Wąwolnica: Social Action

Wąwolnica's Jewish cemetery was neglected and overgrown. However, thanks to dedicated volunteers and the support of the local government, it is finally being restored and cared for.

Authored by Caroline Sturdy Colls

A burial site for persecuted Jews

The Jewish cemetery in Wąwolnica was desecrated by the Nazis and only a handful of matzevot remain. The site was also used as a burial site for Jews killed during a mass shooting in March 1942.

Situated on a hill, the site became overgrown and extremely difficult to access.

In 2017, an international interdisciplinary team from Staffordshire University (UK), The Matzevah Foundation (US), Fundacja Zapomniane (Poland) and Studnia Pamięci (with funding support from Narodowy Instytut Dziedzictwa/the Institute of National Heritage) worked alongside 40 volunteers to conduct restoration works and forensic archaeological methods as part of the “Recording Cultural Genocide and Killing Sites in Jewish Cemeteries” project. Working together, these participants helped to clean, document and restore the cemetery.

The team also took part in discussion groups to consider the causes and consequences of racial hatred and genocide, as well as visiting Majdanek concentration camp (Poland).

The project team worked with local and international groups – including the office of the Major of Wąwolnica – to create sustainable strategies for Holocaust education and to develop further opportunities for this kind of collaboration in the future.

A new sign erected at Wawolnica Jewish cemetery in 2018, funded by Narodowy Instytut Dziedzictwa/the Institute of National Heritage (© Studnia Pamięci)

Following this project and ongoing work by our partners Studnia Pamięci, the cemetery was finally marked in 2018.

A conference and commemoration event entitled “Cmentarz żydowski w Wąwolnicy” (Jewish Cemetery in Wąwolnica) also took place in March 2018, where the results of our work were presented. This event resulted in ongoing pledges of support for the protection of this cemetery and others in the region, by the Major’s office.

Our partners Studnia Pamięci remain instrumental in helping to restore and protect the cemetery. They returned to the site in 2018 to undertake more clean up work with the help of volunteers. Their “Ogrodnicy pamięci” project intends to create a sustainable future for the site.

Volunteers working to clear, document and restore Wąwolnica Jewish cemetery (© Centre of Archaeology, Staffordshire University, S.D. Reece and The Matzevah Foundation)

Professor Caroline Sturdy Colls talks about the social action project in Wąwolnica at the "Jewish Cemetery in Wąwolnica" conference and commemoration event
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"The support given by the Major's Office in Wąwolnica was excellent. There is an obvious local commitment to restoring the cemetery and sharing Wąwolnica's rich Jewish heritage, locally, nationally and internationally"

Professor Caroline Sturdy Colls, Project Lead of the Recording Cultural Genocide and Killing Sites in Jewish Cemeteries Project

Download 'Żydzi wąwolniccy i ich cmentarz' ('Jews of Wąwolnica and their cemetery) by Paweł Sygowski

In this text (written in Polish), Paweł Sygowski describes Wąwolnica's rich Jewish heritage and efforts to restore and commemorate its cemetery

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See press coverage of our work in Wąwolnica and Piaski Jewish cemeteries

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Jewish Cemeteries: Desecration and Cultural Genocide

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