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Remarkable Discovery of Polychrome Matzevot (gravestones) in Radom
By Samuel Gruber
ISJM, July 25, 2008

Approximately one hundred matzevot (gravestones) were discovered During recent construction work in Radom. Most of these are richly painted. It is not surprising to find Jewish gravestones in this way – since so many were removed during the Second World War and used for paving and other construction work (see recent report on Kremenets, Ukraine). But never before has such a large number of painted stones been found - where the color is so vividly preserved.

The Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland moved to protect the historic gravestones. In cooperation with the local branch of the Monument Conservation Office and the construction workers, the Foundation assures that the matzevot will be properly documented and conserved at the Jewish cemetery in Radom.

These finds give impetus to a reevaluation of Jewish religious, popular and folk art in Eastern Europe. Because so much art was destroyed in the Holocaust, and because most of what was documented is known only in black and white images, we have inherited a skewed view of Jewish aesthetics. The veil of memory, inevitably somber and dark because of the tragedy of the Holocaust, has dimmed much of the exuberant color of pre-Holocaust Jewish life. Something of the vitality can be felt in the art of immigrants, as recently reported in reference to the exhibition "Gilded Lions and Jeweled Horses."

Two photo galleries of the Radom finds have been posted:

The first shows general pictures of the discovery, the excavation and removal of the gravestones.
The second shows details of the carved and vividly colored gravestones.

Increasingly, more and more Jewish cemeteries are being cleared and explored; more painted gravestones are being discovered. Until now, however, these have been few in number and usually isolated. Even when colors are preserved, decades of exposure to the elements has faded their brilliance. The tragic irony is well known among conservators that gravestones that have been hidden, and especially buried, are often the ones where relief carving and painting is best preserved.

For some images of polychrome matzevot in situ, see recently posted photos from Romanian Jewish cemeteries by Ruth Ellen Gruber (especially Radauti, Botosani and Gura Humorului).

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