In the summer of 2004, I was making my way from St. Petersburg, Russia, to Istanbul, Turkey, by bus and train. Traveling through Eastern Europe is an amazing experience. Everywhere you go, you are surrounded by evidence of ancient buildings and cultures. An unexpected destination during my travels was the graveyards across the region.
The European style of caring for graveyards is to visit them frequently and adorn the graves with fresh flowers. In many ways, graveyards are beautiful, with engravings speaking of what the dearly departed meant to the family they left behind. There is some inner peace that comes from seeing husbands and wives buried next to one another with flowers placed lovingly by children and grandchildren.
In contrast to this testimony of love is the distress that comes from visiting Jewish cemeteries in Eastern Europe that have fallen into decay and disrepair. These places speak of a generation that did not survive to care for the graves of their elders.
Nowhere is this more obvious than in the Jewish cemeteries of Eastern Europe. One famous example of this is the Warsaw Cemetery in the capital of Poland. Walking to the cemetery takes one from the well-defined center of Warsaw and into its residential neighborhoods. Soviet-style apartment buildings create a gloomy atmosphere.
Arriving at the cemetery, one enters through a gate and sees the walls constructed of destroyed headstones bordering graves and monuments to families slaughtered. Particularly touching is a monument to the Eisner family. In very few words, the poems on this monument express the impact of the Nazi reign on the families of Poland and Eastern Europe.
Not enough revenue flows into this cemetery to maintain the graves of a city that once had a Jewish population that numbered in the hundreds of thousands.