The Cemetery of Jewish Liberties

Excerpt from the article:

In 2000, the Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Poland submitted a request to the Property Commission for the old Jewish cemetery in Kalisz to be returned to its rightful owner. It took years for the local authorities and the Union to negotiate and draft a complex agreement stipulating its return. Just when it seemed the agreement was about to be finalized, the city suddenly withdrew, refusing to sign the paperwork. The authorities explained that the city could not give the cemetery back because local residents opposed it, and, moreover, the Union never presented any documents confirming its right to the property. Apparently, 650 years of burying their dead in one place was insufficient proof for the city to acknowledge the Jewish community’s right to one of the oldest and most important Jewish cemeteries in Poland.


In 1988, the city council made a controversial decision to grant permission for the construction of a heat pipeline for the Kalimet Factory that would run through the local “sports and recreation areas” [i.e., right through the middle of the cemetery]. Human bones exposed during the excavation work prior to construction once again drew attention to the graveyard.

Construction was blocked by the Nissenbaum Family Foundation, which sent representatives to Kalisz to prevent further devastation of the cemetery. The pipeline was laid beyond the confines of the cemetery. To save the situation [not for the last time, as the residents of Kalisz later discovered], the government allocated some extra funding to modify the project and to restore the graveyard’s former status as a “school football field.” Menachem Joskowicz, the Chief Rabbi of Poland at that time, vehemently protested this decision.

[To this day, city authorities are quick to cite various statements allegedly made by the members and guests of the Nissenbaum Family Foundation, even though it never was a party in the conflict and its involvement was due solely to its concern for the cemetery.]

In the meantime, over a thousand Jewish tombstones desecrated by the German occupants during the war were brought back to the cemetery. City officials were outraged. Nobody knew what to do with the tombstones, so the city sought the help of the Prime Minister, who granted permission for them to be removed from the cemetery groundsagain. To the great surprise of many citizens and city council members, this decision was met with “repercussions” in the local press along with accusations of antisemitism.


Translation: Aga Zano

Proofreading: Barbara Pendzich, Maximilian Eisenhardt

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