International Survey of Jewish Monuments

Suriname Cemetery Project
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Renovation Plan of the old Ashkenazi Graveyard
Paramaribo, Suriname

The "Nederlands Isrealitische Gemeente" or the "Hoogduitse Gemeente" in Suriname has two graveyards at the Kwattaweg Paramaribo. The old Ashkenazi graveyard is situated at the south side of the Kwattaweg and the new Ashkenazic graveyard some 100m East on the other side off the street the North side.

De Nederlands Israelitische Gemeente is the owner of the graveyard. There is a Maintenance Commission for the graveyards. The old Ashkenazi graveyard is adopted for renovation by Ms.A, van Alen-Koenraadt with consent of the Jewish Community. The Jewish Community will form a Graveyard Maintenance Foundation, which will have the authority to make renovation projects and seek funding to subsidize the renovations.

The graveyard was in use from 1700 to 1836. There is a graveyard register at ARA in Holland. There is a surveyor map from the graveyard, from 11-06-1939 with a correction at 21-08-1940

Conservation of a historical Jewish graveyard bearing exceptional testimony with great historical and genealogy importance of an endangered Surinamer cultural group (i.e. The Jewish community of Suriname). The Jews had a great influence in the history of Suriname.

Rachel Frankel Architect, and Aviva Ben-ur, linguistic scholar in Hebrew and Portuguese, will investigate and document the graveyard (January or August 2,000) for archival purposes such that researchers have access to the information).

Environment and Visitors:
The graveyard was built on the outskirts of Pararmaribo around 1700. The growth of Paramaribo now finds the graveyard situated in the middle of Paramaribo. For years it was an abandoned place overgrown with bushes.  The last years it has become a meeting place for junkies. Renovation will stop that, and do a lot of good for the neighborhood. Our work will preserve the cemetery and create it as a kind of park and a place to go for scholars and tourists who visit Suriname.

The Ashkenazi Community in Suriname
The first Ashkenazim came together with the Sephardi Jews to Suriname. Later the Ashkenazim came to Suriname via Amsterdam from Litauwen, Russia and Poland. In 1690 there were some 12 Ashkenazi families (some 50 persons) in Suriname; in 1791, 447 persons; and in 1836, they counted 719.

In 1716, the Jews in Paramaribo got a place at the Keizerstraat in Paramaribo to build their first "prayer house."  After some differences between the Ashkenazi and the Sephardi Communities, the two decided to separate in 1724 and it became definitively official in 1735. In the meantime, in 1732, the Sephardim built a bigger prayer house replacing that of 1716. With the official separation of the two groups, the Sephardim gave their prayer house to the Ashkenazim and built themselves a new prayer house on the Heerenstraat in Paramaribo. The Sephardim maintained their synagogue of 1685 at Jodensavanne and considered it to be the only synagogue in Suriname.

On the map from F.P.G. Arons (1881), one can see the Jewish graveyards at the Kwattaweg.   The old Sephardi and the old Ashkenazi graveyard were separated only by a path.  In 1959, the stones from the old Sephardi graveyard were brought to the new one which was established in 1868—also at the Kwattaweg—east of the first graveyard. The stones were piled up in the back of that graveyard.  Mr. J. D. Duirn Sjomeer had a plan to lay them out, but he died from a heart attach after he had transported the last stone.  Until now the stones have stayed in a tumbled heap.

The Ashkenazi opened a new graveyard in 1836 (currently there are 1200 graves) on the opposite side of the street from the old one. The old one was slowly forgotten and overgrown with grasses and bush.  People built their houses around the Old Ashkenazic Cemetery, and it became the playing ground for the children in the neighborhood.  Sometimes, this old cemetery would be mentioned in the newspaper—it was written about as being abandoned and becoming a drughole.  There were rumors about stealing of some gravestones.  An enormous and magnificent cotton tree towers over the cemetery at the east end and there is another great cotton tree in the middle of the graveyard. The trees provide heavenly beauty and comforting shade.

When I first visited the graveyard, I expected to find only a few gravestones—considering all the rumors I had heard.  Much to my surprise, though, I found row after row of beautifully engraved stones.  I investigated the whole place.  There were terribly big holes and everything was overgrown.  Much rubbish desecrated and concealed the cemetery.  I spoke with the Jewish Community about the cemetery.  At that point, they thought it best to give up the graveyard and move the gravestones to the new graveyard on the opposite side of the street.  I returned to the graveyard to consider how to move such heavy stones and what it would cost. I realized it would cost more to move the stones than to renovate the place, nevermind the loss of historical information and the disrespect it would pay the dead and their legacy.

In July 1998, my team and I weeded and cleared the vegetation from the entire cemetery. Our work revealed the ever worse terrible state of the cemetery. We discovered that many of the brick foundations from the gravestones had been stolen as had been the shell sand from between the graves and for those reason most stones had tumbled over. Some holes created from the stealing of the sand measured 1.75m deep. When Rachel Frankel and Aviva Be-Ur were in Suriname in August 1998 to investigate the Jewish Cassipora graveyard, I brought them to look at the this cemetery in Paramaribo.  They were surprised too, to find such an impressively rare Ashkenazi graveyard.  They witnessed the terrible and declining state of the cemetery.  They encouraged me to go on with this work.  We believed the gravestones of this cemetery have never been recorded or documented—though there is a register of burials in the Dutch State Archives.

In October 1998, we weeded the whole cemetery again. The holes were still enormous and I was almost defeated by the seemingly impossible state of the cemetery's condition.  Others told me to give up, that the situation was hopeless.  But I could not abandon the cemetery.  So I started to fill in the holes with sand, and found that it worked wonderfully.  It stabilized the place, stopped the sand stealing and gave more security.  We continue with the work.  Now, in the dry season, is the best time to do this work.

Adriana van Alen Koenraadt

Paramaribo November 1998

The graveyard is 150m. long at the Kwattaweg.  The east border is 53m wide and becomes more narrow, 21.25m, at the West Side.  In the back are 15 houses fronting on the S.I.Levie and Dina streets.  In the middle, off the graveyard at the street side, stand four olive trees and in the back a magnificent female cotton tree. On the east border stands the towering male cotton tree. It is magnificent like as a big umbrella giving shade over the graveyard.

Between the olive trees is the entrance to the cemetery.  This entrance leads to a small plaza shade by the female cotton tree.
From the eastside, the first 50m is at ground level height and the gravestones are only a little out of place.  The next 30-m are worse.  The shell sand between the graves has been stolen and the stones have thus fallen down into the voids below them.  The sand was sold by its thieves half (rice) sacs.  More than 50 stones have been moved from their original places.  Of these fifty stones, some are broken, moved and tumbled over. The stones are very heavy, 5 men are needed to move them just a little.  The part of the cemetery which suffers greatest covers 30m by 30m.  The holes range from 1.75 to 40 cm deep in an irregular pattern.

We weeded the whole place and cleared all the wood which we piled together and burned it in a safe place. I documented all the work we did and the original state in which we found the cemetery.  I made pictures from all sides, with a mark point in view, for the positions off the fallen in stones.  I marked the stones, and drew the groups off stones in the positions in which we found them.  We relocated these already relocated/disturbed stones to higher ground for safety.

We searched with a pin the whole place for stones under ground.  We repeated this with several people.  We photographed the empty bottoms from where it appeared there might have been stones.

Standing in the pit and looking to the walls with grave plates on top grasses around, you see first dark humus soil than clean yellow hard shell sand than darker shell sand.  In some places you can look in the section where the body of the deceased should have been.  We don't see remains, find only some bones which we collected. We called in Dr. Rakieb Khudabux (he had investigated remains off a graveyard under the Synagogue in Curacao).  He visited the graveyard several times and determined that most of the remains were not human.  The human remains where placed back where we had found them. He requested doing a more thorough investigation upon the formal request of the Jewish Church Council.  In the open 30m by 30m place there were no remains of the deceased—only their names on the gravestones is left after more than 100 to 250 years. We will put the stones back on their place as a remembrance.

I got advice for the best sort of sand to fill the holes by investigating other places where they are using sand for fill.  I asked about prices and spoke with contractors as well as truck and tractor owners. I contacted the family Nankoesing transportation Company who advised me.  Ram Gopal, who owns a small tractor, was able to ride between the stones and bring the sand directly to the places it was needed.  The price of truck sand was Sf. 20.000. - And spreading the sand cost Sf. 5.000. - That is Sf.25.000.- for a truck load of sand put in place. Or at the day rate (31 October) of 670 a dollar $37.30 a truck sand in the place.

We started bringing sand in 22 October with 5 trunks filling in on 3 sides one from the street one from the square and going around the female cotton tree from the backside. It took one whole truck of sand only to go over the roots of the tree. They dumped the sand so close as possible and push it on their place with a tractor with a blade.  To 30 October we bring in 54 trucks off 10 cub. The day after that it starts raining.  This is good for the sand to sink in.  The sand works wonderfully making from all the different holes, one place.  It is filled in to the highest level in the pit where in a row all the stones lay—but still 50cm under the normal level. I will put the stones back on their places on stones, close to their normal level so that, later, we can full in more sand.

The workman are Haitians who came to Suriname to work in the sugar fields. Last year the last sugar plantation closed their doors.  The Haitians have problems to find work.  They speak French and a little Sranangtongo (Surinamer dialect).  And some boys from the neighborhood who look for a job. Most of the work is digging up the dirt, piling it up, searching for bottles and putting them in sacks.  They spread the sand where it is difficult for the tractor.  They also lift or move the stones a little to put them in place.
When there was time we worked on the other sides, too.  There was a pit between graves modeled as an 8.  We had to bring up three stones from the bottom.  This one was easy to fill from the street.

There are a lot of Possentrees there, so for the roots they can't steal shell sand there or dig holes (but they might still scrape the sand between the graves).  There, too, sand must be filled in.  In the back. there are two pits with water but not too deep.  Close to these pits, the neighbors put their rubbish, so a big heap has to be cleaned up.

The Kwattaweg is built on a shell sand ridge.  On their side there is a slope one some places 1.50 at a distant off 30m. There is no drain on the side off the Kwattaweg. When it rains, the water from the Kwattawg is coming as a waterfall in the graveyard. Through the grounds of the back neighbors, the water has to go to the drain in the Levie and Dina street.  When it rains a lot, half of the place is under water.  This year, they cleaned the town’s drains and repaired pumping stations, so we hope that this year the water will not stand for days in low places.

Near the place with the Possentrees, there is a dam.  We fill this dam with sand to make it broader.  The plan was to get around to fill the tow pits under the possentrees, but when we cleaned a part of the heap rubbish we find two nice graves there.  So going around was not possible.  We made a heap with sand there to bring with a wheelbarrow to the pits.

Near this dam is an open meadow to the graves in the garden of the west neighbor.  It looks to be the most undisturbed part.  You can see all the stones in nice order. When we weed the place, we recognize it to be the one with the most rubbish—cars, beds, refrigerators all come out of it.  I went to the town-cleaning department for help.

The first of November it start raining; I am glad the sand is in the biggest holes. We don't know if the dry season is over.  But it is stabilized enough so that we can work.  In the 30m hole, we have to put the stones back in their places.

It was in the paper Wednesday 4 November 1998 that we muffle the stones under sand, that it was better to bring them to the new graveyard.  If Dr. E. G. Monsels had taken some information, he would know that we are doing the opposite, bringing them up in sight.  At this moment, some stones have some fallen sand on them, it looks muffled, but it will not stay that way.  He wrote that it is a historical, archaeological and genealogical graveyard that must be spared for the history of the Nation and with that, he is right.  The Jewish Church Council is going to give a answer in the paper telling what we really are doing, and how funding can be sent in support of the project.

Expenditures from the renovation work of the Old Ashkenazi Graveyard Suriname
free counted sand and rent price, and workman wages 
Weeding and cleanup the graveyard 1 month 2 men 
bring moved stones to a safe place, 2 weeks 6 men
100 trucks sand at 10 cub 
rent a tractor with a blade to level the sand
bring stones back to their original position, 2 weeks 6 men
level the sand between the graves, 1 month 2 men 
rent a tractor for the heavy work 3 days
finish off the work I month 2 men 
documentation and photos 
Total Circa

International Survey of Jewish Monuments
c/o Jewish Heritage Research Center
Box 210, 118 Julian Pl.
Syracuse, New York 13210-3419, USA

tel: (315) 474-2350
fax: (315) 474-2347

Last updated: January 5, 2003