Beit almin (Hebr. house of eternity), beit chayyim (Hebr. house of [eternal] life), beit moed lekol chayyim (Hebr. house for the appointed time for all life) or a gut ort (Yid. a good place) – all these phrases function as names of Jewish cemeteries. According to tradition, the dead buried there are to await the resurrection of bodies on the Day of the Last Judgment. For this reason, the cemetery in Judaism is an inviolable place.

Unfortunately, many Jewish cemeteries in Poland lost their inviolability. They were destroyed, plundered, and in the most extreme cases their area was built up. In this regard, the Jewish cemetery in Bródno was more fortunate. Its area remained 90% intact.

The necropolis was officially founded in 1780, but we know that the dead were buried in this area already from the 1740s. Until 1940, when the Warsaw ghetto was set up and the cemetery on the Prague side of the Vistula River ceased to perform burial functions, about 320,000 people had been buried there. After World War II, many of its tombstones were stolen. The cemetery was neglected, overgrown with trees over the years. For many local residents, it served as a source of fuel. Mushrooms were picked on it, bonfires were organised.

In the 1980s, on the initiative of Zygmunt Nissenbaum, a foundation was established with the purpose of saving traces of Jewish culture, including cemeteries. Thanks to the efforts of the Foundation, the area of the cemetery was surrounded by a fence. An entrance gate from St Wincenty Street was erected. A paved avenue leading from the gate was made, and a lapidarium compiled of broken matzevot was to be built on its side. The construction of the lapidarium has never been completed. In 2009, the area of the whole cemetery was entered into the register of monuments. Since 2012, the administration of the cemetery has been taken over by the Jewish Community of Warsaw. Over the last six years, the cemetery fence has been repaired and supplemented, the entrance gate from St Wincenty Street has been renovated and two pavilions designed for visitors have been erected. In one of them, an exhibition consisting of two parts was organised.

The first part, placed on the illuminated matzeva shaped stands, presents information on the subject of death in Judaism, on Jewish rituals connected with burial and sepulchral symbolism. The second part of the exhibition, placed on the countertops beside the walls, relates to the history of the Jewish cemetery in Bródno.

The ceremonial opening of the exhibition brought together, despite the frost and snow, many prominent guests, welcomed by Anna Chipczyńska, the Chairwoman of the Board of the Jewish Community of Warsaw. Among the speakers were also the Chief Rabbi of Poland, Michael Schudrich, and the cultural attaché of the Embassy of the State of Israel, Hadass Nisan. The letter from Wojciech Kolarski, Undersecretary of the Chancellery of the President of Poland, was read by Jakub Beczek. Of particular importance was the address by Gideon Nissenbaum, representing the Nissenbaum Family Foundation. He presented the story of his father, Zygmunt Nissenbaum, who was the first to take care of the Jewish cemetery in Bródno. He also appealed to all people who care about the Jewish heritage to unite their efforts and together strive to achieve their goal.

Aleksandra Król

More about the Jewish cemetery in Bródno.