KRAKOW – The Warsaw Municipality will hand over control of the old Brodno cemetery to the Jewish community, so it can undertake a major restoration after years of neglect.
Jewish businessman Szmul Zbytkower established the cemetery in 1780. Burials continued until World War II, but in 1940, shortly after the German invasion of Poland, the Nazis began devastating the cemetery. Many gravestones remain smashed until the present day.
After the war, the Polish government ordered the removal of graves from the 5.25-hectare (13-acre) cemetery in order to build a park in its place. The work began, but in the mid-1980s the Nissenbaum Family Foundation took responsibility for the cemetery and began a restoration project in cooperation with the government.
Established in 1983 to preserve traces of Jewish culture in Poland, the foundation between 1987 and 1989 built a fence and gate, paved the pathways inside the cemetery and began to erect a monument, which has not yet been finished. The foundation was not able, however, to fully secure the cemetery, which hooligans have vandalized several times.
Wojciech Lygas, the assistant to the board of the foundation, told The Jerusalem Post that despite the efforts, it has never officially been responsible for the cemetery. A few years ago, the Jewish community started negotiations with the government to gain possession of the cemetery.
Enthusiasm among leaders of the Jewish community dropped markedly when it was realized that any restoration would cost millions of zlotys, the Polish news portal Gazeta reports.
The two sides reached an agreement in December 2012, and a major restoration program is planned.
Eight days later, the municipality signed another agreement with the Jewish community, to hand over 5,700 square meters of land in Warsaw that belonged to Jews before the German occupation.
Since the area is inhabited, the two sides agreed that the community would receive compensation of 15 million zlotys (around NIS 17.6m.).
Part of this sum has already been transferred and the rest will be transferred to the community by 2015. In the agreement, the community has committed to devote at least 3m. zlotys of this sum to the restoration of the Brodno cemetery.
“We hope that the cemetery will be protected and revitalized,” said Bartosz Milczarczyk, spokesman for the Warsaw Municipality.
Joanna Korzeniws, a representative of the Jewish community, told Gazeta: “We hope that the renovation work will start in the last quarter of 2013. First we will renovate the wall around the cemetery. The rest of the details, including the restoration program and its schedule, will be decided during the project.”
The plans include the demarcation of the original borders of the cemetery, paving walking trails, planting trees, installing information boards and points and monitoring equipment, and fixing broken gravestones, Gazeta reports.
The Jewish community has only gained possession of the part of the cemetery that is within the walls. A few years ago, human remains were found outside the cemetery walls, forcing a halt to renovation works on nearby streets after Poland’s Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich refused to move the remains, citing Jewish law, or Halacha.