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History of the Jewish cemetery in Trzemeszno (Tremessen)

Time of establishing the cemetery and its location

The Jewish cemetery in Trzemeszno is located about 1 km (0.6 mile) south-west of the center of the town, within the boundaries of the village of Zieleń, on a small hill on the eastern side of Orchowska Street, opposite the Evangelical cemetery (coordinates: 52.550784, 17.816699).

The monograph of the town titled Dzieje Trzemeszna [The History of Trzemeszno] edited by Prof. Czesław Łuczak mentions the construction of a synagogue in 1810[1]Dzieje Trzemeszna [The History of Trzemeszno], Cz. Łuczak [Ed.], Poznań 2002, p. 102.. It is important in regards to finding the date of establishing the Jewish cemetery, because “The cemetery – just like the mikveh and the synagogue – belongs to the most important structures in every Jewish community”[2]K. Bielawski, Zagłada cmentarzy żydowskich [The Annihilation of Jewish Cemeteries], Warsaw 2020, p. 20.
. Therefore, it is likely that it was established at approximately the same time as the synagogue. It is possible that the cemetery was founded as a result of a decree issued by the King of Prussia on May 24, 1814, which ordered Jewish families living farther than a mile from the cemetery to create their own burial places[3]M. Wodziński, Hebrajskie inskrypcje na Śląsku XIII–XVIII wieku [Hebrew Inscriptions in 13-18th Century Silesia],, Wrocław 1996, p. 60.
. The oldest document confirming its existence is a map of Trzemeszno from 1835-1836 (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1. Cadastral map of Trzemeszno from 1835-1836. (Source: National Archive in Bydgoszcz)

It shows that in the beginning the Jewish cemetery (captioned as “Jud. Kirchhof”) covered only one of the two current plots (a triangular plot), which is the hill. It is on this hill that the oldest burials can be found. Only in later years, as the Jewish community grew in number, was a second – rectangular – plot added, at the foot of the hill, on the town side. Nothing indicates that the Jewish cemetery in Trzemeszno was fenced with a masonry wall. However, one photograph from the autumn of 1939 has survived, showing a fragment of the cemetery surrounded by a wooden fence (Fig. 2).

Burials

The oldest documents concerning deaths of Trzemeszno’s residents of Mosaic faith come from the 1832 register book[4]National Archive in Bydgoszcz, Inowrocław Branch, Akta metrykalne żydowskiej gminy wyznaniowej w Trzemesznie pow. Mogilno [Registers of the Jewish Confession Community in Trzemeszno, Mogilno County], No. 7/113/1.. In 1874, Civil Registry Offices were established, which started to draw up individual death records. They contain more elaborate information about the deceased (from the place of origin and information about parents, through the profession of the deceased, to the address of his or her residence), so they are a very helpful source of knowledge about people buried in the Jewish cemetery.

Fig. 2. Fragment of the cemetery – autumn 1939. (Source: Private collection of Piotr Chudziński)

The preparation of bodies for burial was carried out by members of the Holy Society (from Aramaic Chevra Kadisha). However, there are no documents which would confirm the existence of such a society in Trzemeszno. Nevertheless, one of the obituaries from the beginning of the 20th century (Fig. 3) attests to the existence of a pre-burial house, where the body was ritually washed, dressed in a special robe and placed in a coffin (since the 19th century the use of coffins was required by the state authorities).

Fig. 3. Elias Loewenthal’s obituary. (Source: Dorit Braun’s family archives)

In the foreground on the left, Fig. 2 shows a fragment of a building standing in the cemetery grounds. There is no doubt that it served as a pre-burial house. Some residents of Trzemeszno remember that after the war it was used as a residential building and for some time a hearse garage stood next to it (used for transporting bodies to the Catholic cemetery). Traces of the foundations of this building are still visible today.

Matzevot

A matzeva is a stone or wooden slab placed vertically to mark the grave of a deceased person.

Fig. 4. One of the matzevot from the Trzemeszno cemetery. (Photo by Katarzyna Sudaj)

According to the accounts of the oldest residents of Trzemeszno, already at the beginning of the war the German Nazis devastated the Jewish cemetery by removing matzevot from it. There is an account that they ordered the Jews to move them from the cemetery and deposit them on the shore of Kościelne Lake. Another report says that they were sunk in the lake, but this would be at odds with the pragmatism of the Germans, who usually used matzevot as building material. The most credible version is that some of them were used to fortify the shores of the lake, which was the practice of the occupants in other towns of Greater Poland. However, there is no doubt that some matzevot were used as curbstones for pavements, which was discovered in autumn 1999 during the renovation of Ogrodowa Street, when several dozen tombstones with Hebrew and German inscriptions were dug up. The finds were reported to the monument conservator and moved to the water supply station of Trzemeszno’s municipal enterprise, where they remained for 22 years.

A year ago, the Rabbinical Commission for Cemeteries declared its willingness to cooperate with the town authorities in moving them to the cemetery. On June 1, 2021, the Chief Rabbi of Poland Michael Schudrich personally visited the cemetery in Trzemeszno (Fig. 5).

Fig.5. June 1,2021 – Chief Rabbi of Poland Michael Schudrich visiting the cemetery in Trzemeszno. (Photo by Zygmunt Nowaczyk)

Following this visit, a resident of a house in Ogrodowa Street dug up another section of matzevot in front of his property. In February of 2022, the rest of the pavement curbs of this street were checked and several more gravestones were found, which were secured together with the remaining matzevot.

Renovation of the cemetery

In September 2021, a team was established at the Trzemeszno Town and Commune Office to work on a volunteer basis on the cemetery’s renovation. Activities were planned and funds were sought for their implementation. In December, the greenery in the cemetery was cleaned up. The work was carried out by a professional company with the help of volunteers (Fig. 6).

Fig. 6. December 2021 – professionals and volunteers cleaning up the cemetery in Trzemeszno. (Photo by Renata Pałucka)

An inventory of the matzevot is currently being carried out under the direction of Dr. Andrzej Leśniewski (Fig. 7). The next step will be having them cleaned by a professional company. Constructing a lapidarium and signage for the cemetery are planned for autumn 2022.

Fig. 7. Cemetery renovation team taking an inventory of the rescued matzevot. (Photo by Zygmunt Walczak)

Protection

According to a halachic principle, “a cemetery is the resting place of the dead awaiting the coming of the Messiah and as such is not subject to liquidation; it always 'is', even when there are no tombstones on its surface”[5]K. Bielawski, op. cit., p. 5..

At the moment, the cemetery is entered in the communal and provincial register of monuments. As a result, obtaining a decision on development conditions as well as a building permit require the agreement with the monument conservator. In 2021, The Provincial Monument Conservator in Poznań initiated ex officio proceedings to enter the cemetery into the register of monuments. We will inform about his decision on our website.

Edited by Agnieszka Kostuch

Translated by Kasia Smialkowski

Przypisy

Przypisy
1 Dzieje Trzemeszna [The History of Trzemeszno], Cz. Łuczak [Ed.], Poznań 2002, p. 102.
2 K. Bielawski, Zagłada cmentarzy żydowskich [The Annihilation of Jewish Cemeteries], Warsaw 2020, p. 20.
3 M. Wodziński, Hebrajskie inskrypcje na Śląsku XIII–XVIII wieku [Hebrew Inscriptions in 13-18th Century Silesia],, Wrocław 1996, p. 60.
4 National Archive in Bydgoszcz, Inowrocław Branch, Akta metrykalne żydowskiej gminy wyznaniowej w Trzemesznie pow. Mogilno [Registers of the Jewish Confession Community in Trzemeszno, Mogilno County], No. 7/113/1.
5 K. Bielawski, op. cit., p. 5.
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