Lodz, Poland - Lodz' Jewish Cemetery With 180,000 Graves is the Biggest in Europe
Lodz, Poland - Lodz’ Jewish cemetery is an impressive sight, with its long avenues, old trees, mausoleums that look like ancient temples and thousands of headstones. Some are badly weathered and it is impossible to read the inscriptions on many. Graves are covered in ivy and most of them date back to before the Second World War.
Today, Lodz’s Jewish community is small compared to what it once was. At one time, it was the largest in Poland after Warsaw’s. The cemetery is the biggest of its kind in Europe, with 180,000 graves, many of which are of historic interest.
There are bigger Jewish cemeteries in terms of area in Europe, such as the graveyard in Berlin’s Weisensse district. But they have far fewer graves than in Lodz.
However, the cemetery is remarkable in other ways. Perhaps the biggest surprise the cemetery has to offer is that it still exists. The German occupying forces during World War II not only tried to exterminate the city’s Jewish population, but destroyed almost all of its synagogues and attempted to wipe out all traces of Jewish culture. Lodz’s Jewish cemetery was not spared.
“In the 19th century, a third of Lodz’s residents were Jews. At the beginning of the war about 230,000 lived here,” says Anna Jozwiak as she points to the Star of David on the cemetery gates. The Nazis turned a portion of Lodz into a ghetto called Litzmannstadt.
“About 200,000 Jews were held in the ghetto. Only a small portion - perhaps 800 - survived.”
Some of those who died in the ghetto were buried in Lodz’s Jewish cemetery. But most of the graves are older and date back to the time when Lodz was a growing industrial centre. It expanded faster than any other in the region.
Merchants, bankers and other notable people accumulated wealth and influence in that time and displayed that in the city’s graveyards - no matter what religion they were. The Jewish cemetery has some stunning examples of opulent graves built by a middle class who were prepared to spend almost as much money on mausoleums as they did on houses for the living.
In his day, Izrael Poznanski, for example, was the most well known Jewish factory owner in the city and accrued a fortune from textile manufacturing. He lies buried with his wife Leonia in a mausoleum that cost a fortune to build.
“It is the biggest Jewish tomb in Europe at seven metres high and 10 metres wide,” says Anna Jozwiak. “The interior is decorated with two million mosaic pieces.”
The name Poznanski adorns the tomb’s facade in large letters. Tourists can often be found crowding outside trying to get a look inside.
There are many other fine examples of ostentatious graves in the cemetery.
The tomb of the Prussak family is a domed roof supported by four columns with four steps. Many of the tombs were built in the art nouveau style, such as that for the Rapppaport family. The parents of the classical pianist Artur Rubinstein are also buried in the cemetery. Their comparatively simple gravestone survived the war along with thousands of other ordinary headstones.
The headstones are usually made of sandstone or limestone and are often decorated with a Star of David or a hand in blessing. The image of a book indicates the headstone marks the grave of a learned person.
“A candlestick shows that the grave is of a woman,” explains Anna Jozwiak. “Women had the job of lighting the candles at the beginning of Sabbath.”
Most of the Jews murdered in the Lodz Ghetto during World War Two do not have any grave. However, their relatives who survived the war and went on to live in the United States, Australia and other European countries have placed a plaque on the cemetery wall in their memory.
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