This Jewish Cemetery Will Send Shivers Down your Spine
Warsaw Jewish cemetery in Okopowa
The Warsaw Jewish cemetery in Okopowa Street is one of the largest in the world, covering over 30 hectares and counting more than 200,000 graves. It’s one of the last Jewish cemeteries in Poland still in use today and, since 1973, it is also recognized as a historical monument.
For centuries, Poland was home to the largest Jewish community in the world. Because of this, in 1806, the Jewish community appealed to the authorities in order to get a new space to bury their loved ones.
Thousands of Jewish civilians, insurgents, and soldiers who died in the Warsaw Ghetto and during the Warsaw Uprising are also buried here in mass graves.
The Warsaw Jewish cemetery is beyond expectations
The first time I visited the Warsaw Jewish cemetery I didn’t know what to expect.
I was raised by a Christian family in a Christian country. The image that comes to my mind when I think of a cemetery is one of lined up, well maintained, marble tombstones. The graveyard perimeter is usually made of cypresses, in an ever more tidy fashion. The sounds are those related to gardening or cleaning.
Have you ever visited a Jewish cemetery?
They are quite different.
And the Warsaw Jewish cemetery is totally the opposite.
The Warsaw Jewish cemetery in Okopowa is a heterogeneous mix of all kinds of gravestones. You’ll see tall traditional vertical slabs, bulky plain stones as well as elaborated tombstones.
Some stones are crooked and old, some are straight and new and some are just beautiful pieces of art, with carefully carved inscriptions and ornaments.
Most of them are overgrown by moss, camouflaged amidst a dense vegetation. There is almost no living descendant to take care of the cemetery, as most of Varsovian Jews died during WWII or emigrated during communist times.
Trees, which after the war covered most of the grounds, are so many, that the dry treetops entangle wherever you look, crackling and snapping at the slightest blow of wind.
Should you visit the Warsaw Jewish cemetery?
I wouldn’t say The Warsaw Jewish Cemetery in Okopowa is a must-see in Warsaw.
If you are visiting just for few days, there are many things that you might want to visit before this.
BUT, if you have some extra time and you are looking for something different, this is definitely a priceless treasure worth experiencing.
Although rough and imperfect (and perhaps far from the mainstream notion of beauty), the Warsaw Jewish Cemetery is a site of Jewish gravestone art of incalculable value – as most of the Jewish heritage was almost totally destroyed during World War II.
It was a complex place to take in, and it left me with a desire to know more about Jewish culture.
If you want to dig deeper into Jewish culture in Poland, check out the POLIN museum (my article coming soon too).
Have you been here? Do you want to visit? Let me know in the comments!