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Journal Articles Revue d'histoire de la Shoah Year : 2022

Tentatives d’épuisement de non-lieux : les cimetières juifs de Lubartów, Pologne

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Abstract

During his travels in Poland in April 1981, Georges Perec visited Lubartów, his father’s birthplace. After he returned, Claude Roy asked, “Did you find anything? Is there any sign?” “Nothing,” said Georges. “It’s all been wiped away.” One year later, an American journalist researching an assignment on Jewish cemeteries in Poland reported, “In Lubartów, locals directed me to a large empty field. Families were picnicking and sunbathing in the tall grass, while footballers played in the shorter grass. A rock I stepped on proved to be a tombstone; as I pulled away the grass and moss, a finely carved regal lion emerged.” Of the two Jewish cemeteries that existed in Lubartów during the interwar period, very little remains. The first, located in the middle of the city’s downtown area, is now a square that serves as a public park. The second cemetery, built a few hundred feet away, is now a vacant lot where a dozen crumbing tombstones can be found beneath a few trees, not far from a wall. In the 1980s, a lapidarium made up of 32 tombs was created on site. Today, the monument is overrun by weeds. When we visited in 2018, the site served as a place for young people to gather and drink beer. A sign at the entrance indicates the lot was once a Jewish cemetery, but is hard to find between the hospital and the suburban outgrowths of this small town in eastern Poland. Lubartów, located about 30 kilometers from Lublin on the Wieprz River, was a rather ordinary city, and half of the populace was Jewish. In 1921, there were 3,269 Jews; this figure increased to 3,411 in 1931, out of a total population of about 8,000. In 1929, several Jews were elected to the city council. At the time, the Jewish community in Lubartów was centered around a synagogue, a ritual bath house (mikvah), and two Jewish cemeteries. The cemetery had been in operation since the 16th century and was located 150 feet from the market square next to the synagogue. By the 1820s, however, it was no longer in use. The nearly one-acre plot was no longer sufficient for the town’s growing population. The community’s dead were buried in a “new cemetery” that was built 500 yards away in a plot that was three times larger and bordered by fields and orchards. During WWII, the two cemeteries were demolished and destroyed by German occupying forces. The maztevahs were used for various building projects or looted by Polish citizens. Afterwards, everything was “wiped away.” Can the history of a place be documented if it can’t be seen? This very nature of a historical approach, which by definition cannot observe the past, is challenged here to the extreme. What sources can be used to document the disappearance of a place, symptom, symbol, and witness to the extermination of the population that designed, built, maintained, and in short, inhabited it? Through the lens of the Jewish cemeteries of Lubartów, this article will contribute to the research surrounding the destruction of historical remnants as a result of the Holocaust. The goal of this article is present archival and testimonial documentation regarding the Jewish cemeteries of Lubartów to describe the history of the locations, characteristics, and functioning of these places, as well as to explore their social and political uses from the 1930s to the 1980s. In the course of our micro-historical research on the Jews of Lubartów, we have located a considerable body of sources that mention these cemeteries, often casually. The following sentence, written on the line recording the death of Szmul Rubinsztejn in the administrative population register on October 11, 1942, is one example: “Killed by Germans in the Jewish cemetery of Lubartów.” We would like to add these archives to the testimonies left after the war that give voice to the two different ways in which the two cemeteries are remembered by Jewish and non-Jewish Lubartovians. These sources provide insight into the relationship between these two groups, who lived in the same city, regarding the cemeteries. While they do mention the new cemetery, non-Jewish accounts say nothing about the old one, unlike the Jewish survivors. An exploration of the history of these two cemeteries leads to a discussion of the working methods of Holocaust historians through the comparison of the different levels of sources as well as their natures, orientations, and uses.
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Dates and versions

hal-03626113 , version 1 (04-04-2022)

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Claire Zalc, Franciszek Zakrzewski. Tentatives d’épuisement de non-lieux : les cimetières juifs de Lubartów, Pologne. Revue d'histoire de la Shoah, 2022, Le cimetière juif dans la Shoah, N° 215 (1), pp.151-189. ⟨10.3917/rhsho.215.0151⟩. ⟨hal-03626113⟩
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