The Jewish cemetery in Góra Kalwaria was established in the beginnings of the XIX-th century on a “an area named a pastureland, intended for the  Jewish cemetery”, at the end of the current Kalwaryjska Street, right behind the Catholic cemetery. The exact date of its establishment is not known. The first records on the necropolis date back to the town budget from the 1827-1832 period, which estimated the income of the Jewish community from the lease of the burial ground. It was as late as in 1864, that the synagogal supervision in Góra Kalwaria became the formal owner of the cemetery plot. In the period of the necropolis’s functioning, its area was systematically expanded. In a relatively short period of time, the “burial cemetery in M.Góra, which existed on a camellar ground was so densely covered with bodies of the deceased, that it was of no use anymore. The local synagogal supervision, met the urgent need to expand the cemetery and so it took the area of 285 perches, which it fenced and reported the operation to the head, to the Gubernyal Governemnt for the obtaining of the approval thereof.”

We know how did the cemetery look like before the outbreak of World War II, to an extent thanks to an archival photograph, published in “Jüdische Grabmaulkunst in Osteuropa: eine Sammlung” (English: “Jewish Sepulchral Art in Eastern Europe: A Collection”)- a book by Arthur Levy issued in 1923 in Berlin. On the picture one my see several matzevot, arranged in a succession, practically all of which are adorned with polychromes. In the background one, may see a relatively large four-sided ohel, belonging to the tzadiks from the Alter dynasty. It is also known that there was a mortuary house in the eastern part of the cemetery.

During World War II, the nazis devastated and profaned the cemetery. The tombstones were removed and used in construction works. Also the ohel, fence of the necropolis and mortuary house have been destroyed. Some Poles also did take part in the demolition. Within the cemetery, the Germans executed people of Jewish descent. Most of the graves have not been marked until today. In the times of PPR (English: Polish People’s Republic; Polish: Polska Rzeczpospolita Ludowa) intended to turn the area into a ground for industrial settlements. Fortunately these plans were never realized.
We owe the present state of the necropolis above all to Mr. Felix (actually Wolf) Karpmann- a native resident of Góra Kalwaria, the participant of the Uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto and a prisoner of Treblinka, for long years found, transported old fragments of plundered matzevot to the cemetery and even managed to reconstruct the ohel of the tzadiks. Karpmann has been the keeper of this site up until today. The entrance to the necropolis leads through a gate, which was constructed in 1984. The numbers “1802” were attached to its lower part. “1802” stood for the beginning of Jewish settlement in Góra Kalwaria. A well, which serves for the ritual ablution. According to the principles of Judaism, the cemetery is an impure site, thus after visiting graves, one has to wash his or her hands.

Several meters behind the entrance, in place of the original, pre-war gate, there is a historic gate, which was transported from the estate of the Alter family by Felix Karpmann. The holes in its lower part are bullet marks. They remind us, about the executions performed by the nazis in the yard of the house of prayer and the house of the tzadik.

It is probably in this section of the cemetery, that rest the Jews were executed during World War II. In 1949 Henryk Prajs- at that time the secretary of the Jewish Congregation of Góra Kalwaria- testified that about 50 vicitims of the Holocaust are buried here. He listed the names of the killed, that he knew: Moszek Cybula, Pinia Rawski, David Sznager, Fjaga Messyng, Szlama Bogman, David Prajs, Moszek Lejb Tyl, Lejb Goldman, Łaja Goldman, Herszek Frydman (together with his wife and child), Lejzor Rotfing, Aron Rotfing, Szlama Altszuler, Dwojra Altszuler, Joseph Karpman, Szlama Karpman, Simon Pilberg, Abram Papier. Their death is commemorated by a monument, in which the following inscription has been engraved: “In memory of the victims murdered by nazi perpetrators of genocide”.

The path behind the gate runs between the matzevot, all up to the ohel, which securs the remains of tzadik Yitzhak Meir Rothenber Alter, (called Itzie Majer, son of Israel, died on March 10th 1866 (adar 23rd 5626)) and his grandson- tzadik Jehuda Arie Lejb- son of Abraham, Mordechaj, died on January 11th 1905 (shevat 5th 5665). The ohel was destroyed by the Germans. After liberation, few Jews, who were given to survive the Holocaust, secured the burial site of the tzadiks with a huge, concrete sarcophagus, resembling in its shape the grave of Gaon from Vilnus.

Several years ago, thanks to the endeavors of Felix Karpmann, a brick ohel was erected on this site. No original fragments of matzevot, which belonged to the tzadiks, have survived until today. Two modern boards with epitaphs written in Hebrew were attached to the interior wall of the building. In the middle of the ohel, a metal barrier, symbolically marks the burial site. Inside, there always lay dozens of cards, on which pious Jews write their pleas to the tzadik. Next to the entrance, there is a modern matzeva. The inscription on the board reads as follows: In memory of my family, murdered in the camp in Treblinka. 1942. Father Karpman Szaja, mother Haides, brother Joseph and Mordek’s brother, died in Detroit. Wolf Karpman survived”.

In the back part of the ohel, there are matzevot, which belong to the members of the tzadik’s family. Among others buried here, there are:

  • Chaja Roda Jehudit, daughter of Noah Szchor, wife of Abraham Mordechaj, died on February 11th 1922,
  • Fajga Lewin, daughter of Jehuda Aria Lejba, wife of Chenoch Tzwi from Aleksandrów, died on July 9th 1932,
  • Jochebed Rywka, daughter of Jehdua Mosze (?), wife of Arie Lejba, died on August 13th 1923,
  • Chaja Sarah Alter, daughter of Simon Chaim, wife of Mosze Becalel, died on August 16th 1937,
  • Fajga Alter, daughter of Abraham Mordechaj, wife of Yitzhak Mayer, deid on October 4th 1923,
  • Dan Alter, son of Yitzhak Mayer, died on July 6th 1940,
  • Yitzhak, son of Abraam Mordechaj, died on October 26th 1934.

About 30 meters from the ohel, on a small uplift, a granite tombstone, without an inscription marks the burial site of Israel- the father of the first tzadik of Góra Kalwaria. All together, about 130 tombstones or their fragments have survived within the necropolis. As a result from the war-time destructions, only few tombstones are placed on actual burial sites. A considerable part of the monuments have survived only in part and many tombstones are already slowly going into ruin, as a result of the little durability of the material constituting the tomb as well as due to atmospheric factors. Most of the tombstones have a form of vertical slabs- typical for Jewish cemeteries. However we are also likely to find tombs in the shape of a broken tree.
The motif of the broken tree appears on the tombs of people, who died at a young age. Such tombs among others include: the monument of Szoszana Goldhecht, died on tuberculosis on July 4th 1933 in the age of two years and eight months. It is one of the few monuments, which had not been displaced.

The oldest identified original matzeva, stems from 1840 and commemorates Michael Messing, the son of Benjamin Bajnisz, who died on the day of Purim. It was most probably a relative of the famous clairvoyant Wolf Messing. The latest tombs, situated in situ stem from the last decades of the XX-th century and are placed on the tombs of Ester Gruenglass (died in 1979) and Joseph Grossman (died in 1985).

Within the cemetery there are monuments erected after the war by descendants of the Jews from Góra Kalwaria in memory of their relatives. The monuments include: memorial boards of the Helman, Gorfinkel, Moc, Pelc and Karpmann families. In the end of 2009, two new tombs appeared in the cemetery, dedicated to the Ribbak (Rybak) and Prajs families. The principles of Judaism, cause, that there are no photographs of the deceased or images of humans on the tombstones. We may however observe rich, symbolic ornaments, relating to the features of the deceased person’s occupation and descent.

According to tradition, candles or menorahs are placed on the matzevot of women. In Jewish families, it are the women, who lit the Sabbath candles. A broken candle is a reference to a broken life. Rabbi Solomon, son of Joseph Granzfried wrote in “Kicur Szulchan Aruch”, that “the mitzvah of lighting Sabbath candles concerns both men and women, but it are the women, who have a greater obligation, as they are at home also because the first woman put down the candle of light, when she brought sin on the first man and caused the darkness of his soul”. There are many of such reliefs in Góra Kalwaria, among others on the matzevot of Gitla - daughter of Majer, Chaja Gitla Rubin - daughter of Tzwi Jehuda, Ester Chadasa - daughter of Abraham Yitzhak, Chana Rojza, Fajga Frida, Frajndyl - daughter of Jehuda, Rywka Lea Frydman - daughter of Menachem Dow.

Arms spread in a gesture of blessing, are placed on tombs of the deceased from the Cohen family, that is, the descendants of Aaron. Such symbol appears among others on the monument of Tzwi Tobias Borenstein, the son of Simson Cohen and on a great collapsed matzevot, which stands near the ohel.

Books and bookcases are symbols referring to studying sacred books, are usually reserved for men. An image of the books within the cemetery, may be found among others on the matzevot of: Menacem Mendl Tik - son of Abraham, Joseph - son of Jacob, Eli Helman - son of Chaim Szolma, Zelig - son of Szmuel, Chaim - son of Abraham, Abraham - son of Efraim.

The lion is the sign of the Tribe of Judah, the people of Israel, a symbol of the might, power, liberation and redemption. Let us quote a passage from the Bible: “You are a lion's cub, O Judah; you return from the prey, my son. Like a lion he crouches and lies down, like a lioness--who dares to rouse him?” The lion may also be an equivalent of the names: Judah and Lejb. On the tombs, lions often hold a crown, the Torah scrolls and sacred books. In Góra Kalwaria the last combination may be found on the matzevot of Chaim- son of Abraham.

A tilted jug adorns the tombs of the deceased, who came from the Levite tribe and were helpers during the reciting of prayers. They were responsible for reading the Torah and washing the hands of rabbis, for which they used jugs and bowls. The image of a hand with a jug has been engraved on the tombs of Zalman Iser Szternfeld- son of Tzwi and Yitzhak Rozenblum- son of Chaim.

The broken tree serves as an allegory of premature death. Such relief is visible on the tombs nr 23 and 86. The motif of a broken tree has been also used as a form for two other tombs, including the one of the aforementioned monument of Szoszana Goldhecht in the shape of a hexagram. A hexagram star is the symbol of the adherence to Jewish nation and in the XX-th century it was also recognized as an emblem of the Zionist movement. Anna Kamieńska in the introduction to Monika Krajewska’s album „Czas kamieni” (English: Time of the Stones) describes the Star of David as follows: “the cabalistic sign of the penetration of visible and invisible light- the symbol of the seven planets, the symbol of the week, where the middle field stands for the day of Sabbath, whereas the tops of the triangles refer to six other days of the week.” The monuments of Ester Grunglass, Simon Pilberg, the Karpmann, the Prajs and the Rybak families have been decorated with the Star of David.

The epitaphs also contain diverse information about the deceased. According to Jewish tradition, apart from the name of the deceased, the name of this person’s father should also appear in the epitaph. It should be mentioned at this point, that for hundreds of years, the Jews did not use surnames and described a person’s identity using his or her name and the one of the father. In Poland it was only in the times of the partitions, when the authorities ordered people to start using surnames. The order however, did not met the approval of the Jews. Even after forcing them to use surnames, the signs on their matzevot still contained sections as e.g. “Yitzhak, son of David” or “Gitla, daughter of Majer”. The sense of bond with tradition was clearly visible in the inscriptions on the cemetery in Góra Kalwaria. The tombs of many people from the tzadik family were supplemented with information on the spouses and functions fulfilled by the deceased. There were also mentions concerning the profession of the deceased or the history of the person’s life. In her study “Cmentarz żydowski w Górze Kalwarii” (English: “The Jewish Cemetery in Góra Kalwaria”) Eleonora Bergman remakrs that “actually only a few of them (of the epitaphs on the tombs- KB) do tell something about the deceased- the inscription of the tomb Zalman Iser Szternfeld, who was “dear in the eyes of his clients”, the alias “Szpenimacher” (Jew.: “saddler”) placed on the tomb of Menachem Mednel Tik and eventually the epitaph of a women under the name of Brajndel- daughter of Yitzhak, who died “few hours after giving birth to the first fruit of her womb, what she longed for ten years after marriage”. The information included in the inscriptions constitute thus a valuable material for people concerned with prospecting.
The epitaphs on Jewish tombs, often constitute true anthems in memory of the deceased. A good example is the matzeva of Gitla, daughter of Meira, on which the following text had been engraved: “The stone shall hail! Here rests a woman pure and pious, whose soul longed to do charity for all the days of her life, in good name and grace. Let her all her deeds be praised by everyone in the gates, for she went the steps of righteousness all until her death. Our modest and important lady Gitl, the daughter of our teacher and master- Meir; lady of blessed memory, died on the firs day of Pesach in the year 649 according to a shortened count. Let her soul be bound in the knot of life”. (trans. Wojciech Tworek).

It is also worth noticing, that the epitaphs of the tzadiks were edited in a peculiar manner. Let us quote a translation of the inscription engraved into one of the boards in an ohel: “Our saint, respected master, admor, the author of “Chidusze ha-Rim”, let the memory of the saint and righteous be blessed! This monument is the witness of the sacred monument. For here was buried our respected admor, master Yitzhak Meir. Let his soul be consoled! Let his merits protect us. Son, gaon, master of Israel, let memory of the righteous be blessed! The supervisor of the rabbinate court in Magnuszew and Góra Kalwaria, whose soul ascended to heaven on the Holy Sabbath on the 23rd adar in the year 626 according to the small count, here in Góra Kalwaria. Let God protect it! Let his soul be bound in the knot of life!

The degrees have been written as they were printed in the title page of the work “Chidusze ha-Rim” (trans. Renata Uszyńska).
For hundreds of years Hebrew was the language used by the Jews during prayer and the preparing of epitaphs. In major urban centers, as a result of assimilation and interpenetration of cultures, inscriptions in local languages as among others: Polish, Russian or German, began to appear on the matzevot.

Góra Kalwaria was a small, town dominated by Hassidic Jews, thus the aforementioned process had little chances to develop. It is noticeable in the tombstone epitaphs, which were prepared exclusively in Hebrew. However few monuments have inscriptions in Yiddish and Polish, whereas the latter appears only on matzevot, founded after Warld War II. The monument, erected in the end of 2009 in the memory of the Prajs family, has the following description in Yiddish engraved in it: “This monument is for the Jews murdered during the Holocaust. Góra Kalwaria 1948. In memory of my family: my mother Gitel, mys sister Gołda, my brother David, who were all murdered by Hitler in the years 1942-1943. Awrum Prajs”.

The matzevot from Góra Kalwaria were produced according to the principles of stonework, however it is difficult to notice them having any particular artistic values. Observing the forms of the tombs, one may have the impression of their mass-scale and repetitiveness. The reliefs in tombs pediments and the epitaphs themselves were certainly engraved on a decent level, yet with no particular artistry. The inscription fields tend to be distinguished by simple edgings. The dominant elements are geometrical motifs, there are also floral motifs as e.g. in the form of a flagellum. The legibility of the epitaphs was increased by distinguishing the names. What draws attention is a fragment of the original matzevor of Fajgle- daughter of Lipszyc, the wife of Yitzhak Majer; the matzevot, which had its inscriptions engraved with a convex type. This technique was popular in the XVIII-th and XIX-th century. Little is known about the contractors of the matzevot- only one matzeva (tomb nr 106) bares a signature of the stone-cutter.

From the previous phograph, taken in 1923, we know that the matzevot were adorned with polychromes. A renowned scholar of Poish judaica, Tomasz Wiśniewski in his book “Niesitniejące mniejsze cmenarze żydowskie. Rekonstrukcja Atlandydy” (English: „The non-existing, lesser Jewish Cemeteries. Reconstructing Atlaits”), writes about the custom as follows: “The characteristic feature of the small-town cemeteries waere colored matzevot. The stone-works cooperated with painters’ workshops. The matzevot were gilded and colored. (…) Many of such tombs can be seen at www.bagnowka.com. The painted matzevot were dominatedby yellow, balck, blue and red colors. The coloring scheme most likely originates from the rich tradition of interior-paining- especially of wooden synagogues”. In the case of the cemetery in Góra Kalwaria, the long- year influence of atmospheric factors as well as a lack of routine conservation, totally destroyed the original polychromes. Only few matzevot bare trace quantities of paint. In this respect, a distinguishable object the monument of Abraham, son of Efraim, on which there remained relatively large quantities of black dye.
In 1989, the Nissenbaum Family Foundation constructed a concrete driveway to the cemetery, pulled down the old mesh fences, replacing them with a durable fence out of structural steelwork on a concrete socle. A roof of the well, has also been constructed. During the following years, the Foundation performed routine reconstruction works within the cemetery. A solid fence has hampered devastation, yet has not stopped it completely. A true curse of the necropolis are thieves, who steal metal elements from the tombs. Among the stolen elements there is a slab from the ohel as well as several plaques, which had been ripped off the matzevot. In the winter of 2010, an unidentified perpetrator tore off a handle from the gate and pured glue into its lock. The keeper has to remove anti-Semite signs, which once in a time appear in various sections of the cemetery. Despite the destructions and a lack of funds, the necropolis in Góra Kalwaria is one of the best kept Jewish cemeteries in Poland. However this valuable object requires a complex conservatory maintenance and even higher financial expenditures.

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