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2013-08-28

Students from Poland and Israel record matzevos in the Jewish cemetery in Kielce

Last Monday was the first day of registering matzevos in the Jewish cemetery in Kielce. Firstly, all tombstones were photographed. Currently, grave inscriptions are being translated from Hebrew into Polish and English. This data will be published on the Virtual Shtetl Internet portal, in the Memory in Stone section.

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- This is a very important initiative, says Krzysztof Bielawski, the Virtual Shtetl coordinator. Thanks to the availability of such information online, descendents of Kielce Jews, who live in various places around the world, will be able to identify the graves of their forefathers. This data will also help Poles who are starting to discover their Jewish roots. I also hope that matzevos will no longer be nameless stones with incomprehensible inscriptions for Kielce citizens and will start to be perceived as graves of Sarah, Rebecca or David, former Jewish neighbours of many Kielce inhabitants.

There are 1400 or so Jewish cemeteries in Poland. Most burial registers were destroyed during WWII, as was the case of thousands of headstones which were used as a building material and for paving streets.

The initiative in Kielce has been undertaken by PIYE participants (Polish Intercultural Youth Encounters). PIYE is an educational programme run by the Museum of the History of Polish Jews and addressed to Polish and Israeli students. It consists of two parts: a training period in Poland and a studentship at the University of Tel Aviv. Participants work on joint projects, learning the culture and history of Polish Jews and confronting their stereotypes and outlooks with reality.

In addition to working in the cemetery, participants learned about history and Kielce monuments. Together with Andrzej Białek from the Jan Karski Association, they visited the former prayer house of Hersz Zagajski, the family house of Josek Lis, the alleged Jack the Ripper, the basilica, the place which witnessed the infamous pogrom in 1946 and the Menorah monument.

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