the SALINGER family lived in Vilkaviskis (c1805-1941).

To learn about the project, go to Ralph's site,

Working with Ralph is Wayne N. Frankel, Ph.D., a professor at The Jackson Laboratory (Bar Harbor, Maine), and editor-in-chief of PLoS Genetics, an open access research journal.

Dr. Frankel's ancestors lived in Vilkaviskis for many generations prior to the 1902 emigration of his great-grandfather to New York. His cousins lived in Vilkaviskis until World War II; some survived, others did not."

His assistants on the ground in the area include Antanas Zilinskas, Vilkaviskis Regional Museum director; Algis Vaskevicius has a deep interest in the subject and his superb knowledge of English has been a wonderful source of support; and The Honorable Mr. Algirdas S Bagušinskas, Mayor of Vilkaviskis and his staff. See Ralph's site for contact information for these individuals.

In September, Ralph visited the Kalvarija Jewish Cemetery and with the help of middle-school students, the names of Jews buried there were deciphered.

The stones were cleaned with shaving cream, which is not recommended by cemetery preservationists as it can destroy stones and inscriptions.

In any case, the method was used and the stones deciphered. The International Jewish Graveyard Rabbit hopes that the visitors thoroughly washed off the foam from the stones.

One after another the names of people known from the archives were revealed to Jewish history researcher Alvydas Tottori. In a day and a half, Ralph - with his helpers - transcribed some 80 stones.

At the link above for the Vilkovishk site, see photos of the stones and learn more about Ralph's project. See the names of the researchers and the families they are looking for here.

Some history

Vilkovishk is located in southwestern Lithuania on the Seimena River, a tributary of the river Sesupe, about 18 km from the border with Prussia (now Russia) and 3.5 km from the St.Petersburg-Berlin railway line.

In 1660, King Jan Kazimir granted Vilkovishk city rights, making it one of the oldest Lithuanian towns. Jews had begun to settled there in the 14th century, but the old Jewish cemetery had stones dating only from 1575.

Queen Bona (wife of King Zigmunt August II) donated timber to Vilkovishk's citizens for building prayer houses at the beginning of the 16th century. Jews also benefited from this and the synagogue was built in 1545 and was extant until WWII, after several renovations over history. Sephardic Jews also settled here and the synagogue contained several Torah scrolls the refugees brought with them from Spain. They had their own cemetery.

In the early 18th century, Jews from Koeningsburg (Prussia) were buried in Vilkovishk because they were not permitted to construct a cemetery of their own. In the mid-1750s, refugees from a cholera epidemic in Vizhan, about 35km south of Vilkovishk, settled in a nearby forest - not allowed to enter the town - and the Jewish community supplied them with food. Many died and were buried near the forest. Their descendants settled in the town and remained there until the Holocaust.

There is much more detailed history, read it at the link above.

More links of interest

-- See the list of available Vilkovishk databases here.

-- See the photo library here.

-- See the site's index page here for all the pages on the site, including maps, photos of stones, various aspects of the project.

-- And see the related blog here, with even more information.

A truly fascinating site for those with ancestors in the area, or to see how similar projects can be organized.

Contact Ralph here.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Turkey: Sephardic cemeteries running out of space

There is an ongoing dispute between the Sephardic and Ashkenazi communities in Turkey because the Sephardic cemeteries are running out of space.

Ashkenazim - in Turkey since the 1400s - make up only 5% of the Jewish community, but the two communities are extensively intermarried. The Sephardic community grew after Spanish Jews were welcomed at the time of the 1492 Expulsion.

The office of the Chief Rabbi (Hakham Bashi) placed an advertisement in the daily Jewish paper stating that Sephardim were reserving plots in Ashkenazi cemeteries and vice versa.

The rabbi warned that this is a big problem and those considering such plots should consult him first, while the Ashkenazi organization says, in response, that their door is open to everyone.

The main problem is that Sephardim and Ashkenazim married to each other want to be buried side by side, but the Sephardi cemeteries are running out of room.

There are six Sephardic and one Ashkenazi cemetery, with the Ulus Cemetery most popular.

Read the complete Hurriyet article here.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Poland: Prisoners to renovate Jewish cemeteries

AFP reported that prisoners are to do conservation work in disused Jewish cemeteries, Poland’s prison service said Thursday.

Prison spokesperson Ireneusz Mucha said an agreement had been signed with the national Polish-Jewish heritage foundation enabling the prisoners to volunteer.

Some 1,000 Polish cemeteries need work; many were destroyed by the Nazis during World War II.

“The voluntary, unpaid work will be run with local authorities or Jewish communities. The advantages will go both ways, because the foundation will also provide courses in history and tolerance for the prisoners,” Mucha said.

More than 12 prisons will participate.

Initial projects will be building a memorial in a Radom cemetery, south of Warsaw, and renovation of a Zwierzyniec graveyard in Poland's southeast.

The story added that Jews arrived in Poland from western Europe to escape 11th century pogroms.

Before the Holocaust, some 3.5 million Jews lived in Poland, about 10% of the population and Europe's largest Jewish community.

Of the six million Jews killed by the Nazis, half were Polish. Most perished in concentration camps.

Today, some 5,000-15,000 people in Poland identify as Jewish.

Read more here.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Michigan: Jewish cemetery nominated for NRHP

Temple Beth Israel Cemetery (Jackson, Michigan) has been nominated for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places
When Denni and Carl Glick of Jackson walk through Temple Beth Israel Cemetery, it's like taking a step back in time.

The two wander through the 1-acre burial plot on N. West Avenue, just south of the railroad tracks, and reminisce on the congregation's history, as told through inscriptions etched on the gravestones of family and friends.
Jews arrived in Jackson in 1842, but the small community meant a synagogue could not be constructed until the early 1860s. The cemetery was dedicated in 1859. There are more than 270 burials which represent four or five generations of community families.

Temple member Nancy Demeter spearheaded the process and researched its history. It was first approved by the State Historic Preservation Board, which forwarded the nomination to the National Park Service. Approval is expected.

Read more here.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Macedonia: Shtip Jewish cemetery project

Did you know there was a Jewish cemetery in Shtip, eastern Macedonia?

According to, in 1512, 38 Jewish families were the first to be recorded in Shtip. In 1943, all 560 Jews from the city's Jewish quarter were deported to the Treblinka death camp.

The cemetery's reconstruction and conservation project will soon begin under the auspices of the Institute and Museum of Shtip, headed by Zaran Chitkushev.
"The money for the reconstruction project was secured by the government, and with the project the Jewish cemetery will become a monument of culture,” Zaran Chitkushev, head of the Shtip Institute and Museum told the Dnevnik newspaper today.
The to-be-fenced project, covering 14,000 square meters, also includes parking lots, pedestrian walkways, benches and monuments.

Chitkushev also said that it is in contact with the European community in Macedonia and that an Israeli archaelogist will be invited to work on the project.

According to BalkanAnalysis, here's more on the Jewish presence in Macedonia.

The Jewish presence in Macedonia is ancient., as evidenced in the central Macedonian Roman city of Stobi, which has traces of a 1st century BCE synagogue.

Roman Empire trade, commerce and travel brought together peoples from around the empire. The Jewish community remained through Slavic migration in the 6th-7th centuries and Byzantine sources record Jewish references.

The Spanish Inquisition, resulting in the 1492 Expulsion, brought a new population of Ladino-speaking Sephardim to Macedona and other Ottoman-held Balkan territory, such as Saloniki (Greece). The refugees used their commercial and technical knowledge to improve the economy and other aspects of life, including the Sultan's military technology, and the community flourished under the Ottomans.

In 1941, when the Bulgarian Army invaded in a Nazi alliance, some 20,000 Jews were deported from Bulgarian Army-controlled areas in Macedonia, northern Greece, southern Serbia and Bulgaria.

While Jews in Bulgaria were saved, the quota was filled with Jews who lived in other places. Entire communities, such as 7,200 from then-Yugoslav Macedonia, were deported to death camps.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Michigan: Jewish Cemetery Index

Are you looking for family members who may have been buried in a Jewish cemetery in Michigan? This resource may help your quest.

The Irwin I. Cohn Michigan Jewish Cemetery Index provides burial information for more than 64,000 Jews who died between the mid-1800's and 1999.

While many cemeteries were very helpful in allowing access to their records, old, damaged, incomplete or missing records made the task of compiling a complete index impossible. As a result, the database does not contain every name.

This database is considered a "first stop" for researchers. If you can't find a specific individual, he or she may have been buried in another Jewish cemetery in the state.

Here's a screenshot of what a search retrieves:

The index is a work in progress and information is added as received.

Since your ancestor might have been buried at a different cemetery, there is a list of cemeteries at the site. There are 36 cemeteries, each with a link. Contact them for more information.

For more information, visit the JewishGen Online Worldwide Burial Registration site.

For information on individuals who may have died more recently than 1999, visit the Detroit Jewish News obituaries.

Matilda Brandwine is the founder and honorary chair of this effort. Thanks to her incredible insight, she began researching Jewish residents buried in Detroit metropolitan cemeteries.

She and her volunteers gathered names, walked through cemeteries, recorded names from deteriorating headstones. The goal was that no one would be forgotten. Genealogists from around the world, with links to Detroit, are happy that this inspiration has provided a searchable database accessible to anyone with an Internet connection.

For more Michigan assistance, contact the Jewish Genealogical Society of Michigan here.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Kohanim: Marking cemetery boundaries

Kohanim - members of the Jewish priestly clan, descendants of Aaron - may not enter cemeteries, as part of the restrictions concerning coming into contact with death or impurity.

On some streets near cemeteries in Queens, New York, certain sections are marked so that Kohanim will not unknowingly walk on a sidewalk that might be disputed territory.

In Eastern Europe, cemetery borders are less well-defined and wartime activities and post-war reconstruction have blurred borders even more. In one small part of Poland, however, arrangements are being made to determine the actual borders and to establish "safe" zones by careful mapping of the grounds and consulting pre-war maps.

The details are in this story from
Poland - Good news from Lizhensk: Kohanim visiting Lizhensk will no longer have to stand on the edge of the road bordering the cemetery and take the risk of getting hit by careless drivers. Kohanim are among the many thousands who visit Lizhensk on the yartzeit of Rebbe Elimelech, but due to their sanctity are unable to enter the cemetery. Now the "Lizhensk Committee," headed by Rabbi Simcha Krakovsky, has mapped the area and found that Kohanim can enter a small area in the open field two meters away from the road.
Several years ago, the municipality was asked to construct a traffic circle in the local market. During the excavation and road work, thousands of tombstones were discovered. These had been taken from the cemetery for road construction. The committee were able to save some of them and they were stacked at the edge of the local cemetery.

The committee knew that the fence around the cemetery was not the actual border and that many graves were outside the fence. An investigation showed that only the nearby road is safe, free from graves, so it is safe for Kohanim to stand on.

Surveyors checked the committee's investigation and confirmed the cemetery area.

Additionally, the committee located a pre-war map showing the cemetery boundaries, as well as a contemporary map. The comparison showed that the cemetery extended to within two meters from the road. Thus they were able to determine the exact borders and provide a solution. Kohanim."

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Venezuela: Coro's Jewish cemetery

Venezuela is located at the northernmost end of South America, has a population of some 30 million and covers 912,050 One of the oldest cities is Coro, capital of the state of Falcon. It's a northern port city founded by Juan de Ampies in 1527.

In 1827, a group of Jews emigrated from the Caribbean island of Curacao. Among the families were the Henríquez, Capriles, De Sola, Cardozo and Senior.

A prosperous businessman, David Abraham Senior bought a house in 1852 that was used as the local synagogue until the late 19th century. In 1986, it was sold to the state; since 1997, it has been a museum called Casa de Oración Hebrea (House of Jewish Prayers). It is considered a national monument and a legacy of the Sephardic Jewish culture in the early days of the city.

Until 1832, the small community did not have a cemetery. Joseph Curiel (1796-1886) established it when his 8-year-old daughter Johevet Hannah Curiel, died. He bought land outside the city for the cemetery. Today, it is located on Zamora Street and is mostly used with non-Jewish burials, with fewer than 30 Jewish tombstones. This makes it the first and oldest Jewish cemetery in the Americas still in use.

The site stands as silent proof of the community's assimilation, reflected in the names carved on the stones, as well as decorate elements of angels and other figures which are common in the Venezuelan Catholic culture.

The Jewish Cemetery of Coro contains the tombs of influential families - Fonseca, Chumaseiro, Capriles, Maduro, the Curiels (patriarch Joseph Curiel and poet Elías David Curiel) and a notable woman with a Polish-sounding name who died in the 1940s.

Most of Coro's small Jewish community – 168 individuals – was forced to emigrate after violent rioting and a series of political and financial events. It was the first time that Jews had been driven out of an independent nation in South America.

In 1970, the cemetery was restored by the Asociacion Israelita de Caracas, which led the project and raised the funding, with the technical collaboration of the Department of Works, headed at the time by then-Governor Dr. José Curiel of Falcon state.

The cemetery is usually locked, and the keys are in the Museo de Arte Alberto Henríquez. Hebrew letters are still visible on the old stones and a large Star of David is at the entrance of the cemetery.

Jewish cemeteries database: JOWBR

The first 2009 update to the JewishGen Online Worldwide Burial Registry (JOWBR) database includes more than 55,000 new records and some 25,000 new photos from 17 countries. The database now has more than 1.125 million records from more than 2,100 cemteries and cemetery sections in 45 countries.

Although the burial records are now "live,", additional files, maps and overview photos will be posted soon.

This update contains these major groups:

- Maryland: More than 31,000 records from Baltimore-area cemeteries courtesy of the Jewish Museum of Maryland.

- Colorado, Iowa, Nebraska: Terry Lasky submitted records and photographs personally created or coordinated with other volunteers. The update includes about 2,800 new records and more than 15,000 photographs.

- Indiana: Gloria Green and her team have provided some 2,700 records and 2,700 photos for the Kelly Street cemetery complex in Indianapolis.

- Bayside, NY: Maurice Kessler and his team have provided an additional 1,400 records from the Bayside/Ozone Queens cemetery complex. The original records were documented by Florence Marmor and David Gevertzman.

- Pennsylvania: Susan Melnick has arranged continuing submissions of various state cemeteries on behalf of the Rauh Jewish Archives, John Heinz Pittsburgh Regional History Center.

- Chernivtsi, Ukraine: Hymie Reichstein and Bruce Reisch of the JGS of Ottawa (Canada) for the second installment of some 3,800 records and photos.

- Vilnius, Lithuania: Howard Margol submitted some 6,300 post-World War II burials in the Saltonishkiu Cemetery in Vilnius.

- Iasi, Romania: Reuven Singer and his team submitted an additional 1,000 burial records translated from the 1887 Hebrew burial registers.

According to JOWBR coordinator Nolan Altman, the next update should be prior to the 29th IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy, August 2-7, in Philadelphia. For conference information, click here.

The project appreciates the work done by donors and encourages additional submissions.

Whether you work individually on a cemetery or cemetery section or consider it a group project for your local Jewish genealogical society, synagogue or other group, all submissions grow the database and assist others around the world to locate information.

Nolan encourages those who have already done cemetery indexing to consider having those records included in the JOWBR database.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Ukraine: Uzhgorod mass grave located

According to the JTA, A Nazi-era mass grave for 200 Jews has been located in Uzhhorod (Uzhgorod) , a western Ukraine city that was part of Hungary prior to WWII, and then known as Ungvar. The city is on the Slovakia/Ukraine border.

The city's chief rabbi, Mendel Teichman, recently discovered an open area in the local Jewish cemetery. It was not fenced; there were no headstones.

Historical documents revealed the site was a mass grave for more than 200 Jews killed by the Nazis during the Holocaust.

Teichman went to the Rabbinical Center of Europe with the news. The RCE is now seeking relatives of those murdered to seek funding to build a fence and a memorial.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

A resting place?

If you are searching for your Jewish ancestors in cemeteries, be aware of Jewish tradition and law pertaining to burial issues. This may complicate location of graves in some cemeteries.

Jewish cemeteries, depending on denomination and tradition, may have separate sections for men and women, thereby precluding husbands and wives to be buried next to each other, some have separate sections for children. Traditional Jewish law forbids cremation, and a non-Jewish spouse or relative may not be buried in a traditional Jewish cemetery.

Liberal Jewish cemeteries around the world allow practices not permitted by other denominations, such as Conservative (Masorti) or Orthodox.

Historically, the liberal movement (also called Reform in the US or Progressive in other countries) - founded in 19th-century Germany - holds more liberal views as to membership requirements, intermarriage and other issues, including cemetery regulations.

In the UK, the Liberal Jewish Community of Prestbury (Gloucestershire) - founded last year - has been granted its own plot of land at Cheltenham Cemetery, in Bouncer's Lane. The established Jewish cemetery is only for Orthodox Jews and cremation is not permitted.

According to this article, the "all-inclusive" cemetery means that Jews (and non-Jewish family members) of all denominations can be buried side-by-side in a recognised Jewish burial ground for the first time in Gloucestershire county. It will be dedicated on April 19.

The chair of the community, David Naydor, was quoted:

"We aim to offer an inclusive brand of Judaism, which includes giving our members a choice when they die. Jews in the county can now be buried next to husbands, wives and family members of other religions in an all-encompassing Jewish cemetery.

"It also allows for cremation, something which is not an option for orthodox Jews."
Read the complete story at the link above.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

New Jersey: The Alliance Cemetery

The Alliance Cemetery in New Jersey may be getting some help. The Garden State Preservation Trust ratified and sent to the state legislature a recommendation to fund a project to help the Jewish Federation of Cumberland County help preserve the cemetery and synagogue near Vineland.

The Alliance Colony was settled by 42 families who fled late 1800s Russian pogroms to start one of the first Jewish agricultural settlements in the US.

The federation, which handles Jewish activities in Cumberland and Salem counties, would receive more than $400,000 to restore Moshe Bayuk's brick house. Born in Eastern Europe, Bayuk was a lawyer, Jewish scholar and farmer. He died in 1932. The house is across the steet from the Alliance Synagogue. According to the plan, $50,000 in state funds would make the house the Alliance Heritage Center.

The Philadelphia Daily News story reported on the plans.

Another phase of the plan - about $4 million - would relocate two abandoned synagogues - Beth Israel, on Garton Road, in Deerfield Township, Cumberland County; and Crown of Israel, on Centerton Road, in Monroeville, Salem County - in front of the Alliance Cemetery.

Not everyone connected with the Alliance Synagogue, which still has a small congregation, is happy about the plan. Some call it a land or power grab and wonder why the Federation wants to do this now when they've ignored the place for 50 years; others fear the site will become a theme park.

In 1882, the German-Jewish philanthropist Baron Maurice de Hirsch and the Paris-based Alliance Israelite Universelle - for which the colony was named - paved the way for 42 settlers to seek out a quieter, albeit difficult life by tilling the soil instead of fighting it out among the masses in squalid, inner-city tenements.
In Pittsgrove Township and its communities - Alliance, Brotmanville, Norma, Six Points - the immigrants found acceptance and friendly neighbors. Many immigrants raised chickens and also worked in cranberry bogs and clothing factories.

The small community spread to Vineland with a Jewish population that reached about 12,000 after World War II; today the Jewish population in Salem and Cumberland counties is only 1,100. Younger generations moved away from the land in the late 50s-60s, but their parents stayed.

The story quotes US District Judge Stanley S. Brotman, whose grandfather founded the cemetery, said he supports any action to shed light on all the names whose roots were planted in South Jersey, and that the area should be given the historical significance it deserves.

A heritage center would be a fitting voice for the dead, said Vineland lawyer Jay Greenblat whose father was a carpenter and butcher in the colony. "It might be centered on Alliance, but it's something for the entire area to take part in," he said. "It's quite a story. I don't think too many people are aware of it."

Keeping watch over the generations of Jewish farmers were piles of pebbles, neatly placed atop the grave markers by loved ones who had made the trek down these scenic roads.
Alliance Cemetery has a website. Although much of it appears under construction, there are two maps and more is promised. Read the complete story at the link above.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

China: Jewish cemeteries in Harbin and Hong Kong

There were two recent mentions of Jewish cemeteries in Hong Kong and Harbin.

Ed Cohen writes in his
blog about Hong Kong's Jewish cemetery.

I wish I had seen this while I was in Hong Kong. There are lots of interesting little pockets of Jewish history in Hong Kong that can easily slip past detection. Though it might not always be an immediate association, Judaism has a pretty decent history in Asia and especially Hong Kong. A few roads on the Eastern side of Hong Kong Island (around University of Hong Kong), such as Victor Sassoon Road and Michael Kadoorie Street.
See more photos at

Harbin figured in this
German blog which referred to the Heidelberg University Harbin Project.

The project was carried out by the History Department, Centre for European History and Culture (ZEGK), University of Heidelberg, led by Professor Madeleine Herren in cooperation with the School of Western Studies, Heilongjiang University, guided by Professor Dan Ben-Canaan.

During the 1920s Harbin turned into a multiethnic centre in which the Jewish community played a decisive role. The Harbin Jewish Cemetery established in 1903 was located at No.54, Dongda Zhi Street. During the 1920ies it was extended and relocated to Tai’an Street. With its 2,420 m2 it was the largest among alien residents’ cemeteries at that time in Harbin. In 1958, the Chinese authorities decided to move the Jewish Cemetery to the Huang Shan Public Cemetery located at the outskirts of Harbin´s municipal boundaries. From approximate 3000 graves of which 1200 with tombstones, 853 were selected and transferred to an area of 6,532.00 square meters in an eastern suburb about 10 km from the centre of Harbin. During the Cultural Revolution, maintenance of the cemetery ceased: Slabs subsided, tombstones inclined, cracked or damaged, and some of the slabs disappeared. The Jewish community stopped functioning on December 31, 1963, and until that date 23 graves were added to the new location, bringing a total of 876 graves to the site. Maintenance was restarted in 1991, and 450 gravestones could be identified today."

Friday, March 13, 2009

Mass Graves: Babi Yar and former Soviet territory sites

Numerous mass graves are located throughout Ukraine and in the eastern territories of the former Soviet Union.

Created by Nazi German and local collaborators, the principal objective of the Einsatzgruppen (a mobile killing task force) was the annihilation of Jews, Gypsies and Soviet political commissars. As a result, 1.3-1.5 million Jews were killed between 1941-1943.

Two memorials mark the area of the Babi Yar Massacre. The first erected did not specifically mention Jews as victims although a commemorative plaque in Yiddish was added later. This second memorial, in the form of a menorah, was erected by members of the Jewish community to specifically commemorate the Jewish victims who were murdered at Babi Yar.

Babi Yar is a ravine in Kiev, Ukraine where 33,771 victims were systematically murdered September 29-30, 1941. The Babi Yar massacre was the largest single mass killing and is considered the largest single massacre in the history of the Holocaust. In the months that followed, thousands more were seized and taken to Babi Yar where they were shot. It is estimated that more than 100,000 people, mostly Jewish civilians, were murdered by the Nazis there during World War II.

According to a report published in 2005 by the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad, over 550 additional mass gravesites have been identified throughout the eastern territories of the former Soviet Union.

(LEFT) Located near Babi Yar, this gravestone in Lukyanofka Jewish Cemetery reads in Hebrew and in Russian: M(alka) Leah Shindelman 1886-1956, Srulig Yosevich 1911-1941, Raisa Yosovna 1917-1941. The photos are Malka and her son Srulig.

Malka Leah Karger SHINDELMAN died a natural death and was buried at the Lukyanofka Cemetery in Kiev.

Her photo appears on the gravestone, which is not a Jewish custom. During the Soviet era, it was a national tradition, regardless of religious affiliation, for Russians to include a personal photo on gravestones.

Flowers are not customarily left upon Jewish graves either, but on Russian Jewish graves, it also remains a common practice to see carnations representing a Soviet-era tradition.

Malka survived the war by fleeing from Berdichev, Ukraine on a train to Lake Balkash, Kazakhstan. When Bronia Shindelman Brenner erected Malka’s gravestone in 1956, she added a second photo to the stone as well as the names of two of Malka’s adult children. She did this to commemorate her siblings, Ruchel Shindelman AVRUM and Srulig SHINDELMAN, who were Shoah victims.

Srulig was last seen alive in the Jewish Prisoner of War (POW) camp adjacent to Babi Yar. One of the only 13 Jewish survivors of Babi Yar and a relative of ours, Yakov KAPER wrote in his memoir - “Thorny Road” - about last seeing Srulig alive. Yakov escaped from the P.O.W. camp; Srulig chose not to accompany him and was never seen again.

Ruchel was last known to be alive in the shtetl of Ruzhin, Ukraine in 1941 when the German Wehrmacht occupied the region. 24 years old and pregnant with her first child, it is unknown how she perished, but there is a mass grave in Ruzhin where Jews were killed. She is presumably buried in it.

(RIGHT) Mass graves in small rural communities have simple markers or none at all. This one in Lyubar, Ukraine was placed in the early '90s by Jewish relatives of those murdered. A second marker was erected nearby to commemorate partisans. Low metal fences surround both mass graves.

Resources for documenting mass grave victims in the former Soviet Union are scarce. These possible sources include Yizkor memorial books, Yad Vashem's Central Database of Shoah Victims' Names and materials at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM).

The Extraordinary State Commission to Investigate German-Fascist Crimes Committed on Soviet Territory housed at both the USHMM in Washington, DC and at Yad Vashem in Israel, is a compilation of testimonies from residents after the war and lists victim and collaborator names by town. The sequence of local events during the War is often detailed in these files.

Pulitzer Prize winning author Richard Rhodes published Masters of Death: The SS-Einsatzgruppen and the Invention of the Holocaust, which includes a detailed account of Einsatzgruppen activities and includes an extensive bibliography of materials in German archives.

Other historical books about Babi Yar and the mass graves include Anatoly Kuznetsov’s Babi Yar: A Document in the Form of a Novel, The Black Book by Ilya Ehrenburg and Vasily Grossman, The Holocaust in the Soviet Union by Lujan Dobroszycki and Jeffrey Gurock, and French Catholic priest Father Patrick Desbois’ recent memoir, The Holocaust by Bullets: A Priest's Journey to Uncover the Truth Behind the Murder of 1.5 Million Jews, which uses forensic evidence, eyewitness accounts and archival research to document the murders of Jews in the former Soviet Union.

Father Desbois will be the keynote speaker at the 29th IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy August 2-7, 2009 in Philadelphia, PA.

Alsace: Hegenheim cemetery photographs

Photographer Vincent de Groote only uses black-and-white film, and his evocative photos of the abandoned cemetery at Hegenheim in Alsace demonstrates the site's desolation.

To see his photographs, click here

Friday, March 6, 2009

Guess Who's Buried in a Jewish Cemetery? Part 3

The Historical Society of Pennsylvania runs a “Question of the Week” quiz on its website, created by technical services archivist Cary Majewicz.

One recent question was “What Philadelphia woman was rumored to be the inspiration for the Jewish heroine in Sir Walter Scott’s novel Ivanhoe?”

I knew the answer because my first job in Jewish education was as a raw teacher in the Philadelphia Hebrew Sunday School Society founded by Rebecca Gratz, the role model for this novel!

A version of the answer also appeared on March 1, 2009 in the Philadelphia Inquirer, in a section entitled “Memory Stream,” provided by the Historical Society.

In the early 1800s, Rebecca Gratz was a beautiful, cultured woman in Philadelphia’s elite class. She is rumored to have been the inspiration for the Jewish heroine in Sir Water Scott’s novel "Ivanhoe."

But Gratz was much more than a pretty face. She was a successful educator and philanthropist who provided relief to Philadelphia’s poor women and children and furthered the moral and religious education of Philadelphia’s Jewish community.

Gratz was born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, on March 4, 1781, and her family later moved to Philadelphia. She began her charitable work at age 20.

In 1801, along with her sisters and several other women, she founded the Female Association for the Relief of Women and Children in Reduced Circumstances, a nonsectarian organization designed to assist formerly affluent women and their families who had fallen on hard times.

She expanded her work with poor women and children by establishing the Philadelphia Orphans Society (1815) and the Female Hebrew Benevolent Society (1819).

She experimented with Jewish education in 1818 by creating a small religious school for her siblings and their children; this trial provided the basis for the Hebrew Sunday School she would create some 20 years later.

Gratz never married, and instead devoted her life to charitable work. She died in 1869 and is buried in Philadelphia’s Mikveh Israel Cemetery.

Attendees of the 29th IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy in Philadelphia, August 2-7, will be able to visit her grave and those of other notable Jewish Philadelphians at the nearby Mikveh Israel Cemetery.

Rabbi Gary M. Gans

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Malta: Controversy over Jewish catacomb

The Times of Malta covered a brewing controversy over Jewish remains found in Rabat catacombs.

The Jewish catacombs are part of the St Paul's catacombs in Rabat, discovered at the end of the 19th century and dating to the late Roman period some 1,500 years ago.

The Maltese Jewish community called in international experts from Israel and the US to provide proper burials according to Jewish law, and the controversy began.
The Jewish catacombs in Rabat were at the centre of controversy in recent days after Heritage Malta called in police when a Jewish religious delegation allegedly entered the site without authorisation.

The Jewish community in Malta is demanding that the human bones found inside the catacombs are given a proper burial according to Jewish rites.

A Jewish delegation made up of at least 10 experts, Rabbis and archaeologists from Israel and the US was brought over to Malta by the Jewish community to carry out the burial.
The visit of the delegation was confirmed by CEO of Heritage Malta, Luciano Mulè Stagno, who said a police report was made a policeman place on guard outside the entrance.

The Jewish community's representative, Lawrence Attard Bezzina, denied the delegation entered unlawfully.
"We were scheduled to meet Heritage Malta and the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage at the site. The gate was open and since it was raining, the delegation entered into the property to be shielded from the rain. The moment they were asked to leave by the person on guard they immediately left," he said insisting that at no time did they dispute the instructions given to them.

Mr Attard Bezzina said the Jewish community had long been asking the Maltese authorities to grant them the right to give the human remains a proper burial. "The bones are scattered around and for us that is a sacrilege. We brought over experts from Israel and the US to work under the supervision of the superintendence so that the remains are granted a proper burial," Mr Attard Bezzina said.

According to Jewish rites, Jewish remains should be handled by Jewish people.
Attard Bezzina and Mulè Stagno said both sides were in talks to find a solution to respect the requests of the Jewish community which is in line with Maltese laws, because it is an important and unique archaeological site

"The catacombs are also the only evidence of the presence of a Jewish community in Malta at the time. It is an important archaeological site for us," Dr Mulè Stagno said. He said Heritage Malta insisted that everything should remain on site and that the site remained within the jurisdiction of the State.
The site may be government property but the Jewish community says the bones are not.

"We cannot permit human remains to be left uncovered and scattered around. We want to find a place in the catacombs themselves in agreement with the agency and give the bones a proper burial. We are not asking for the catacombs to be closed or barred to the public," Mr Attard Bezzina said.

Additional meetings are planned. For some idea of how the paper's readers feel about the issue, take some time to read the comments to the article.

Read the complete article at the link above.

UK: Historic Jewish cemetery seeks lottery funding

Restoring Jewish cemeteries through lottery funding is a possibility in the UK.

According to the Liverpool Echo, the city's historic Deane Road Jewish cemetery has applied for lottery funding to aid its restoration.

Deane Road Jewish cemetery in Kensington is the final resting place of some of Liverpool’s best-known entrepreneurs including David Lewis, pioneer of Lewis’s, and Moses Samuel, founder of H Samuel. The cemetery, which has around 750 gravestones, opened in 1837 but the last burial was in 1929 and it had become derelict before a new campaign to refurbish it was launched three years ago.
Patrons include Liverpool solicitor Rex Makin, Lord Lieutenant Dame Lorna Muirhead, and well known actress (and Jewish genealogist) Miriam Margolyes. The group has put in a bid for £220,000 which should fund a total restoration, including replacement, repair or refurbishment of boundary walls, gateposts, railings and front archway, as well as to re-erect all gravestones in good condition.

The Old Liverpool Hebrew Congregation owns the site, which has an ornate Greek-revival style archway entrance and a driveway flanked by cast iron railings.

Burials include Liverpool's first Jewish mayor Charles Mozley, and painter John Raphael Isaac. For more on notable Sephardi and Ashkenazi personalities who rest in Deane Road, click here.

These detailed biographies include family histories, illustrations, links, and other grave references.

It is hoped once restoration is complete, the cemetery will be added to Liverpool’s heritage trail.
For more details on the cemetery, click here. For the history of the cemetery, click here.

Poland: New catalog of Jewish cemeteries

The Lo Tishkach Foundation has published a new Catalog of Jewish Cemeteries of Masovian Region in Poland.

Established in 2006, the Lo Tishkach Database now contains details on more than 9,000 Jewish burial grounds in 29 countries. The Lo Tishkach Foundation estimates that there are some 20,000 such sites in Europe. The foundation is a project of the Conference of European Rabbis and the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany

The information was reported by the International Survey of Jewish Monuments (ISJM).

Jewish tradition regards burial grounds as sacred sites which must never be disturbed. Jewish cemeteries and mass graves also provide a vivid focal point marking the destruction of Jewish communities and for learning the lessons of the Holocaust. They stand as testimony to the history of Jewish community life across the European continent and are an important part of Europe’s diverse cultural heritage.

The report (October 2008) on the current state of Poland's Jewish cemeteries reveals that dozens are still unmarked and neglected, while others have been built over completely.

The Lo Tishkach Foundation (Hebrew, "do not forget") commissioned the report - Jewish Cemeteries of Poland: Masovian Region - which focuses on the 126 Jewish burial sites of the Masovian Voivodeship, Poland’s largest region.

Lo Tishkach also reports on databases of Jewish cemeteries in Ukraine (some 800 cemeteries). This perhaps the most complete record in English of Ukrainian Jewish mass graves.

Search the database here. The database record contains at least the location and address of each cemetery plus basic information on the specific geographical location of the town or village as well as the source from which this information was compiled.

Some cemeteries indicate additional information is found at the IAJGS Cemetery Project Database.

For additional information, click here.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Jewish cemeteries: Why do visitors leave stones?

Why is this grave covered with stones?

I recently returned from Israel with my confirmation class where we occasionally visited the graves of famous Zionists. The grave pictured is that of Israel's first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion. That of his wife, Paula, is adjacent.

Seeing this as a teaching moment, I offered the kids what I call an SAT word; in this case, “cairn.” defines a cairn as a heap of stones set up as a landmark, monument, tombstone.

Of course, as Jews, we’ve been leaving stones on tombstones for eons. We all perform this rite, but don’t always know why.

When looking for a good website to teach Jewish cemetery customs, I recommend the The Jewish Cemetery Association of Massachusetts (JCAM,) which offers the following explanation.

The Origins of Leaving A Visitation Stone

One of the most common Jewish cemetery customs is to leave a small stone at the grave of a loved one after saying Kaddish or visiting. Its origins are rooted in ancient times and throughout the centuries the tradition of leaving a visitation stone has become part of the act of remembrance.

The origin of this custom began long ago, when the deceased was not placed in a casket, but rather the body was prepared, washed, and wrapped in a burial shroud, or for a male, in his tallis (prayer shawl). Then the body would be placed in the ground, covered with dirt and then large stones would be placed atop the gravesite, preventing wild animals from digging up the remains. Over time, individuals would go back to the gravesite and continue to place stones, ensuring the security of the site and as a way to build up the “memory” of the loved one.

As time passed on, and carved monuments became the preferred memorial, the custom of leaving a visitation stone became a symbolic gesture–a way for the visitor to say to the loved one, “I remember you…..”.

JCAM provides for this custom on our cemeteries by filling receptacles with small stones for our visitors to leave, so you too, can continue on with this ancient custom of remembering.
Perhaps you have additional customs and explanations to offer?

Rabbi Gary M. Gans

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Turkey: Istanbul's Nakkastepe Jewish Cemetery

Although Carnegie Museum of Natural History research associate Aydin Örstan specializes in mollusks and snails, he did spend an afternoon at one of Istanbul's old Jewish cemeteries back in October and recently blogged about it, adding some of his beautiful photographs.

He and a friend climbed over a high metal fence to get in to photograph the tombstones (and collect snails!).

"Only much later, at the end of our expedition did we realize that there was a regular entrance for the use of perhaps slightly more normal people. The cemetery consisted of an old section on a gentle slope overlooking residential districts and a presently used smaller section on a facing hillside. We concentrated our efforts in the old section where many marble tombstones were scattered, some haphazardly, over the hillside."

Although neither man could read the Hebrew inscriptions, some were in European languages. Here is a photo of Wolf Goldenberg's 1882 stone:

The oldest inscription they could read that day was that of a Dr. Marco Dalmedico from 1869, and another for Raphael Delmedico was also located.

Aydin's research showed that the cemetery was much older than the stone they had found.

Brewer (1830) mentioned a visit in 1827 to a "Jewish burying-place near Coos-Conjux on the Asiatic side [of Istanbul]" that was undoubtedly the same cemetery in Kuzguncuk, while according to Rozen (2002), the oldest Jewish tombstone in Kuzguncuk is from the 16th century.
The book reference is Brewer, J. 1830. A Residence at Constantinople, in the Year 1827. Durrie & Peck, New Haven. (Google Books) Rozen, M. 2002. For a history of Istanbul's Jewish Community, check The Formative Years, 1453-1566. Brill, Leiden. (Google Books)

Read the complete blog post at the link above and view more of Aydin's photos.

Thank you, Aydin, for allowing readers to share in your adventure.

Germany: Bonn's Jewish Cemeteries

Photo Credits: Rudy Couvreur

Rudy Couvreur is a documentary photographer and blogger.

He has beautiful photographs and interesting text on the Bonn Jewish Cemetery - Schwarzrheindorf - on this blog post.

The photo above is that of a Kohen - although I cannot see enough detail to provide the name of the individual. We know that the person buried there is a Kohen - a descendant of Aaron - because of the traditional depiction of two hands with fingers held in a distinctive pattern.

On the Rhine's right bank, it is one of the oldest Jewish cemeteries in North Rhineland and is today under the administration of Dusseldorf's Landesverbandes der judischen Kultusgemeinden.

The first burial of more than 400 graves was in 1623 - Schabtai bar David. The last burial was in 1992, that of Theresa Weidenbaum, nee Bachem, widow of Theodor Weidenbaum. Until 1873, nearly all the Jews of Bonn were buried here.

In 1818, Bonn's Jewish community acquired the site and shared it with the community of Villich/ Beuel. From 1873, a new Jewish cemetery (Bonn-Castell) was opened for Bonn.

In 1898, Schwarzrheindorf was divided by the Bonn community, with the northern section for Villich/Beuel burials and for others, but the Bonn Jewish community no longer used the southern section because they had the new Bonn-Castell site.
During World War II, Schwarzheindorf became overgrown and was severely damaged in 1939.
In the 1950s and during 1966-1968, it was restored. An entrance memorial, erected by the city of Beuel, honors the Holocaust victims.

Read the complete post and see Rudy's photographs at the link above.

He also has another post, with more details on Bonn's six old Jewish cemeteries and more photos.

Three are in the Bad Godesberg district: Alter Friedhof (1703-1901), Neuer Friedhof (1895-1957) and the Judischer Friedhof Mehlem (1868-1941). The others are in Bonn-Castell (1861-1963, and mentioned in the post above), Bonn-Endenich (1861-1963) and Beuel-Schwarzheindorf (1623-1956, also mentioned above). He also notes that, since 1996, there is another new Jewish cemetery at Uckesdorf, Am Gottgesbach.

Here is a photo by Rudy of the Mehlem cemetery:

Do read both of Rudy's posts at the links above. Rabbit looks forward to learning about more of his cemetery visits!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Venezuela: Jewish Cemeteries of Caracas

This is one of a series of posts about Venezuela's Jewish cemeteries.

Venezuela is located at the northern end of South America, covers some 912,050 and has about 30 million inhabitants. The capital, Caracas, is located in the central-north and is the country's biggest and busiest city. It is also the center of the Jewish community.

The Jewish community of Caracas numbers about 10,000 members, has more than 20 synagogues, a Jewish day school, a Jewish community center and three main cemeteries ("Guarenas," "Cementerio General del Sur" and "Cementerio Del Este").

Each cemetery has different sections under the administration of the three main synagogues (see below):

The Ashkenazi synagogues are UIC and Rabinato; AIV is Sephardi.

The Cementerio General del Sur is the oldest and largest. It contains four Jewish sections: UIC manages two, Aiv one and Rabinato one.

One of UIC's sections is the oldest cemetery in Caracas, containing about 30 tombstones dating from 1930.

The other UIC section opened in 1937, with the burial of Rebeca Hoires on December 5, 1937.

Currently there are 2,365 graves and although there is room for a few more, it is being replaced by the Guarenas cemetery "Gan Menucha," which opened with Adam Slimak's burial on April 17, 1997. Currently, there are about 300 graves, with room for up to 3,000.

The AIV section contains some 180 graves from 1953-1971. It is no longer used and has been replaced by the Cementerio del Este with about 500 graves.

The Rabinato section is still in use. The first burial was Abraham Lederman on October 18, 1972. Currently, there are 755 graves with room for up to 1,500.

Jewish burials in Venezuela are usually scheduled from morning until about 3pm, and the tombstone is usually unveiled 11 months after the burial. From the time of the burial to the unveiling, the deceased's family does not generally visit the cemetery.

Tombstones are inscribed in Spanish with Hebrew used to write the deceased's names and dates. The family may also choose to include a few lines about the person and/or a Psalm.

The majority of tombstones have, at the rear, a very small "house" to light a candle in memory of their relative's soul. It is a Jewish custom to leave a small stone or pebble on the tombstone after visiting a grave.

For more information, click on the following links:
Unión Israelita de Caracas
Asociación Israelita de Venezuela
Cementerio Del Este (Aerial view)
Cementerio Del Sur (Aerial view)

Friday, January 30, 2009

California: Restoring the Marquez Family Cemetery

Santa Monica Canyon was a resting place for the area's early landowners. Among them were the Marquez family.

While I am not sure if this Marquez family is one of the early Converso families - although many, of the early settlers did have Converso backgrounds - the name is documented as a Jewish family name in Pere Bonnin's Sangre Judia, which lists thousands of Jewish family names mentioned in pre-Inquisition and later court and other documents. Among them are MARQUES (1487, Zaragoza), MARQUEZ (1634, Toledo) and MARQUESSI (1476 Castellon).

In any case, this LA Times story focuses on learning the boundaries and burial locations of the historic Marquez Family Cemetery - one of the city's oldest burial grounds - and the only portion of the original Mexican land grant in the family's hands. It is located south of the Riviera Country Club, for those who know the area, on San Lorenzo Street, north of San Vicente. The link has a map.

Francisco Marquez established a burial ground on the canyon's mesa in the late 1840s. He was the Mexican co-holder of the Rancho Boca de Santa Monica land grant. Buried there are his youngest son Pascual and some 30 other relatives. This includes 13 guests at a 1909 New Year's Eve party, who died from botulism in home-canned peaches.

In 2000, the site was named an extremely historic landmark by Los Angeles. Last week, technology arrived at the cemetery as scientists brought ground-penetrating radar imaging equipment to see exactly where the bodies are buried. Joining them were students at UCLA's Cotsen Institute of Archaelogy. And, on January 31, special dogs from northern California's Institute for Canine Forensics will see if they can sniff out any remains.

All of this is focused on finding the cemetery's boundaries and burial locations so preservationists (including Pascual's grandson Ernest) can develop a restoration plan and open the site to the public. Some costs are being funded, along with contributions by foundations and neighbors, by the nonprofit La Señora Research Institute de Rancho Boca de Santa Monica.

"I want to keep it in its natural state and not modernize it in any way," said Ernest Marquez, 84, a local historian who grew up in Santa Monica Canyon and lives in the San Fernando Valley.

"When you come here, you are transported back to rancho days. There's an aura here that you don't get anywhere else."Today the burial ground, overgrown with weeds and missing all but two of its grave markers, sits tucked away behind a rustic wooden fence on San Lorenzo Street.

Few people know it's there.

The site is surrounded - landlocked - by the many houses that were eventually built in the canyon.

Ernest's book, "Santa Monica Beach," details that, in 1839, the Mexican government gave the land grant to what would become portions of Santa Monica and Pacific Palisades to Mexican citizens, Francisco Marquez and Ysidro Reyes, who began cattle ranching on their more than 6,500 acres. They build adobe homes and raised their families. The nearest Catholic cemetery was a day away, so Marquez set aside land for a burial site.

The story includes genealogical information: Pascual, in 1879, married Micaela, daughter of Reyes, and the property and the marriage united two families. They had 10 children. Pascual was the last to be buried there, in 1916, near the adobe in which he was born in 1844.

In the mid-20s, the land was sold to the Santa Monica Land & Water Co., owned by Robert Gillis. The canyon was subdivided for homes and Gillis' daughter urged her father to protect the cemetery. An adobe wall was built to surround it.

The story addresses access problems to the landlocked (by privately owned parcels) cemetery. Family members used a 4-foot-wide easement that runs from the center of the cemetery's front wall to San Lorenzo Street. In 1952, last owner of record Pedro Marquez, died, with the site passing to heirs who recently gave the property to Ernest.

It is hoped that the scientific investigation will lead to more interest concerning the site.

According to Woodland Hills geophysicist Dean Goodman, who is helping with the mapping, 3-D data reveals at least four possible areas of unmarked remains that should be tested.

"We also see something that looks like the original adobe foundation," Goodman said one recent morning at the site. Goodman has previously surveyed ancient buried wall foundations in Vescovio, Italy; a buried garden pond at the villa of Roman emperor Trajan; Genghis Khan's palace in eastern Mongolia; imperial family tombs in Osaka, Japan; and the Presidio in San Francisco. Much remains to be done before the site can be restored. But supporters envision grave markers, pathways and lovely landscaping.
Nettleship added that "We've lost track of our history," she said. "We need to make the next generation aware of the value of knowing the history of those who came before us."

Do read the complete article at the link above. There are photographs and a map of the cemetery's location as well.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Canada: Quebec Jewish Cemetery online

In Canada, Quebec City's Jewish Cemetery records are now online at ShalomQuebec, under the Families tab, along with a plan of the cemetery and lists of family names.

There's also a very nicely done timeline of Quebec's Jewish history.

Period 1 – New France (1608-1759)
First presences
Since Jewish immigration was not officially encouraged in New France, there is no proof today as to the existence of a Jewish community in Québec City during that period. Nevertheless, we can still make the hypothesis that some Jews came to Québec City under the French regime without necessarily declaring their origins.

There is proof that in 1738, a young Jewish woman arrived at the port under a false identity, named Esther Brandeau. She was sent back to France the following year after an attempt at conversion.

At around the same time, in 1748, a shipowner of Sephardic origin living in Bordeaux, Abraham Gradis, formed a company aimed at ensuring a supply of soldiers and arms for New France, the Société du Canada. He continued his work until Québec City fell, but without ever coming to the colony. His merchant ships were the only ones to make it to America during the last days of the French colony.

Gradis was the last person to personify France's determination to maintain its American colony.

To see the cemetery plan, click on the Families tab, and see cemetery plan (as a PDF) at the bottom right. Scroll all the way down. The cemetery plan and photos are indexed by surname.

There are some tombstone photos - not every family listed has photos of the stones - and see them by clicking the family name and personal name. Click on the photo of either people or stones to see an enlarged view.

Thanks to Merle Kastner of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Montreal for the link to this resource. For more information on Shalom Quebec, see Tracing the Tribe's post here.

Guy W. Richard did the original research for this, and his book, Le Cimetière juif de Québec Beth Israël Ohev Sholom, is published by Septentrion.

Un cimetière juif à Québec? L'existence d'un tel lieu a de quoi éveiller la curiosité, car il témoigne de la présence à Québec d'une communauté juive aujourd'hui dispersée. Guy W.-Richard, gouverneur de la Société de généalogie de Québec et maître généalogiste agréé, s'est prêté au recensement des stèles de ce cimetière. Le résultat de ce travail de moine est un livre vivant et envoûtant qui ressuscite la vie de la communauté juive à Québec. Peu connue, cette dernière n'en fut pas moins la troisième en importance au Canada au milieu du XIXe siècle, derrière Montréal et Toronto.

L'auteur présente une retranscription des épitaphes gravées sur les pierres tombales. Il y ajoute des détails biographiques sur les personnes inhumées, leur conférant une personnalité qui les rend attachantes. Dans les premières pages du livre, une brève histoire de la diaspora, de l'implantation des Juifs au Québec et de la communauté juive de Québec replace le lecteur dans un contexte plus large. Ce dernier peut alors pénétrer dans l'univers enchanteur du cimetière de Beth Israël Ohev Sholom et découvrir un aspect fascinant du patrimoine québécois, reconnu par la Commission des lieux et monuments historiques du Canada.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Colorado: The mystery of the dislocated grave

Ready for a good mystery? The Intermountain Jewish News has just published an excellent Jewish mystery tale.

Here lies a tale about the past, and the mysteries in its wake.

Sit down, have some hot tea, stir the fire, make yourself comfortable on a cold winter’s night. Hear a story about events long ago transpired, people long since dead, and old tombstones mostly — but not entirely — forgotten.

A tale of the cemetery, and those who repose within it.

Not a spooky tale, mind you, although to many people cemeteries are spooky places. And not necessarily a sad tale, although most of us find graveyards to be forlorn and gloomy locales where grief and regret reign supreme.

No, this is a tale about lives lived, accomplishments achieved, decisions made — and questions asked.

A story about histories. And mysteries.

A young Denver woman, Jennifer Miklosi, was working on her master's in art history at the University of Denver some 10 years ago, working under Dr. Annette Stott, head of art history at DU.

Miklosi says it began as a course assignment with the focus on 19th century sculpture in cemeteries. She was to find a piece and analyze it from an art historian's perspective, write an artistic analysis and uncover as much of its history as possible.

She decided on Denver’s Fairmount Cemetery, filled with Victorian sculpture. After hours on the walkways, she found the piece she was looking for

It was a marble statue, in the form of what experts on the esoteric topic of cemetery sculpture call a “woman in mourning,” a female figure, wrapped in a shawl, holding a wreath of flowers and looking plaintively toward the grave below. The figure’s right hand is wrapped around the cut-off trunk of a small tree.

Miklosi was taken by the life-like expression on the figure’s face, by the realistic texture and wave of her hair, by the intricate details apparent in the hem of her shawl and the flowers in her wreath — in general, by the overall artistic excellence of the piece.

Miklosi says both the“woman in mourning” theme, and the cut-off tree — often used for a young person whose life was cut short — are seen in sculptures at Fairmount and other cemeteries.

What caught her eye was the superior workmanship, it wasn't a mass production piece like many others - so she thought it might have been commissioned. While mourning woman figures are found at Christian graves, there is usually a horizontal branch on the tree, creating a cross. This sculpture had no such branch and was an enigma. There was no indication of the sculptor anywhere, and the cemetery office had no information.

That's when Miklosi set to work as any conscientious art historian - investigating the family who owned the plot. Along the way, she became something of an art detective in pursuit of history - family history.

The young woman was Jessie Eleanor Salomon who died at the age of 19 on January 8, 1889.

She was the daughter of Hyman and Cecelia Salomon, whose graves are included in the sizable family plot at Fairmount, as are those of her siblings Eva, Oscar, Florence and Lillian, and a man, James Geoffrey McMurray, who is assumed to have been her brother-in-law. Eva and Oscar both died when quite young; Florence when considerably older; and the couple Lillian and James McMurray, apparently at an advanced age in the 1920s.

The plot holds individual tombstones for all family members interred there, plus a large central granite memorial, adorned only by a single Old English “S” and the family surname. The statue which stands at the head of Jessie’s grave is the only sculpture in the plot. No other graves, including those of her parents, boasts such a distinctive marker.

And, as suitable for the International Jewish Graveyard Rabbit, the Salomon family was Jewish, as Rabbit readers have already guessed.

Miklosi isn't Jewish and never studied local Jewish history, but her passion for this investigation turned her into an authority.

Like a good genealogist, she checked old newspapers and written histories for the Denver Jewish community and found data on the family's patriarch, Hyman Salomon, who appears in history books. Some historians believe he was the first Jew to settle in the place now known as Denver.

Born in Prussia, Salomon came to what was then known as Auraria early in 1859, making him one of the first pioneers to arrive here. His brother Frederick followed close on his heels. In short order, they set up Denver’s first-ever dry goods business, Salomon Brothers, which hop scotched over several locations in its early years.

The brothers, in partnership with a Gentile trader by the name of J. B. Doyle, then began opening up general stores in Colorado and New Mexico.With other partners, they also set up wagon trains full of provisions to help supply the new mining camps in Colorado’s high country.

They, and a third brother, Adolph, who became a successful potato farmer and merchant in Horace Greeley’s Union Colony in northern Colorado (known today as Greeley) were as authentic as Western pioneers could get. They braved confrontations with restive Indians on the eastern plains, rode hundreds of miles on horseback to distant locations, helped set up mining camps that would later become gold and silver boomtowns and outfitted US Cavalry units throughout the region.

In addition to setting up what is believed to be Denver’s first brewery, the Salomons were able to bring to the fledgling settlement of Denver both cigars and whiskey, the latter said to be considerably superior to the notorious “Taos Lightning” previously available.

The Salomons made lots of friends among Indians and white men alike, and gained reputations as plain dealers and straight shooters (denoting honest traders, not accurate gunslingers). Such terms constituted high praise indeed in the days of the Old West.

Along the way they also made lots of money with their skills and timing. Hyman and Frederick became respected citizens. Both were were proud of their Jewish heritage, helping to found the Hebrew Burial and Prayer Society, which organized Denver’s first Jewish cemetery and later evolved into the city's first synagogue, Congregation Emanuel, whre they were among the founding members.

As she uncovered information she found a letter from Hyman published in the Rocky Mountain News in 1865, in which he criticized then-territorial governor Alexander Cummings on a Thanksgiving proclamation he had issued, stressing the holiday's Christian roots.

“Are we of the Jewish persuasion included in the Proclamation for Thanksgiving, ‘requiring all good people of Colorado to assemble in their respective places of worship and render unto G-d devout Thanksgiving for the riches of His grace, manifested through His Son Jesus Christ’? If so, we have never in the United States of America seen a proclamation excluding Jews from participating. Jews do not worship G-d through Christ, and by the above proclamation, we are excluded. Respectfully yours, H.Z. Salomon.”

So, she learned that his Jewishness was important to Hyman, but here now was the mystery. Why would such a respected Jew have his and his family's graves in a section other than the Jewish part of Fairmount Cemetery? His brothers Frederick and Adolph were in the Jewish section, but Hyman's is in the general section - with very few Jewish graves.

Well, there was more, continues the story, at least five of the plot's graves were originally in the old City Cemetery, but were moved when the city decided to redevelop the land.

The Salomon graves were moved to Fairmount on April 4, 1916. Hyman’s widow, Cecilia, apparently paid for the new plot and arranged the move, although Fairmount records do not mention Jessie's statue.

There's much more, including a list of further questions that need to be answered to understand the full picture. The Denver Public Library Western History section has no record or photograph of Jessie in any newspaper article or obituary.

The newspaper is asking for help from the readers of the story.
It is possible that descendants of Hyman Shapiro (or more likely, his brother Adolph) still reside in Colorado and might possess a few family anecdotes that could shed light on the many mysteries of the grave. Such individuals are encouraged to contact the newspaper, no matter how hazy or folkloric the recollections might be.

Please read the rest of this particularly fascinating mystery of history at the link above. Let me know if you have any information that can help solve this case.

Visiting a Jewish cemetery: Experiences, emotions

Ruth Ellen Gruber's posting at JewishHeritageTravel covers emotional and mystical experiences at Jewish cemeteries, both her own and of others.
Visiting a Jewish cemetery in Europe, and particularly in East-Central Europe, can be an emotional experience.

This holds true whether you go there as a volunteer helping clean up an abandoned cemetery overgrown by weeds and trees, or as someone on a roots trip looking for a long-lost, or long-forgotten, family grave, or as a "straight" tourist interested in history or the powerful imagery of tombstone art.

In the introductory chapter of
Jewish Heritage Travel: A Guide to Eastern Europe I addressed these emotions, describing how I myself felt when I began exploring these sites.

I became absolutely mesmerized, even a little obsessed with what I was seeing. I wanted to visit, touch, see, feel as many places as I could. I almost felt it a duty. As I entered broken gates or climbed over broken walls into cemeteries where a Jew may not have set foot in years, I wanted to spread my arms and embrace them all, embrace all the tombstones, all the people buried there, all the memories.

In the first editions of the book, I added a further sentence, describing how I projected my thoughts toward these all so often forgotten places:
I'm here, I told them mentally; SOMEONE is here.

Back then, my trips were voyages of discovery. Everything was new; there was little literature on the subject, few visitors had made their way to such sites, and there were few efforts to preserve, maintain or restore them. But even today, after scholars and genealogists and tour guides have studied and mapped and documented almost everything -- I still feel the pull.
Ruth continues on to detail a Jerusalem Post story by Jonathan Gillis who took part in a restoration project of the Czestochowa (Poland) Jewish cemetery and his experiences. She includes photos (1991, 2006) of the old Jewish cemetery cemetery in Nazna, Romania - near Targu Mures - and describes her almost mystical experience there.

Read Ruth's complete post at the link above.

Sweden: Vandalism, Malmo's old Jewish cemetery

The Stockholm (Sweden) News Online in English reported that on the morning of January 13, Molotov cocktails were thrown inside and outside the funeral chapel at the old Jewish cemetery in the city of Malmö, south Sweden.

No one was injured and the emergency service quickly got the fire under control. Police have made some findings at the scene.

There are more details at The Local (Swedish News in English).

Monday, January 12, 2009

Virginia: Confederate Soldiers Jewish cemetery has an entire section devoted to the Cemetery for Hebrew Confederate Soldiers.

According to the site, the Shockoe Hill cemetery in Richmond, Virginia - maintained by Congregation Beth Ahabah - is the only Jewish military cemetery in the world outside the state of Israel.

A plaque erected in 1866 by the Hebrew Ladies Memorial Association of Richmond, holds the names of those Jewish soldiers who died during the Civil War.

M. Levy, Mississippi, killed May 31, 1862.
J. Rosenberg, Ga.
Henry Adler, 46th Va.
E.J. Sampson, 4th Texas, killed June 27th, 1862.
G. Wolfe, N.C.I. Hessberg, Caroline co.
Unknown soldier
Henry Gersberg, Salem, Va., killed June 2, 1864.
T. Foltz, 16th Miss.
I. Cohen, Hampton (S.C.) Legion.
Sam Bear, Ga.
S. Bachrach, Lynchburg, Va.
Jonathan Sheuer, La.
J. Frank, Ga.
Henry Cohen, S.C. killed June 29, 1864.
Capt. Jacob A. Cohen, Co. A, 10th La., killed at 2nd Manassas, August 30, 1862, age, 33 years.
M. Aaron, N.C.A. Lehman, S.C.
Julius Zark, 7th Louisiana.
A. Heyman, Georgia.
Lieut. W.M. Wolf, Hagood's S.C. Brigade, died May 9, 1864.
Lieut. L.S. Lipman, 5th Louisiana, died May 9, 1863.
Erected by his brothers to the memory of Isaac Seldner, of the 6th Virg. Inf. Reg., born December 23, 1837, killed at the battle of Chancellorsville, Va., May 3rd, 1863. None knew him but to love him.
S. Weiss, Ga.
H. Jacobs, S.C.E.B. Miller, died April 6, 1864.
Corpl. G. Eiseman, 12th Miss.
M. Bachrach, Lynchburg, Va.
S. Oury, 16th Miss.; died June 10, 1861.
A. Robinson, 15th Ga., died Jan. 26, 1863.

There are also soldiers killed in battle and buried elsewhere:

Gustavus Kann, 16th Mississippi;
Henry Smith, Richmond, Otey Battery;
Marx Myers, Richmond Grays;
Isaac J. Levy, Richmond Blues
Captain M. Marcus, 15th Georgia, killed October 13, 1864.

The site has many very interesting resources - take some time to look around.

Ukraine: A photo essay

Here's photographer Trix Rosen's essay - and wonderful photographs - on her August 2008 trip to Ukraine.

I learned about Rosen in a posting by Ruth Ellen Gruber, with a link to Gruber's own photos of Ukraine. Rosen used Gruber's book, Jewish Heritage Travel: A Guide to Eastern Europe, to organize her trip.

Rosen writes:

For me, a first-generation American, an artist, a photojournalist, and a historical preservation photographer, they have become a portal to rediscovering my own Jewish heritage.

She offers evocative photograph, arranged in albums, of the cemeteries located in Chernivtsi, Sadhora, Shahhorod, Kremenets, Sataniv and Medzhybizh.

Bet Hayyim - The House of Life

I could see hundreds of stones jutting out of the hills in all directions, leaning this way and that like silent figures pushing out toward the sun. In the distance, the worn grey, beige and brown graves were stark monuments, reminders of the people who had lived out their lives in this place, and died.

The cemeteries seemed to be swallowed up by nettles, wildflowers and hills of exuberant goldenrod. Where the ground had shifted, the displaced stones appeared as monoliths from some ancient civilization, left by time to lean against one another.

In August 2008 I travelled to the Ukraine for the first time, to meet two of my friends and to visit Odessa, the birthplace of my father. My two-week visit became an exploration into the history of the once vast community of Eastern European Jews and the relics they had left behind.

This odyssey started in Kiev at the ravine in Babi Yar, and took me to the tombs of Rabbi Nachman in Uman and the Ba’al Shem Tov in Medzhybizh, two historic Hasidic pilgrimage sites associated with the Kabbalah. I crisscrossed the heartland, over 2000 kilometers, to visit cities, towns, and shtetls, and to photograph the carved tombstones in cemeteries dating back to the 1400’s.

She describes the tombstones and their carvings of animals and symbols.

Some epitaphs were intricately carved, the stones decorated in an elaborate Jewish script covering the entire surface; others held only the most minimal outline of the Star of David. Massive, six-foot-high sculptures of tree trunks with their branches cut off towered over the simpler stones. Some retained a residue of ochre and blue paint, (perhaps the final touch of the engravers and stonecutters), while others were covered only in lichen and moss. ...
The cemeteries - called Bet Hayyim (Hebrew for House of Life) - survived pogroms and Nazi murders of Jews who lived nearby. Read the complete essay at the link above.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Cleveland: Outside of the box

Arlene Fine of the Cleveland Jewish News is doing a series on women with unusual occupations. This Friday, it was the turn of Karen Gutner of Classic Monuments, who helps families select and personalize headstones.

“Sometimes I feel more like a psychologist than a salesperson,” says the Lyndhurst resident. “I get a lot of white-knuckle flyers walking in the door. I understand that anything relating to death can be scary.”

After they get over their uneasiness, most of Gutner’s clients have sticker shock. The average headstone can run anywhere from $500 to $5,000, and that does not include the cemetery fee for the cement installation to hold the headstone in place.

When some clients learn the cost of the stone is not included in the funeral expenses paid months before, “they are not happy,” Gutner admits. “I try to soften the blow by suggesting locally quarried rather than imported granite.”

But that is not the only issue people must consider. Every cemetery or cemetery association has rules as to the height and width, color and shape of a tombstone. Gutner keeps a handbook listing all requirements and restrictions as a verifiable reference.

“Some family members come in with requests for grandly designed monuments,” she says. “They are astonished and often angry when I tell them a simple granite marker is all that is permitted on that particular plot of land.”

After a headstone is selected, the wording can be the next hurdle.

Gutner says that in the case of a woman who has married more than once, the choice of wording can be a problem when everyone gets into the act (children, stepchildren, surviving husband/s or parent/s) as to what names will appear on the stone.

“Sometimes I have to act as a referee as the gansa mishpochah (whole family) have heated arguments at my desk over the tombstone inscription.” In the end, she adds, whoever is paying for the tombstone or monument usually wins.”
The article ends with Gutner's pleas for individuals to visit a memorial business and pre-pay for the tombstone when prepaying for a funeral.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Poland: Jozefow Bilgorajski cemetery cleaned

After the clean-up, Jozefow Bilgorajski Jewish Cemetery, Poland (FODZ)

Ruth Ellen Gruber writes in Jewish Heritage Travel about the clean-up project in the Jozefow Bilgorajski Jewish cemetery in eastern Poland.

The project was co-financed by the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland (FODZ) and the Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage.

Ruth has posted her own photographs, and FODZ has also created an online photo gallery of the results.

Jews settled in Jozefow in the 18th century, and by 1921 nearly 80 percent of the local population was Jewish. A very nice baroque-style synagogue, built in the late 18th or early 19th century, now serves as the town library.

The oldest tombstones in the cemetery date from the 1760s. I visited there in the summer of 2006, when I was doing the updates for Jewish Heritage Travel. The local librarian was very helpful, giving me explicit instructions how to find the cemetery, located near quarries on a hill just outside town. Access is via a dirt road off Kamienna street.

Parts of the cemetery were - sort of - clear, or at least fairly accessible, even in "high weed" season. But much of the cemetery was jungle.... Here are some photos to compare how it was, with the pictures on the FODZ site showing the area after clean-up.

Do visit Ruth's blog to see her photographs. Follow the links for more information.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Austria: A visit to Eisenstadt cemetery

The tiny town of Eisenstadt means different things to different people. There can be strange juxtapositions in the study of Jewish cemeteries and genealogy. Here you will find at least four: the composer Joseph Haydn; the Esterházy family, a world-renowned potter and an ancient Jewish community in Eisenstadt in the Burgenland (Austria).

Joseph Haydn was born in Rohrau (Lower Austria) on March 31, 1732, and died in Vienna on May 31, 1809. I am such a Haydn fan that I visited his birthplace a few years ago, at the exact day and moment of his birth - I was the only visitor!

Haydn was often a reluctant resident of Eisenstadt as he and his musicians had to spend the summer there; Haydn was employed to compose “to order” and play almost daily to entertain the Esterházy court and its many visitors.

It was the same Count Nikolaus Esterházy who was the Schutzherr of the Jews of Eisenstadt, who lived within the castle estate. After Vienna, Haydn found Eisenstadt very tedious as it was so small and restrictive. When Count Nikolaus died, the composer went to London and was in seventh heaven.

Haydn was awarded the first-ever Honorary Doctor of Music at Oxford and I too have an Oxford degree and have trodden in his footsteps in that historic University town. If you have never listened to Haydn’s Creation - based on the Old Testament account of the seven days of creation - and his secular oratorio, The Seasons, you are in for a treat in 2009, the 200th anniversary of Haydn’s death.

It is not generally known that Sandór Wolf - his Eisenstadt house is now a regional museum and houses one of Haydn's gorgeous organs - was the grandfather of the world-renowned potter Lucie Rie. See photos in my FLICKR site here.

Sándor Wolf (Eisenstadt Nov. 21, 1871 - Haifa Jan. 2, 1946) was a wine wholesaler, art collector and researcher. He was also a scholar/archaeologist and collaborated with Bernhard Wachstein - click here for more information - in a momentous tome on the transcriptions of the Eisenstadt cemetery: “Die Grabinschriften des alten Judenfriedhofes in Eisenstadt mit einer Studie: Die Entwicklung des jüdischen Grabsteines und die Denkmäler des Eisenstädter Friedhofes von S. Wolf (Eisenstädter Forschungen 1).

Wolf was particularly interested in ancient settlements and artefacts of the Burgenland and there is evidence that Jews had arrived in this area with the Roman Legions, well over 1,000 years before the first Jewish community settled in Eisenstadt in the 1370s.

The Esterházys took the Jewish community under their protection in 1622 when they inherited the area estates. The Jewish population increased and the fame of tiny Eisenstadt as a centre of Jewish learning and scholarship spread throughout the world.

In 2008, a gold scroll was discovered in the Burgenland, as the earliest evidence of Jewish inhabitants in the region, now part of Austria; the amulet was inscribed with a Jewish prayer and found in a Roman child’s grave dating back to the 3rd century at a burial ground in Halbturn. Read about these here.

There is a WOLF GOMPERZ RIE family archive here with many pictures.

Lucie Gomperz was the youngest child of three and the only daughter of Dr. Benjamin and Gisela Gomperz. Dr. Gomperz was a successful ear, nose and throat specialist in Vienna. Gisela Gomperz née Wolf was born into the wealthy Wolf family. The Gomperz children, who lived in Vienna, spent a lot of time at the Wolf estate in Eisenstadt.

Here is an excellent German-language article with photographs about this fascinating family, and a family tree here.

Burials in Eisenstadt cemetery illustrated here took place from 1679-1874. There is a later Jewish cemetery I did not visit on this trip.

The Israelitische Kultusgemeinde {IKG - Vienna} cemetery database lists about 1,200 burials in Eisenstadt cemetery and the names - many patronymics- are very evocative. Here are four entries:
Fr. Hindel T. Abraham ha-Levi Spitz (Fr. Elia Lichtenstadt) 5th row 223
Frumet T. Elia Zebi aus Trebitsch, Fr. Pinchas Ahron Halberstadt 07/30/1802 5th row 464
Gumpel Emmerich, Fr. Meir Preßburg (ben Mich. Lazar ben Simon Michl) Golda T. 02/27/1794 5th row 264
Jehuda Löb ben Ascher Anschel Jafe-Margulies (Schlesinger) 5th row 19

Eisenstadt was called *Asch* in Hebrew because the two Hebrew letters A(lef) and S(chin) are derived from E(A)eisenStadt. Thus, Asch may imply the family name Eisenstadt or an origin from Eisenstadt viz: Meir b. Isaac Eisenstadt [MaHaRaM A"Sh].

Read about the Eisenstadt Jewish community in these three short articles:
Jewish Encyclopedia, Beth Hatefutzot and the Jewish Virtual Library

Finally, look at my FLICKR pictures here.