The Jewish cemetery in Bródno is the oldest surviving Jewish necropolis in Warsaw. It is located at 15 Św. Wincentego Street (ul. Św. Wincentego 15), near the Rondo Żaba. Currently, the area is 13.5 ha, but it does not correspond to historical borders because, in the post-war period, the cemetery area was reduced by extended lanes of św. Jacka Odrowąża and św. Wincentego streets and the area from Rogowska Street (fenced since 2020).

From the 16th century onwards, Warsaw Jews were buried in Grodzisk Mazowiecki, Nadarzyn, Sochaczew, Węgrów and Nowy Dwór Mazowiecki. In 1780, Szmul Zbytkower, merchant and banker to King Stanislaus Augustus Poniatowski, won the monarch’s permission to establish a Jewish cemetery. Zbytkower bought from the royal treasury the goods on the right bank of the Vistula River. The Bishop of Płock, Michał Jerzy Poniatowski, allowed the creation of a cemetery, but in return, he demanded that “Jews provide 10 grease stones for the parish church in Skaryszew every year on St. John’s Day”, at the same time prohibiting chants and processions during funeral ceremonies. 1780 is when the secular and spiritual authorities formally sanctioned the cemetery’s existence. The first gravestones in the cemetery appeared as early as 1743-1760. They were graves from the years: 1743 – Rudy, daughter of Cwi; 1757 – Menachem Mendel ha-Kohen and 1760 – Levite of Mordechai son of Abraham[1.1].

In 1784, Szmul Zbytkower, after ordering the area of the cemetery, gave it to the Jewish community for use. In 1785, the Funeral Brotherhood (Hebrew: Chevra Kadisha) of Prague was founded, whose first president was the founder, Jakubowicz. Although this cemetery already existed, Jews from Warsaw and the surrounding area still transported the bodies of their loved ones to Sochaczew or Grodzisko, complaining to the municipal authorities about Szmul that the burial places cost a lot. The money goes not only to the cemetery but also to the synagogue and other society needs[1.2].

In 1806, another Jewish cemetery was founded at Okopowa Street (Polish: ul. Okopowa). From that moment on, mainly poor people were buried in Bródno. According to Loewenberg, a considerable number of burials (especially free of charge) from other parts of Warsawwere directed to the Praga cemetery[1.3].

In 1936, the appearance of the necropolis was as follows: 

“There are a small number of graves from the 18th century, bearing the characteristics of good artistic craftsmanship and often even original art, full of Baroque and Eastern reminiscences. [...] In addition, a small number of graves dating from 1760-1780 from before the official establishment of the cemetery. In general, there are few interesting monuments in this cemetery"[1.4].

Among the most impressive tombstones were those erected in 1881 (thanks to the banker Ignatius Löwenstein, a great-grandson of Zbytkower) to replace the former tombstones on the adjacent graves of Szmul and his wife Judith (Gitla) and their son-in-law Izaak Flatau in plot one. They bear floral inscriptions in Hebrew and Polish celebrating the merits and generosity of the Bersohn family’s progenitors. On the grave of Szmuel, an epitaph was placed proclaiming that he was “a brave man of great deeds, a noble and noble man of the Sejm of Four Lands”[1.5]. The whole project was done to a design by Dawid Frydlender.

Also laid to rest in the cemetery are the body of Abraham Stern, a member of the Warsaw Society of Friends of Science (Polish: Towarzystwo Warszawskie Przyjaciół Nauk) and inventor of the measuring triangle, the mechanical threshing machine and counting the machine; great-grandson of Antoni Słonimski. Soldiers from Berek Joselewicz’s regiment are also buried here[1.6] and Jewish participants in the November Uprising[1.7].

In the 19th century, the first tombstones appeared in the cemetery with parallel inscriptions in Hebrew and Polish, as well as Russian and Hebrew. Gravestones made of sandstone were mostly modest throughout the life of the cemetery. This was linked to the property status of the dead and their families. They featured symbols such as a broken tree, Sabbath candlesticks, a lion, a deer, a bird, a piggy bank and a jug, among others. Some of them were coloured[1.8].

A matzeva with an inscription in English can be found in the cemetery. It was placed on the grave of Nat Litinger of New York, who died in Warsaw on 1 September 1939.

The problem of safety and maintaining order in the cemetery was already visible in the second half of the 19th century. This was related to the high number of burials and the lack of funds for renovation work. This problem was exacerbated in the early 20th century when, for lack of space, it was decided to bury the dead between existing gravestones. During the First World War (1914-1918), the Jewish cemetery was severely damaged (Russian soldiers demolished part of the fence), and was in terrible neglect[1.9].

During the interwar period, despite numerous efforts on the part of the Jewish Religious Community involving repairing the fence and rebuilding the pre-burial house, the condition of the cemetery grounds still left much to be desired. It was often used as pasture for cows and goats, and the trees were cut down in winter for fuel. There have been cases where corpses have been dug up to search for valuables. The sand destroyed the tombstones creating sand mountains[1.10]. Despite this, the total number of tombstones in 1939 is estimated to be as high as around 300,000[1.11].

After the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, the cemetery was further destroyed. In 1941, the German authorities decided to close the necropolis. The fence was dismantled, but the matzevot were used to line roadways in military camps near Warsaw and to build bunkers[1.12].

Emanuel Ringelblum, the chronicler of the Warsaw ghetto under 12/05/1942, wrote: “The Prague cemetery, over 150 years old, is subject to levelling. Satans won’t leave even the dead ones. They have carried out similar feats in other cities in Poland and Germany. The historicity of the cemetery, its cultural and historical significance, is such a trivial matter for them that it plays no role at all.”[1.13].

In December 1947, a ceremonial burial of the remains of Holocaust victims exhumed from various parts of Warsaw took place in the Praga cemetery and was the last burial in the history of the necropolis so far. In the following years, the cemetery was devastated, which took place with the tacit approval of the communist authorities. In the area of the necropolis, it was planned to create a park. On 12/06/1951, the Cultural Department of the Central Committee of the Polish United Workers’ Party (PZPR) sent a letter to the Secretary of the Central Committee of the Polish United Workers’ Party, Edward Ochab, which read as follows: “The Cultural Department of the Central Committee considers it absolutely inexpedient to erect any mausoleum or monument in the park to be built on the site. The Department of Culture fully shares the position of the Warsaw Committee on this matter formulated in a letter to comrade Ochab – however, it also considers it pointless to erect a more modest mausoleum, which the eventuality of Voivodeship Committee would be willing to take into account”[1.14]

By the resolution of the Presidium of the National Council of the Capital City of Warsaw on 27/07/1960, this cemetery was considered closed. It is no longer listed in guidebooks and on maps of the sights of Warsaw. It was not until the early 1980s of the twentieth century, thanks to the Department of Culture and Art of the Capital City of Warsaw, the Development Study, that the issue of the cemetery was “revived”. Two development projects were being prepared to create a landscaped park with an area similar to the cemetery. The only thing that differed was the issue concerning the development of the central section. According to one - it would be a mausoleum of sorts: “placed on the plate, a candle with a symbolic star embedded in the stone, and irregularly piled tombstones would surround the plate”. While, according to the other, “the location at the focal point of a huge stone menorah formed from gravestones and resting on the slope of a natural hill, against the top of which the arms of the candlestick would rest”. As before, this time too the matter was left only on paper[1.15].

Only after the Nissenbaum Family Foundation was founded in 1985 was the cemetery partially tidied up and fenced with a high fence. From św. Wincentego Street, the main gate was built on two pylons covered with reliefs of the chisel of Dariusz Kowalski, Teresa Pastuszek and Leszek Waszkiewicz, depicting, among others, the figure of Szmul Zbytkower. Under the figures are inscriptions in Hebrew and Polish. Above the gate, stone five-pointed candlesticks “burn”. From the gate, a stone-lined path leads up to the mausoleum site. A few repositioned gravestones are on either side of the road, closer to the gate. There are piles of tombstones closer to the mausoleum.

In April 2011, members of the Virtual Shtetl team found further matzevot from Praga, used to build a wall in the Red Army soldiers’ quarters at the Bródno municipal cemetery in Warsaw at 83 Św Wincentego Street. In September of the same year, Bródnowski Cemetery workers dismantled the wall and transported the matzevot to the Jewish cemetery.

For many years the cemetery remained the property of the State Treasury. Officially, the Nissenbaum Family Foundation was in charge of the site. On 10 December 2012, according to the Restitution Act, by decision of the Governor of Mazowieckie Province, the cemetery within the fence erected in the 1980s was handed over to the Jewish Community in Warsaw[1.16].

In 2016, at the request of the Jewish Community in Warsaw, the Nissenbaum Family Foundation built the last missing fragment of the fence from Rzeszowska Street (Polish: ul. Rzeszowska), thus closing the cemetery from all sides. The cemetery is currently undergoing renovation work. The restored fence, during which the area of the necropolis was reduced by the restored Rzeszowska Street from Odrowąża and Rogowska Streets. ‘Gabions’ with fragments of matzevot from the Jewish cemetery found in various parts of Warsaw have been placed on and around the mausoleum. Two pavilions were erected at the main gate for visitors. In one of them, an exhibition was prepared to present the history of the necropolis and information on death in Judaism. Since February 2018, the exhibition “Beit Almin – House of Eternity” devoted to the history of the Bródno necropolis has been open. Presently, the cemetery is closed, under permanent protection, and open to the public - entrance tickets are needed.

A partial inventory of surviving matzevot is available on the Foundation for the Documentation of Jewish Cemeteries website: https://cemetery.jewish.org.pl/list/c_42 [accessed: 25/07/2022]. In July 2022, there were already 2,187 items there.

Article expanded and revised by Dr Martyna Rusiniak-Karwat

The Jewish Cemetery in Bródno and the exhibition “Beit Almin - House of Eternity.”

15 Św. Wincentego Street (entrance from Rondo Żaba), 03-505 Warsaw 

Opening hours: 

  • Monday - Thursday: 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.
  • Friday: 10 a.m. - 2 p.m.

An additional guided tour of the cemetery and exhibition is organised monthly on a selected Sunday. Information about the guided tours is announced on the Facebook profile Beit Almin - House of Eternity.

The cemetery is closed on Jewish and Polish holidays. 

Contact: phone no. (+48) 22 678 74 53; PL: (+48) 504 906 258; ENG: +48 505,796 247 220 886, email address: [email protected]

 

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Footnotes
  • [1.1] Schiper I., Cmentarze żydowskie w Warszawie, Warsaw 1938, pp. 6–7
  • [1.2] Szacki J., Di geszichte fun Jidn in Warsze, vol. 1, Nju York 1947, pp. 145–147
  • [1.3] Schiper I., Cmentarze żydowskie w Warszawie, Warsaw 1938, p. 161
  • [1.4] as cited in: Przysuskier L., Cmentarze żydowskie w Warszawie, Warsaw 1936, p. 70
  • [1.5] as cited in Schiper I., Cmentarze żydowskie w Warszawie, Warsaw 1938, p. 162
  • [1.6] Pułk Lekkokonny Starozakonny (Orthodox Jew Light Cavalary Regiment) (Lekkokonny Pułk Żydowski (Jewish Light Cavalry Regiment) - a Polish regiment of cavalry formed on the basis of Tadeusz Kościuszko’s proclamation of 17 September 1794 under the command of Colonel Berek Joselewicz, which was defeated during the defence of Warsaw’s Praga district in October 1794
  • [1.7] Urban K., Cmentarze żydowskie, synagogi i domy modlitwy w Polsce w latach 1944-1966(wybór materiałów), Kraków 2006, p. 287.
  • [1.8] Przysuskier L., Cmentarze żydowskie w Warszawie, Warsaw 1936, pp. 70–72.
  • [1.9] Żor-Żor, Żydzi na Pradze (from r. 1776 to the present), “Echo Pragi” 1916, no. 20, p. 165.
  • [1.10] Schiper I., Cmentarze żydowskie w Warszawie, Warsaw 1938, p. 195.
  • [1.11] Vide justification of Decision No. 453/2009 on the cemetery entry into the register of historical monuments.
  • [1.12] Jagielski J., Ratunek dla cmentarza , "Spotkania z zabytkami" 1986, no. 5, p. 46; Urzykowski T., Zabytek nie zbytekek: stosy macew, "Gazeta Wyborcza. Stołeczna" 12.11.2002, p. 8.
  • [1.13] Citation needed: Ringelblum E., Kronika getta warszawskiego. September 1939 - January 1943, introduction and ed. by A. Eisenbach, Warsaw 1983, p. 370.
  • [1.14] as cited in: Urban K., Cmentarze żydowskie, synagogi i domy modlitwy w Polsce w latach 1944–1966 (wybór materiałów), Kraków 2006, p 287
  • [1.15] Krajewska M., Paszkiewiczowie H. i P., Cmentarze żydowskie w Warszawie  , Warsaw 1992, p. 22.
  • [1.16] Information from the Jewish Community in Warsaw, correspondence of 17/06/2013.