Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Jewish Tombstones as Building Material -- This Time in the U.S...

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

The photographer Ahron D. Weiner has discovered Jewish tombstones used to build an embankment for the Woodmere Club's golf course on Long Island.

In Tablet Magazine, where a slide show of his photographs is posted, Weiner said:
the club insists the stones—none of which seem to contain dates, only names and symbols—were extra granite, donated many years ago by long-dead club members.
If that is the case -- fine and good!

Still, I've documented and written about Jewish cemeteries and tombstones in eastern Europe for 20 years by now, and always one of the most disturbing sights is to find gravestones used as building material.

There are many examples -- back in November, I posted here about a planned exhibition on this topic.

Sometimes this type of misuse was done out of deliberate desecration -- as when the Nazis demolished cemeteries and used the tombstones to pave roads or line ditches and river beds, or as foundations for buildings...I vividly recall a farmer in the village of Krynki, in eastern Poland, prying away stones to show us how they were used as the foundation of what he said had been a pig sty....

Other times, however, Jews seem to have used the stones themselves.... there is a long retaining wall at the historic Jewish cemetery in Mikulov, Czech Republic, for example, that is composed of tombstones.

Mikulov. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

Mikulov. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

In the past 25-30 years, it has become commonplace to use broken tombstones as a sort of mosaic memorial wall, to commemorate Holocaust victims.

There are many examples of this -- the most famous, perhaps, is in the Old Jewish Cemetery in Krakow and the large Holocaust memorial at the site of one of the Jewish cemeteries in Kazimierz Dolny, Poland.

Earlier this month, I photographed such a wall at the New Jewish Cemetery in Krakow:

Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

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