Friday, February 5, 2010

36/365: Macevas in the snow

36/365: Macevas in the snow
36/365: Macevas in the snow, originally uploaded by Magic Madzik.
February 5th

Someone (superd?) from the currently unavailable Photojojo forums asked me about the Jewish Cemetery in Lodz, and I realised that I had only been there twice, and had no photos to show for it. Today was a sunny day, and I hesitated as cemeteries are probably best photographed when it's misty and dreadful, but the gates close after dark, so I couldn't expect to linger there after sunset. It worked out better than I expected. The sun was sharp, but I was among trees and gravestones, and up to my bottom in snow. Perhaps the cemetery does not look mystical or haunting in these pictures, but I like them anyway. I'll save the haunting for spring, when the rains come.

As usual, a bit of history about this place. The 'New' Jewish cemetery was built in 1892 on land procured by textile industry magnate and philantropist Israel Poznański (whose palace and factory I've already mentioned) when the first, 'Old' Cemetery dating back to 1811 was found to be full and impossible to expand. The project stumbled but gained speed in 1891 due to an outbreak of cholera near Lodz which caused a pressing need for a new burial site. Poznanski laid out the funds for the cemetery on condition that he would be allowed a large parcel for the construction of his impressive family mausoleum.

The New Cemetery suffered greatly in both world wars, and from destructive communist ideology later- the Old, first Jewish Cemetery in Lodz was completely destroyed in 1949 by construction work. The government of the time found no place for such sentimentalism and instead of renovating the Old Cemetery it built apartment blocks over the area, without even granting the respect of exhuming and moving the bodies.

The New Cemetery very nearly shared a similar fate, but luckily it remained mostly untouched until the free elections brought a time more respectful of history. It was not in good shape, however. World War One brought fights right to the cemetery grounds, destroying much of its architecture. During World War Two the Nazis left the graves untouched but took apart all the buildings, starting with the synagogue and ending with the wall. The cemetery had been included in the Litzmannstadt ghetto and many Jews, Gypsies and resistance fighters were executed right on its grounds. These deaths are commemorated on the so-called Ghetto Field, where a mass grave contains an estimated 43,000 victims of the Holocaust as well as ghetto hunger and misery.

The New Cemetery is said to be the final resting place of 160,000 people, many of them Lodz citizens of great renown. Today, after history's many shameful attempts to destroy or repurpose the area the New Jewish Cemetery is a protected national heritage site. It covers 96 acres- it is the largest Jewish necropolis in the world outside of Israel, and is under the care of the Monumentum Iudaicum Lodzense foundation.

More information about Jews in Lodz and the Litzmannstadt Ghetto can be found here. The cemetery website is here.

Please see my Jewish Cemetery Set on Flickr for the rest of today's pictures.


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