Piaski: Vandalism, Misuse and Neglect in the Present

The Jewish cemeteries in Piaski were desecrated during WWII and used as killing sites. But vandalism, misuse and neglect still continues today

Authored by Caroline Sturdy Colls

Both cemeteries have been vandalised

During the fieldwork and restoration efforts in Piaski in 2017, evidence of recent vandalism and neglect was evident at both the old and new Jewish cemeteries.

Although there is a marker in the new Jewish cemetery, neither the old nor new cemetery is adequately commemorated and neither of their boundaries are defined on the ground.

The only marker indicating the significance of Piaski’s new Jewish cemetery (© Centre of Archaeology, Staffordshire University)

Both sites are littered with broken glass (in particular, in the vicinity of the largest surviving matzevah at the new Jewish cemetery), litter and general surface detritus.

Litter scattered around one of the few surviving matzevah at Piaski’s new Jewish cemetery (© Steven D. Reece)

The new Jewish cemetery was heavily overgrown. The fact that it is located on the outskirts of town means that it is a popular hang-out and cut-through for locals. Evidence of recent bonfires in the cemetery grounds, parties and even a tree-house were observed during the 2017 survey.

A member of the project team examines a tree-house built in the grounds of Piaski’s new Jewish cemetery (© Steven D. Reece)

Evidence of looting was also apparent and a large number of human remains were observed scattered across the ground surface.

Reburial of human remains found in an area confirmed to be a mass grave in Piaski new Jewish cemetery (© Steven D. Reece)

Reuse of the old cemetery site

The old Jewish cemetery has been used for a variety of commercial and domestic purposes in recent years. Most recently it has regularly been used as a market square. Waste is commonly dumped on the site, which is now flat and grassed as a result of post-war reuse.

Market stalls on the old Jewish cemetery in Piaski (© Virtual Shtetl)

As well as this ongoing neglect, just after the archaeological fieldwork and restoration efforts were completed in 2017, a circus was erected at the old Jewish cemetery.

A circus erected on the old Jewish cemetery at Piaski just weeks after our archaeology and social action activity in the town (© Agnieszka Sewruk)

This inappropriate use of the site further adds to the desecration of the cemetery and the memory of those who suffered and died in Piaski both before and during the Nazi occupation.

Urgent protection of both sites is required to prevent further damage and inappropriate use. It is hoped that the results of the archaeological investigations in Piaski will be used to inform future plans for commemoration and protection of the sites and that this project can continue to contribute to discussions regarding cultural destruction in the past and the present.

Unfortunately, the condition of the sites in Piaski is symptomatic of so many other Jewish cemeteries across Europe where the desecration inflicted by the Nazis was the beginning of a period of neglect and misuse that lasts until today.

Piaski - Social Action

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