Jewish Heritage Report
Vol. I, Nos. 3-4 / Winter 1997-98
Cemetery in Wyszkow

Cemetery Monument Dedicated in Wyszkow, Poland

Wyskow, Poland.Wyszkow, Poland. Dedication of new cemetery monument. Photo: Joel Barries.

Dignitaries and survivors from four continents gathered in the small town of Wyszkow, Poland, on September 14th to rededicate the Jewish cemetery and to unveil a new memorial to Holocaust victims. The memorial, on the cemetery site, is made of reclaimed Jewish gravestones which had been removed from the site in 1939 by German occupiers who used them for paving stones and in the construction of the local Gestapo headquarters. Scores of these desecrated tombstones were recovered and incorporated as part of the monument. The stones are set in a memorial wall along a sloping, curved walkway that rises dramatically above the cemetery site.

Wyszkow is located 50 kilometers NNE of Warsaw. Visits to the town can easily be scheduled on trips to the Treblinka Death Camp Memorial, or to the restored Baroque synagogue museum at Tykocin. Wyszkow was the home of Mordechai Anielewicz, leader of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. A special memorial tablet for Anielewicz was also dedicated.

The recovery of the beautifully carved gravestones and the reclamation of the devastated and abandoned cemetery has been a project of the United States Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage for five years. That was when the plight of the cemetery was first identified in the Commission's inventory and condition survey of Jewish cemeteries in Poland. At that time, Commissioner Israel Rubin and Commission Executive Director Joel Barries began negotiations with town officials, local architects, descendants of Wyszkow Jews, and Holocaust survivors to plan a fitting and affordable project. In time, the project grew with a final cost close to $60,000, of which $48,000 has been raised so far from private donors. Eleonora Bergman of the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, who had co-coordinated the cemetery survey, coordinated the project for the Commission, working with architects and bureaucrats to move the project along.

"What makes this monument different from others," Commission Chairman Michael Lewan said, "is that Wyszkow is such an ordinary town. There is nothing special about it - it was just an ordinary shtetl, not the site of a big massacre or home to a great rabbi or something."

At the ceremony, the town's mayor spoke of the town's Jewish past - half of the population was Jewish before World War II. U.S. Ambassador Nicolas Ray read a letter from President Clinton at the ceremony praising the Polish-American-Jewish cooperation which led to the successful completion of the project. At a crowded Catholic mass at the local church prior to the ceremony, the priest spoke of the horrors of the Holocaust and the importance of remembrance. Reflecting on the ceremony afterward, Commission Chairman Lewan wrote: "The enormity of emotion shown by all in attendance was truly gratifying, and indeed, amazing. Jews and gentiles, survivors and their children, government officials from Poland and America and the townspeople stood together in reconciliation." (Based on reports from Ruth Ellen Gruber and others who attended the ceremony.)

Commission Seeks More Funds for Wyszkow
In order to complete the Wyszkow cemetery project an additional $12,000 must be raised to finish the enclosure protecting the site. Rather than the common metal or chain-link fences, which are frequently stolen, the Wyszkow cemetery will be surrounded by a 450-meter hedge of flowering thornbush. Funds are also needed for additional landscaping, including plating grass over the site to help prevent erosion, and to guarantee regular site maintenance.

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Updated: 23-July-98