in Gdansk, Poland
To the hundreds of thousands who have no named grave,
In memory of those who lived and died in our city
The Project Designers:
Hanna Klementowska, Jacek Krenz
Design Team: Katarzyna Bogucka-Krenz, Michał Krenz, Andrzej Wójcicki,
Sculptors: Zygfryd Korpalski, Witold Głuchowski
Funded by: the Gdańsk City Hall
The Cemetery of the Lost Cemeteries in Gdańsk, 3 Maja Street
English translation of the poem „Kadish” by Masha Kaleko by Stuart
and Jenny Robertson
The complete picture of any town is made up not only of grand events of which we may be proud but also of acts and deeds that need redress and reconciliation. As a result of the turmoil of World War II and other historical events 27 cemeteries of different faiths have been obliterated from the map of Gdańsk. Today it is impossible to rebuild them, however we may and should still pay tribute – and remember.
The Lost CemeteriesAfter the end of World War II Gdansk began to rise again from the ruins. At this time the town’s cemeteries did not come under any central authority, and former residents who had survived the war were now deported or forced to flee the town leaving behind their relatives who had died and been buried at the local cemeteries. Within only two years (1946-47) most of the graveyards and churchyards in the city were closed and neglected, eventually falling into ruin and oblivion. Broken gravestones and monuments crumbled and fell apart, and in time were overgrown with weeds. Only a few fragments of evidence remained, pieces of stones on which one could still occasionally make out a name or a date. Moreover, since many of the gravestones were inscribed in German, they evoked resentment in the new residents of the town, who in some cases showed their feelings through acts of vandalism. There were, however, examples where the new Polish residents looked after the neglected German graves.
The planned liquidation of cemeteries in the city began by clearing the grounds in preparation for residential blocks, civic buildings and future streets. This was, for example, the fate of the cemetery on 3 Maja Street where the prison was extended and the bus station built. Finally, those still remaining were turned into parks and green areas.
Stone and Light – The Symbolic MeaningThe layout of the Cemetery of the Lost Cemeteries echoes a temple interior. The colonnade of trees creates an atmosphere reminiscent of the main nave and side aisles. The stone columns are in the shape of trunks, symbolizing withered trees long since dead, but thanks to the light which pervades from within are brought back to life. The granite slab placed on a foundation of broken fragments of gravestones forms both a sacrificial altar and a symbolic tomb. The inscription which is engraved around the granite comes from a poem by Masha Kaleko whose volumes of poetry were among the books burnt on the pyre in May 1933 on Hitler’s orders. Thus, from the ashes these poetic words will now speak again chiselled in stone to last. The lights set within the granite altar project upwards leading our thoughts to transcendence and thus binding the many burial places of various faiths into one metaphysical unity. These columns of light represent the firm faith of the people and seen within the light wisps of smoke from the votive candles remind us at the same time of the fragility of human life. Behind the altar there is a hedge cut into the shape of a semicircular apse which provides a final screen to this natural sanctuary. In the middle of the hedge there is an opening behind which we can see a wall of whitened stone – a symbolic passage for the dead who proceed towards eternity.
The Living MemoryThe Cemetery of the Lost Cemeteries is meant to be a place of our common prayer commemorating all those generations who have lived and died in Gdansk before us and whose place of burial no longer exists. It is a peaceful place for silent reflection, unifying all people regardless of their social status, race, nationality or religious adherence. Here the citizens of our town may ponder in peace the fate of their forefathers. Here they also may place the few remaining fragments which have been retrieved from the cemeteries which no longer exist.
Thanks to the memories of individuals who will visit this place we will be able to recreate in our hearts a symbolic map of the common past of our town which – thanks to its close proximity to the sea and rich trading links – has always been the home to people of many different faith and nations.
Created & Copyright by Jacek Krenz 2002