Piaski’s Old Jewish Cemetery

Piaski's old Jewish cemetery has been totally destroyed and killings took place in its grounds.

Authored by Caroline Sturdy Colls

History of the Cemetery

Piaski’s old Jewish cemetery was founded in the second half of the 16th century and covered an area of around 0.42 ha. The last known burial took place at the end of the 19th century.

The old Jewish cemetery was confiscated from the Jewish community during a wave of anti-Semitic activity in late 1938.

At this time, despite protests from the Jewish community, the town authorities decide to build houses around the edges of the cemetery, as land within the town had become a commodity.

Buildings around the edge of the old Jewish cemetery (© Centre of Archaeology, Staffordshire University)

Nazi Occupation

In the years following, the Nazis devastated the cemetery and they organised executions of perceived Bolshevik supporters in 1940.

After the war, the authorities in Piaski gave permission for a market square to be constructed in this place and it continues to be used for this and a variety of other purposes to this day.

Piaski old cemetery in 2017. The foundations of former market stalls can be seen in the foreground (© Centre of Archaeology, Staffordshire University)

No matzevot survive above the ground

As no above-ground traces of the cemetery exist, a non-invasive archaeological survey was carried out at the site which predominantly centred on mapping current landscape features and surveying below-ground evidence using Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR).

The survey revealed the foundations of a number of former buildings which were constructed on the cemetery grounds in the years since World War II and demolished post-2014.

Three possible pits, adjacent to each other, were identified in the GPR results. As they appear to originate from the modern ground surface, it is likely that these are modern in date. However, it cannot be ruled out that they date to the 1940s in the absence of excavation. The pits range in depth from 0.85m to 1.6m.

GPR profile line (cross-section) from 27.5m from Area A (top) and interpretation (bottom) showing three possible pit-like features (marked in blue) containing reflective material. (© Centre of Archaeology, Staffordshire University).

Protection is needed

It was also possible to identify the likely locations of some of the original individual graves that existed within the cemetery in the GPR data. This demonstrates that neither the past destruction of the cemetery by the Nazis nor more recent activity has totally obliterated the traces of these graves.

The presence of further graves both within and outside the survey areas cannot be ruled out as the results and extent of the survey was affected by the current condition of the site e.g. the presence of power lines, modern rubbish, development works etc.

Protection of the former cemetery area is strongly recommended in order to prevent further damage, to honour its former function and to acknowledge that the graves of those murdered in 1940 exist somewhere within the terrain.

Piaski: New Jewish Cemetery

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Download the full archaeological report for more details about our work in Piaski's Jewish cemeteries and references

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