Cemeteries


The Cemetery Monograph Project

 

Asociatia Tikvah wants to promote the comprehensive documentation and the

digital preservation of the Jewish cemeteries of Oradea (a monograph). We need to

raise funds for this purpose, but what follows is designed to explain why we think it is

important and to give people an impression of what it might cover.

 

We want to work with Kordics Imre who has produced most of the materials which

follow and for which we are most grateful. The contents may not be reproduced

without permission from him and Asociatia Tikvah.

 

Why it is important

 

Every old cemetery has a value through being an historical monument; a testimony of a

community`s past.

 

They should be considered as part of the cultural heritage of the particular place, the

burial custom being an aspect of the history of that community.

 

Therefore, the maintenance and preservation requirements are the same as for any

other heritage object.

 

Cemeteries are one fragment of historical evidence proving the past existence of the

Jewish community in that town. Overall, they represent a cultural value and serve as

information sources for art history, social history or family genealogy.

 

Specific elements, valuable from the historical, cultural or artistic point of view can be

highlighted, but the cemetery must be considered as a single entity. The practice of

grave burials, and their funeral customs are little known, appreciated or understood.

 

It is particularly important when considering the Jewish cemeteries of Oradea to

highlight the artistic value of the funeral monuments. Any monograph on the subject of

Oradea’s Jewish cemeteries has to highlight all the features which contribute to the

overall image.

 

These cemeteries are part of the common values belonging to the entire Jewish

community. Today, they represent not only the place of burial, of devoutness, but also

a significant part of the history of the community (especially, the Velenta closed

cemetery)

 

One of the purposes of a monograph  would be to raise awareness of the history of this

community. But also by documenting and photographing the graves we preserve their

identity and the relevant funeral customs.

 

Part of the Jewish cultural heritage is found in these cemeteries. The fate of

cemeteries is closely linked to the history of the town, and they also reflect the fate of

the community. Memories sculpted and engraved in stone are testimonies of the past.

Their systematic and comprehensive research also enriches the local historiography.

 

Although a photographic and descriptive monograph will preserve the history in one

form it does not make it any less urgent to protect and maintain the physical

structures. The Jewish cemeteries in Oradea – especially the one in Velenta where

burials are no longer performed – are part of the history of Oradea and deserve special

protection by the local authorities.

 

The Jewish custom of enclosing the cemeteries has helped to preserve them in their

original form, even if the necessary maintenance has not been provided and much of

the history is now hidden.

 

These grave stones tell us much through the specific types of stones and their

adornments (the dates, the language used and the architectural styles).

 

The Bible makes several references to the practice of erecting stones on the grave.

Jacob erected headstones three times, the last time on the grave of his wife Rachel. In

antiquity, the "bet hahajim" (Beth Hachaim) cemetery – "house of the living" used to

resemble a garden.

 

The erection of gravestones  initially had practical reasons: to defend the deceased f

rom wild animals (people would put stones on graves) and to mark the place (Cohanites

were forbidden to approach the deceased).

 

According to the Talmud rule, cemeteries were located outside the inhabited territory

and were enclosed (the re-use of stones or a burial place were forbidden). Visiting the

graves of ancestors is a religious, but also ethical duty. According to the ancient

custom, one was not allowed to enter the cemetery bareheaded (pulling the grass,

washing hands after the visit were also ancient customs).

 

Apart from learning about old customs (unplaned coffin, seven stops to the grave,

throwing a handful of dust into the grave, the separate placing of men and women

according to the Orthodox ritual, cutting the clothes of the bereaved, wearing the

black ribbon according to the Neolog ritual, covering mirrors during mourning, sitting on

the floor) it is important to make a comparison to the traditions of today.

 

In the earliest times, the expensive stone, the clothes for the deceased, the funeral

expenses, represented a burden for the inhabitants. That is why, over time, people

moved to simpler customs: the deceased was dressed in cloth or was coated in linens,

while a palm was laid on the grave.

 

In traditional Jewish environments, vegetation in the cemetery is not trimmed, only

access roads are cleared. When referring to the use of stones instead of flowers, we

should note that over the last two decades, funeral monuments have been made with

flower vases (not the initial decor). However, there are some places where flowers are

laid at graves.

 

The historical record of the Chevra Kadisha institution and the way in which it functions

today are separate aspects of the Jewish funeral tradition (the orderly and renovated

burial houses reflect the interest in religious life).

 

A monograph of the Jewish cemeteries could tell us much about the history of the

Jewish people of Oradea.

 

The oldest grave from 1773

 

 

 

The content of the monograph

 

Our proposed monograph would include:

  1. A summary of Jewish burial traditions
  2. A coherent chronological journey through the three cemeteries of Oradea
  3. The study of the graves of rabbis and of the leaders of the Jewish community of Oradea and linking (in the case of Orthodox communities with the establishment of separate burial places for women and men) with common graves of the spouses
  4. The graves of Cohanites and Levites
  5. The graves of notable contributors to the life and culture of Oradea
  6. Commentary and explanation about inscriptions, architectural features and motifs
  7. Age, style and size, also reflecting the Neolog movement
  8. Identification of damage and restoration needs both for stones and wrought iron architecture

 

  

Examples for the monograph

 

To give an idea of the content of the monograph which we would wish to produce we

are providing some examples from the cemeteries of Oradea.

 

 

The most important part of gravestones are inscriptions, but adornment also bears a

message. Hebrew letters sculpted with artistry and carefully arranged create a

decorative ornamental field. The beginning and ending phrase, the shortened year are

widespread.

The most ancient Jewish symbols – Menorah and the Star of David – do not appear on

old gravestones in Oradea cemeteries. Simple vine branches or floral motifs were

carved on those erected at the beginning of the 19th century. During the first half of

the century, the most widespread motif was the willow (sadness and mourning, the

symbol of the autumn bouquet and the reference to the servitude in Babylon).

 

 

 

 

 It is important to mention that, instead of the menorah, the two-branched symbol of

Shabbat or the five-branched symbol of the Temple, there was at the beginning of the

19th century, the three-branched menorah symbolising family life.

 

 

 

 

But generally it was the symbol of soul and life.

 

 

 

At the beginning of the 19th century, affiliation to a Cohanite or a Levite family was

illustrated with a cup , a blessing hand and other symbols.

 

 

 

 

Or in this case the hands are supplemented with a Torah Curtain and the Torah scroll.

The two lions symbolising the guarding of the Torah, the religious life and the noble

origin.

 

 

Besides the lion, the deer is rarely found in Oradea cemeteries.

 

 

 

 

 The pigeon adorns the graves of women

 

 

 

The coffin (the existence of the afterlife), the joined hands (the faithfulness of the

spouses), the Torah roll (religiousness) and the palm (exemplary life) appear very

rarely.

 

 

 

 

More often there is the Urn as a symbol of the universe, as well as the so-called Italian

crown (infinite existence). Gravestones in the shape of the Books of Moses were

already being used from the beginning of the 19th century, as a symbol of family unity.

 

 

Masonic symbols, soldierly symbols are of particular note, as is the more recent

communist motif.

 

 

 

 

Tracing the graves of notable figures (from all the fields of life) would create a valuable

history and family album. Here is the grave of Fehér Dezső the noted writer and

newspaper editor.

  

 Or the grave of the Rabbi Kecskeméti Lipót.

The horror of the 1944 deportation is recalled by the memorial rows, commemorative

plaques and the so-called "empty graves". "A stone cries from the wall" (Habakuk 2:11)



 

                                                                      

The First Jewish Cemetery of Oradea


Translated by: Susan Geroe

The first reference to the Oradea Jewish cemetery is found in the petition submitted to

the Oradea City Council, dated March 21, 1766, documented in the anniversary album

of the Chevra Kadisha. "From the records, we can not determine exactly where this

first cemetery lay, however a few points in the petition suggest that it was the same

as the graveyard evacuated in 1860 from Hattyu Street and resettled in the Velence

cemetery," continues the chronicle.


To understand the situation, one must be familiar with the expansion of the city at the

time. In those days, Oradea included roughly the built in residential area known until

the Holocaust as the zone between Kossuth, Kapucinus, Magyar, and Teleki Streets.

They called this sector "Vorstadt" and Ujvaros, and later, the districts of Olaszi,

Varalja, and Katonavaros were linked to it. In the first decades of the 1700s, Jews lived

in Ujvaros and some in Olaszi. The Varalja district was established only in 1784. Given

that Ujvaros formed the core of the city, naturally, the cemetery had to be situated on

the outskirts of the city. This area seems to have been in the neighborhood of Hattyu

Street. Another fact that validates this point is the expansion of the city ever more in

the direction of Hattyu Street, which had been built in with homes. As this took place,

it became necessary to move the cemetery to another area outside city boundaries –

Velence in this case.


In 5575/1815, the community wanted to surround the Hattyu Street cemetery with a

stone fence, and collected for this purpose the sum of 6000 Forints. However, the

Church as patron would permit only a wooden fence, which cost twice as much as the

collected sum, and the contributors asked back for their donations. Reb Joszef

Rosenfeld, Rabbi of Oradea addressed the question to the Chatam Szofer, which

responded in the same year that the purpose for which the funds were to be used

could not be changed, it should strictly be used to build a fence around the cemetery.

All the more, it was not excluded that after all, a permit to build a stone fence would

be issued. Since all monetary contribution had to be used towards holy purpose, the

decision of the Pozsony Rabbi admonished to hire from the interest income a Talmud

specialist who could study the Holy Books for the spiritual salvation of the deceased.

The Oradea Jews lay to rest in the Hattyu Street cemetery Reb Naftali Cvi Lipchowitz,

known to us as Oradea's second rabbi. According to the data on the memorial marker,

which is separately inscribed with a background history, he died in 6633/1773.


In those days, the part of the city where the Hattyu Street cemetery was located was

a flood plain, exposed to the constant whims of the River Cris. Already in 1766, Jews

complained to the City that "due to the shallow and wet grounds" pigs could nuzzle up

the graves, and present danger to the urban population by spreading the plague. Thus,

they demanded the employment of a Gentile guard and a permit to construct a small

home for him on the premises. In the years that followed, the 6000 Forint stone fence

would have served the same purpose: build a dam against the waves of the overflowing

River Cris. Oradea Jews used the Hattyu Street cemetery for burial for nearly a hundred

years, yet the problem was never solved. Time and again, the flooding waters

overturned the gravestones and the grazing pigs nuzzled up the graves. That was the

situation until 1860, when the cemetery was evacuated.


During one of the floods, Rabbi Lipchowitz's grave also fell over. When they evacuated

the cemetery, there was no one to complain against it. At the beginning of the 20th

century, they discovered by chance in the courtyard of a house on Uri Street that

they used the back of this gravestone for a bench. The Chevra Kadisha handled the

case and they transported the monument to the mortuary in the Velence or Velenta

Cemetery, where it is guarded to this day.


This article is reproduced with the kind permission of Susan Geroe and Jewishgen


The Velenta cemetery


Velenta cemetery is situated to the East of the city of Oradea at Razboieni Street

88-90.


It was established in 1775 as a multi-faith cemetery, but the land was purchased by

the local Jewish community in 1800 with the first Jewish burial taking place in 1801. It

was an Orthodox cemetery.


As indicated in the first article in this section a number of the gravestones to be found

in the Velenta cemetery originate from the Hattyu Street (now Lebedei Street)

cemetery.


Although this cemetery is now inactive, with the last burial taking place in 1952, it is 

accessible to view.



Pictures from the Velenta cemetery


In 2005, 30 students from Israel travelled from Arad to Oradea to obtain experience of

the culture of their forefathers. They had special insights into synagogues and they

helped clear the Velenta cemetery of undergrowth. To see a video of their trip look at

their Journey into Jewish Heritage.


Actively used Jewish cemeteries in Oradea


There are two Jewish cemeteries in current use, one orthodox dating from 1876 (in

Toamnei Street) and one neolog, established in 1881 (in Umbrei Street). They are quite

close together and integral to the main burial ground of the city of Oradea.

Gates of the Neolog cemetery



As can be seen from our Home Page the sale of Jewish neolog cemetery land in 2010 is

poignant reminder of the atrocity of 1944, which robbed the city and the Jewish

community of future generations, who might have expected to die in Oradea, rather

than in extermination camps.


The Heritage Foundation of Jewish Cemeteries is, after a pause, recommencing valuable

restoration in Oradea cemeteries. They are looking for further funding from descendents

to support another 200 metres of fencing.


Information about other Bihor Jewish cemeteries


The International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS) embarked upon a

truly ambitious project to document every Jewish burial site in the world. Called the

International Jewish Cemetery Projectit has for many years been working in Bihor.It is a

remarkable and admirable venture and is essential for those who wish to trace back

their family line.


To illustrate the type of analysis that is undertaken we are showing below an extract

of the entry for Alesd


It is not thought that the town currently has any Jewish population.


The 1880 Jewish population by census was 94, by 1900 census was 227, and in 1930

was 372 Jewish inhabitants.


In May 1944, approximately 50 Jews from Alesd were gathered in the Oradea ghetto

and on May 23, 25, 28-30, and June 1-5, 27 were deported to Auschwitz. The

unlandmarked Orthodox and Neolog cemetery was established in second half of 19th

century. Noteworthy individuals buried in the cemetery: Cohanim: Terebesy Samu

(Smuel Ben Shlomo Hacohen 1864-1942); Kohn Jozsef (Slomo Eliezer Hacohen 1870-

1916); and Lustig Jeno (Iaacov Ben Chaim 1913-1961). Last known burial was 1979.

The isolated urban hill has no sign or marker. Reached by a public road, access is open

with permission. A fence with a gate that locks surrounds the site. Approximate pre-

and post-WWII size is 110 x 60 m. 100-500 stones are visible. 100-500 stones are in

original location.


20-100 stones are not in original location. Location of stones removed from the

cemetery is unknown. Vegetation overgrowth in the cemetery is a seasonal problem

preventing access.


Water drainage is good all year.


The cemetery has special sections for men, rabbis, Cohanim, and women who died in

childbirth. The oldest known gravestone dates from second half of the 19th century.

The 19th and 20th century marble, granite, limestone, sandstone, and concrete, and

local stone sculpted monuments have Hebrew and Hungarian inscriptions. Some have

metal fences around graves.


No known mass graves.


The local Jewish community owns the property used for Jewish cemetery only. Adjacent

properties are agricultural. Rarely, private Jewish or non-Jewish visitors stop. The

cemetery was vandalized occasionally in the last ten years. Maintenance has been re-

erection of stones, patching broken stones, and clearing vegetation by local non-Jewish

residents in 1984. Current care is regular caretaker paid by the Jewish community of

Oradea. No structures.


Ursutiu Claudia visited the site and completed the survey on 6 July 2000. 


The Lo Tishkach initiative


The Lo Tishkach European Jewish Cemeteries Initiative was established in 2006 as a

joint project of the Conference of European Rabbis and the Conference on Jewish

Material Claims Against Germany.


Lo Tishkach means ‘do not forget’ in Hebrew and the organisation is establishing a

comprehensive publicly-accessible database of all Jewish burial grounds in Europe,

currently featuring details on over 9,000 cemeteries and mass graves. The project is

also producing an analysis of the different national and international laws relating to

these sites, so as obtain better protection and preservation of Europe’s Jewish

heritage.