13 November 2014

Jewish Tombstones Repurposed and Now Rediscovered -- Let's Talk Cemetery Relocations

This news article, The Town Making the Horrifying Discovery That It's Built Out of Jewish Tombstones,  conveys horrifying news and at the same time represents a cause for celebration. 

It’s horrifying in terms of the history involved.  It’s a cause for celebration as what was once thought to be lost has now been found and might be preserved for future generations.

After the war [World War II], with Brest's Jewish community devastated, the Communists set about getting rid of the remnants of Jewish culture in the town. In 1959 they dismantled the Jewish cemetery-one of the oldest and largest in Belarus-and turned it into a sports stadium. As the dismantling process got underway, Communist Party members, along with enterprising locals, recognized the high quality of the headstones and "recycled them." As well as in the foundations of houses, these Jewish graves have since been discovered in the makeup of Brest's road surfaces, pavements, and gardens...

... Fifteen hundred headstones have been found in Brest over the past six years...

Tombstone removal is not new and it’s not always undesirable (e.g. 5 Reasons for Relocating an Entire Cemetery) ... think what happens when a river was dammed and/or flooded to create a large body of water (e.g. Cemeteries Relocated by TVA & Kinzua Cemetery Relocations & Falls Dam Project (NC)), or a church sold off the land where it’s graveyard once existed (e.g. The National Archives (UK), Removal of graves and tombstones), etc.  Learn more by reading With Reverance and Respect – Relocating a Cemetery.

Granted, the above article is not talking about a scenario with such a mundane genesis and we don’t always find that our ancestors are where they were originally buried, or, that they were even buried (e.g., body donated for science, cremation, burial at sea, etc). 

Have you heard of other situations where, for lack of a better term, a hidden cache of previously thought to be lost tombstones has been rediscovered?

Are you aware of other databases (besides the TVA one) for cemeteries relocated as lakes or other large-scale projects requiring cemeteries to be relocated were constructed?

Editor’s Note: Thanks to Elizabeth Shown Mills for posting a link to the original article on Facebook.

Editor’s Note: Many cemetery relocations come about through the work of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  I did not find any “central” repository for cemetery relation records.  Most records seem to be held by the various Districts and with varying availability of online information. The US Army Corps of Engineers does seem to have a Digital Library and when I searched on “cemetery relocation” there were 61 results including some plans for cemetery relocations.  If you know of a more comprehensive source, please post a comment!

Editor’s Note: Just after this piece was written, I discovered another article, Used to rebuild Warsaw, Jewish tombstones return to cemeteries.

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