Final Project: Mapping the Remembrance of Jewish Cemeteries in Poland

I first visited Poland during the summer of 2012. The trip was a chance for my mother and I to discover our Polish roots and to find answers to some of our genealogical questions. It was a brief stay, but in the short time we were there I became fascinated with the interactions between Polish and Jewish culture and the way Poles seemed to remember the Jewish past.

Over the course of my undergraduate classes in history and anthropology, I became more and more interested in this topic. I visited Poland once again during the summer of 2015 through a study tour with a memory organization in Lublin, Poland called Brama Grodzka – NN Theatre Centre. This study tour brought me to many incredible places and raised even more questions for me. I returned to college, desperate to find more answers.

My senior thesis focused on the remembrance of Jewish material culture in Poland. I specifically focused on Jewish cemeteries and mezuzah impressions (the marks left on the doorposts from the removal of mezuzot). In order to try to answer questions about memory in Poland, I analyzed the data of over one-thousand Jewish cemeteries in Poland. This data was found through Virtual Shtetl, a group that collects information on Jewish sites in Poland, the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland (FODZ), a group that works to preserve important physical sites of Jewish history and culture in Poland, and from my own travels throughout Poland. One goal of this project was to map the Jewish cemeteries on which I had collected data. In the end, I ran out of time to complete this part of the project.

Through research and examination of the material culture, I made a few conclusions about the memory of Jewish sites and objects in Poland. First, it is possible that “separate memories” of the past exist in the minds of the Polish people. An anthropologist completed a study of one small Polish town and through her interviews she discovered that the Poles in this town see the Polish history of the town and the Jewish history of the town as two separate histories. This anthropologist also suggests that the Jewish history is remembered by Poles as an almost fairytale-like story rather than actual history. I expanded upon this notion in my thesis by arguing that the “separate memories” notion could be the reason why some Jewish sites in Poland are being neglected and forgotten. (For more on this project, see: Wloszycka, Malgorzata. “Neglected Memory: The Recollection of Jews Among Poles. A Case Study of a Town in Southern Poland.” European Judaism 44 (2011): 81-90. Doi: 10.3167/ej.2011.44.02.06)

Specifically for cemeteries, I argue that there still exists a passive memory of these sites in Poles. But many Jewish cemeteries have been destroyed, left neglected, and do not have any forms of active remembrance (i.e., signs, information boards, fencing, cleaning, dedication ceremonies, memorials, etc.). Why is this the case? Why are some places/sites remembered while others are not? Through the “separate memories” theory, people that see Jewish history as separate from their own history will be less likely to act on remembering Jewish sites.

Jewish cemeteries in Poland are actively remembered and actively neglected in many ways. Through my research I established five categories of remembrance for Jewish cemeteries in Poland:

  • Absent (where there are no physical remnants of the cemetery above the surface and the cemetery has not been actively remembered in any way). This category indicates a lack of remembrance towards these site. In my thesis, I argued that the lack of physical markers on these sites might contribute to why there has been no acts of remembrance.
Czerwinsk nad Wisla New Jewish Cemetery Source: Virtual Shtetl
  • Neglected (where cemeteries have physical remnants above ground and have been neglected or destroyed. Many of these sites are overgrown, left in a state of disrepair, or destroyed.) This category also indicates a lack of remembrance. For me, this category is very intriguing. Even though physical remnants of these cemeteries remain, the lack of remembrance signifies that it is not the physical remnants that indicate whether a site will be actively remembered.

Szczebrzeszyn Jewish Cemetery Source: ACurry 2015

  • Altered (where cemeteries have been altered in some way and are no longer used as cemeteries. These sites include cemeteries that have been turned into parks, schools, housing developments, government buildings, playgrounds, gas stations, etc.) These sites now function in completely different ways than their original purpose. This category indicates neither remembrance nor neglect/ignorance. It seems to be a mix of both. While it seems some memory of these sites remain, as many of these sites have memorials to the Jewish cemeteries, this category overall indicates an ability for Poles and Polish society to overlook the Jewish history present in order to function within their own society.

Jozefow nad Wisla Jewish Cemetery Source: Virtual Shtetl. Site is used as a garbage dump today.

  • Memorial (where the only form of remembrance to the cemetery is through a monument or memorial.) This category usually indicates remembrance, where the memorial present identifies the site as being the location of a Jewish cemetery. It is often the case that though there are memorials at these sites, the memorials might mark a completely different event and disregard the Jewish cemetery present. In the site pictured below, the memorial contains plaques commemorating those that died during the war, but is not specific to Jews or to the Jewish cemetery present. The plaques are written in four different languages, including Hebrew. So while these sites mainly reflect remembrance, they also reflect a lack of memory.

Goleniow Jewish Cemetery Source: Virtual Shtetl

  • Remembered (where there exist multiple forms of active remembrance to the cemetery. This can include: cleaning, fencing, memorials/monuments, on-site tours, dedication ceremonies, etc.) These sites indicate remembrance, and often remembrance in multiple ways. In my thesis, I analyzed how these sites are being remembered and who is remembering them. For the most part, these sites are being remembered by Jewish organizations, or Jewish groups that have a connection to the site. Despite remembrance efforts being led by Jewish groups, there are many examples of Poles leading remembrance activities as well. This indicates that some Poles understand, view, and remember this history in a way that makes them feel responsible for it in some manner.

Milejczyce Jewish Cemetery Source: Virtual Shtetl

This class, Introduction to Digital Public Humanities, has given me the opportunity to map the Jewish cemeteries in Poland. The goal of mapping these cemeteries is to understand if there is a spatial reason for the remembrance or neglect of Jewish cemeteries in Poland. Through my senior thesis, I was able to understand the social, anthropological, and psychological reasons behind the remembrance of Jewish cemeteries in Poland. But my analysis lacked a geographical perspective…until now! Thanks to CartoDB, I was able to map data that I have been collecting for over a year.

This link will take you to the interactive version of my general remembrance map. This map is a color-coded map of all of the Jewish cemeteries in Poland that I found data on. The sites are color-coded based on the remembrance of the site. In all, I have mapped 1,124 Jewish cemeteries in Poland. The majority of the sites are actively remembered in some way, but as you can see from the map, there are also many sites that have not been remembered.

Here is another interesting image from the general map of the cemeteries:

This is a heat-density map. It shows where most of the Jewish cemeteries in Poland are located (the red areas) and where there is a lesser density of Jewish cemeteries in Poland (the blue/green areas). This map shows that most of the Jewish cemeteries are centered around southeastern Poland. Though there were Jewish settlements throughout all of Poland, most Jews lived in this southeastern region of Poland. (We also have to remember that the boundaries of Poland changed many times throughout the last one thousand years. But this project is using the modern map of Poland to understand the past). In this way, it makes sense that most of the Jewish cemeteries would be located in this southeastern region of Poland.

Before digging into the remembrance data, I also want to post a time-lapse map of the establishment dates for these cemeteries. The establishment of cemeteries often denotes the establishment of Jewish populations in a specific town or village. This map, though it shows the range of establishment of the cemeteries, also thereby shows the establishment and spread of Jewish communities in Poland.

This first image shows the first step in the time-lapse map. Here we can see one of the first established cemeteries in Poland, the Wroclaw Medieval Jewish Cemetery, established around 1190. From the year 1200 on, we can witness through the time-lapse map the expansion of Jewish communities in Poland.

By 1300, a few more Jewish cemeteries had been established. We can see that there is a cluster of these early cemeteries in western Poland and cluster in eastern/central Poland. This shows the expansion further into Poland, from the west towards central Poland, which would only continue in the coming centuries.

By 1400 C.E., we finally see the expansion into southern Poland and into eastern Poland. The Warsaw Medieval Jewish Cemetery was one of the cemeteries established by 1400, signaling the beginning of a town that would become a center of Jewish life in Poland.

The explosion of Jewish life in Poland would not begin until around 1600 C.E. By this time, Jewish life, specifically in southeastern Poland began to expand fairly rapidly. This image from the time-lapse map further shows the expansion of Jewish communities in Poland, showing that many communities settled in the southeastern region.

The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were the climax of Jewish expansion in Poland. By 1800 C.E., there are more Jewish cemeteries throughout the entirety of Poland. We also see the first cemeteries in northern Poland during this time.

This image of the time-lapse map shows the Jewish cemeteries present by 1940. This map is fairly precise to the first Remembrance map, as most of the Jewish communities in Poland were destroyed during and after WWII. Very few cemeteries were established post-war, but there were a few. Overall, the time-lapse map is a great way to visualize and portray the settlement of Jewish life in Poland over the last eight hundred years. By viewing this map in motion, we can almost witness the expansion of Jewish communities as it happened.

Back to the remembrance of Jewish cemeteries. I broke down this map into five different maps, one for each category of remembrance.

When I first went through and separated these maps, I couldn’t find many differences between them. For the most part, many of these maps resemble the initial map: it seems most of the sites are in southern Poland, which was true for the initial map showing all of the Jewish cemeteries in Poland. So I decided to look at heat maps instead, to see if those would show more than the regular “dot” maps do.

Sure enough, this type of map was a great way of portraying the remembrance of Jewish cemeteries in Poland. I started again with the Absent category, which includes any cemetery that is not being actively remembered in any way. This map looks very different from initial map of the Absent cemeteries. Here, the Lublin region and a region near Wroclaw are highlighted as the areas with the least amount of remembrance. Also important to note is the absence of sites in the very southern portion of the country and in the regions surrounding Krakow.

The heat map of the neglected cemeteries in Poland shows concentrated regions of neglect in eastern Poland, southern Poland, southwestern Poland, and northwestern Poland. North-central Poland is conspicuously lacking neglected cemeteries.

Cemeteries that have undergone a change in identity have some interesting hot-spots in the heat map. Regions highlighted in this map include Bialystok, Lublin, Rzeszow, and an area outside Lodz. The majority of the Altered Category cemeteries are in the eastern/southeastern part of the country.

Though these maps are all different, many of the concentrated areas of cemeteries reside in southern Poland, where most of the Jewish cemeteries in Poland are located. However, these maps do show slight difference. The map of the neglected cemeteries shows a very concentrated regions of cemeteries northwest of Krakow and other less concentrated regions in central Poland and around Lublin.

Finally, the map of the remembered cemeteries shows intense concentrations of cemeteries in southern and central Poland. The cemeteries that have been actively remembered are centered around Krakow, Warsaw, Lodz, and the very southeastern tip of Poland. This patterning is understandable: Warsaw, Krakow and Lodz are some of the largest towns in Poland, places that still have Jewish communities to this day. It is likely that the remembrance of Jewish cemeteries in this region is due to the Jewish communities and organizations present in these towns.

Conclusions and Final Thoughts:

Mapping the Jewish cemeteries in Poland based on their remembrance did not highlight much new about the remembrance of Jewish cemeteries in Poland. Many of my initial conclusions about how Jewish cemeteries are remembered in Poland are supported by these maps. The cemeteries that are remembered seem to be located near some of the larger cities in Poland, where modern-day Jewish communities are centered, and in southeastern Poland where Jewish life in Poland was centered. It is these Jewish communities and organizations that are completing much of the memory work on these cemeteries.

This project did aide in helping me to visualize the data that I have been collecting. I can now see how heavily saturated the southern area of Poland is with Jewish cemeteries. I could also use the time-lapse feature in CartoDB to visualize the spread of Jewish civilization in Poland throughout the past one-thousand years.

CartoDB was a great tool to use for this project. The most complicated part of the project was editing my spreadsheet to work with CartoDB because my spreadsheet contained so much data. Despite this, working with CartoDB was simple and user-friendly. From the minute I connected my spreadsheet, CartoDB recognized my categories and my data. The work on my end from there on out was very little.

I think CartoDB, though it is a fantastic and simple mapping tool, could expand its possibilities in a few ways. First, I would love if there were a feature to add photos to the data in the maps. As my project was focused on material culture, being able to add pictures to the maps would enhance viewer interaction with the maps. Next, there were certain aspects of working within CartoDB that were repetitive. In order to alter or change a map, you need to re-publish the map to change the features. Even though I was working with much of the same data, I needed to publish six different maps just to show various aspects of the analysis or to change the text overlays.

Overall, this process was fairly straightforward and simple. If I were to continue this project, I would spend more time working with Carto’s various mapping tools. I focused here on the categories tool and the heat map tool, but  better tools to use to understand this data might exist within CartoDB. I would also take some time to overlay certain data in order to better understand how this data interacts. It would be interesting to spend some time with the heat map of remembered cemeteries and overlay “dot” data from the absent and neglected ceremonies to see if there is any overlap. This might help to more deeply understand my data. I hope to work with CartoDB more in the future and gain a better understanding of how this program works.

I will leave this project with a quote from Polish journalist Anna Bikont on the memory of a small town in Poland:

“Polish truth. Jewish truth. It’s obvious to many residents that there are two separate truths here.”

(Bikont, Anna. The Crime and the Silence: Confronting the Massacre of Jews in Wartime Jedwabne. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015. pg 140).

 

 

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