Monday, 21 November 2011

Jewish cemetary, Oświęcim/Oszpicin

 All photos are by myself.  You are welcome to copy them, but I would ask you to display my blog address.  My blog is dead good and I need some publicity.

Oświęćim is of course a place well-known for the fact that Germans built a concentration camp there (and an 'extermination' camp close to there).  It is less well-known for the fact that the town predates the Shoah by some 800 years, and therefore contains its own very interesting and important Jewish history.  This excellent website gives one a lot of information (including photos and videos) of 'Oszpicin' (to give the town its Yiddish name).

Jewish people lived in Oświęcim from at least 1563 (the year in which King Sigismund II Augustus of Poland banned new residences by them by the market square as well as new settlers).  Oświęcim contained three synagogues and by 1939 just over half of the population were Jewish.  Only a small minority were to survive the Nazi era and most of those moved out of Oświęcim after the war.

The graveyard on the corner of Dąbrowskiego Street and Wysokie Brzegi Street was established in the late 19th century.  After the arrival of the Nazis it was to be totally destroyed (photos can be accessed here). 

After the end of the war the Jewish people who survived returned and took care of the graveyard, also repairing the wall.  It was restored through the efforts of Asher Sharf from New York in the 1980's, hence the photo above which shows some repaired gravestones which have been rearranged.

It is now under the care of the excellent and much to be recommended Jewish Museum.  Apart from for All Saints' and All Souls' the graveyard is closed and one needs to get a key from the museum.


It contains the grave of Szymon Kluger, the last remaining Jewish person of Oświęcim.

Many of the gravestones have been beautifully restored.

The great majority of people who come to Oświęcim only visit Auschwitz, and therefore do not learn about the Jewish history of Oświęcim.  I very much recommend visiting both the aforementioned Jewish museum (who offer tours, workshops, seminars and other events) as well as the graveyard.

On the other hand, a small minority of people who live in Oświęćim exercise themselves with Auschwitz and the Jewish history of Oświęcim.  As someone who lived for two years in Dachau (who has family in Oświęćim) I can understand this.  It is purely by an accident of birth that one is born in Oświęćim and its environs.  Not everyone is interested in history, especially difficult parts of history like the Shoah.

Saying that, I do believe that difficult periods in history still affect us.  As I wrote in this mammoth article, people in Poland now are still negatively affected by the events of WWII, including the Shoah to the extent that I believe psychological sickness to be manifest throughout all generations in Poland.  An open dealing of painful areas of history is necessary for dealing with such mental problems.  Even if the family is not Jewish, it is still the case that one of our identities is that of our nationality, like it or not.  A look at pre-1939 shows that Judaism has been a clear influence on Poland.  Should one be able to deal with that, perhaps then relations between Christians and Jewish people but also people from other minorities (Romany, Lemkos, Silesians, Kaszubs, gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transexuals, people with disablities) will improve.

This video (there are three more parts) shows a lot of information about Jewish Oświęcim:

Should anyone wish to receive the originals of these and more photos, they are free to contact me at

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1 comment:

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