WARSAW – Ownership of an 18th century Jewish cemetery is being transferred to the Warsaw Jewish community this week. In exchange, the community will yield rights to a plot of land no longer accessible due to the residential buildings and roads built on it.
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The city will also pay the Jewish community 15 million zlotys (around NIS 12 million) as part of the deal, part of which will be used to renovate the cemetery, which has been targeted by vandals several times in recent years.
Hundreds of tombstones have been broken or stolen to be used for construction and hundreds more were thrown into the nearby Vistula River. Recently several stones were fished out of the water and preserved. No suspects in these incidents were ever arrested.
Because of the security problems, the municipality was interested in giving up responsibility for the graveyard but the Jewish community hesitated to absorb the cost and effort of maintaining it. When funding was offered, however, it agreed to do so.
The 325-acre cemetery, located in the Brudno neighborhood on the eastern side of the Vistula, far from downtown, was founded by financier Shmuel Zbytkower in 1780. It was used, along with the larger, main cemetery, until World War II. When Warsaw was liberated from the Nazis, the communist regime turned the area into a resort.
In the late 1980s, the Nissenbaum Family Foundation renovated the cemetery, repairing its walls, building an entrance gate and paving an access road between the graves to accommodate visitors. But they could not protect the cemetery from vandals.
Recent excavations around the Brudno cemetery revealed human bones where a road was slated to be paved. Poland’s chief rabbi, Rabbi Michael Schudrich, objected to removing the remains and the issue became the subject of intense negotiations. In the end, the municipality submitted to the Jewish community and the road will be paved elsewhere.
Jewish community spokeswoman Joanna Korzeniewska issued a press statement saying that in the first stage, three million zlotys from the municipality would be used to renovate the cemetery, including improving the wall and remarking graves.
The community also plans to install security cameras at the site to make it easier to identify vandals and hopes to raise additional funds for this purpose.