Wąwolnica: Destruction of the Jewish Cemetery

Desecrated by the Nazis and hidden under dense vegetation, Wąwolnica's Jewish cemetery still contains some reminders of pre-war Jewish life in the town.

Authored by Caroline Sturdy Colls

A 19th Century Cemetery

Wąwolnica’s Jewish cemetery was established in the early 19th century on a steep hillside, north-east of the village. The last known burial at the Jewish cemetery was in 1942.

In 2017, when the project team arrived at the site, no sign or marker was present to indicate the cemetery’s location or existence. Similarly, there is no wall, gate or fence surrounding the cemetery and access to it is via private property.

However, a memorial to the Jews murdered during World War II is present within the cemetery, which was erected in 1993 by Sara Tregerman-Ryterska whose family perished in Wąwolnica.

The boundaries of the Jewish cemetery are outlined here in black (©Geoportal and Centre of Archaeology, 2018).

Monument to the murdered Jews of Wąwolnica killed during World War II (© Centre of Archaeology, 2018)

Archaeological fieldwork

Following the clearance of dense vegetation at the site, the archaeological survey revealed that 49 apparently in-situ matzevot and two tombs survive.

However, this number can be considered insignificant by comparison to an estimated 686 Jewish burials originally buried there; (based on death records between 1808-1942, sourced from Ancestry).

A map of the Jewish cemetery in Wąwolnica created with the data collected during a Total Station survey of the site. The data displays the location of the documented matzevot, fragments and other material traces overlaid onto an aerial image. The red point indicates the location of the memorial, blue points indicate capstones, the orange point indicates a pile of fragments, and yellow points indicate matzevot of varying degrees of completeness that appear to be in-situ (© Centre of Archaeology, Staffordshire University)

Most of the matzevot exhibit signs of damage

Much of this appears to have been inflicted through blunt force, while other damage present was consistent with sharp force. This type of damage, along with the absence of many of the tombstones, reveals the nature of cultural genocide at Wąwolnica Jewish cemetery and the neglect and vandalism that occurred in the years since.

Many of the matzevot that remain in the cemetery are so severely damaged that it is not possible to read the inscriptions or identify the names of those buried.

Some of those that are readable are shown below (transcriptions courtesy of Paweł Sygowski and A. Trzciński).

PALTIEL BEN JOSEF JEHUDA SZNAJDER, died 10 SWR 5688, 1 February 1928, zm. 10 szwat 5688 r., tj. 1 lutego 1928. … … 1 איש ישר וחסיד, husband, right and pious. Mąż prawy i pobożny 2 בעל בית נכבד, respected host, gospodarz szanowany 3 ומהולל בכל ע]וד[ו, and praised at any time, i wychwalany w każdym czasie 4 ושהי׳ ביתו פתוחה לרוחה, and whose house was open, i którego dom był otwarty na oścież, 5 כמר. פלטיאל בן, Venerable Mr. Paltiel son, czcigodny pan Paltiel syn 6 ר׳ יוסף יהודה ז׳׳ל , Mr. Josef Jehudy, the memory of his Let will be blessed, pana Josefa Jehudy, pamięć jego niech będzie błogosławiona, 7 שניידער Sznajder, 8 שנפטר לעולמו ביום, who has gone to the world on this day, który odszedł do swego świata dnia 9 10 י׳ לחודש שבט תר׳׳פח לפ׳׳ק, in the month 686 by a short count, miesiąca szwat 686 według krótkiej rachuby, 10 בעיר וואנוואליץ w mieście, in Wąwolnica (Transcription from Hebrew to Polish by A. Trzciński and P. Sygowski) (Photograph: Centre of Archaeology, Staffordshire University)

(right) NN [male]; D. 7 Tishrei 5610 R., ie. September 21, 1849. … … 2 נפטר ה Gone 5 3 תשרי ש׳ Tishrei of the year 4 610 תר׳׳י לפק by short count. (left) NN D. 5 Tishrei 5610 R., ie. 23 September 1849 … … 1 הב…… 2 ב… נפט׳ ז׳ … Gone/Gone 7 3 תשרי תרי לפק Tishrei 610 According to a short count. (Transcription from Hebrew to Polish by A. Trzciński and P. Sygowski) (Photograph: Centre of Archaeology, Staffordshire University)

Photogrammetry and High-Dynamic-Range (HDR) photography conducted by the “Recording Cultural Genocide and Killing Sites” project team, allowed the matzevot to be presented, analysed and preserved digitally through 3D methods.

According to local expert Paweł Sygowski, the two tombs found in the cemetery are unique as they have not been found in other cemeteries throughout the Lublin district.

As the inscriptions are missing, it is difficult to determine who the graves belong to. However, Mr Sygowski has suggested several possibilities in his recent publication about Wąwolnica Jewish cemetery (download below).

The image below shows one of the two tombs recorded in the cemetery. The date of death occurred in 5615 according to the Jewish calendar (between 23rd September 1854 and 12 September 1855 in the Latin calendar). The inscription reads “And from this vine, an immature bunch was taken away”, suggesting that a young person was probably buried here.

Wąwolnica: Executions and Violence

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