The photographer documented examples of the uses for matzevot stolen from Jewish cemeteries.
Baksik’s observations in his home town motivated him to start travelling around Poland:
His intuition was correct. Over 400 Jewish cemeteries which existed before World War II did not survive until the present day. Out of those that remain, only about 150 number more than a hundred gravestones.
Baksik noticed the first ‘everyday use’ of a matzeva (which had been converted into a grindstone) in Kazimierz Dolny. While working on the project, he would choose locations which used to have Jewish communities before the war. Whenever he came across a cemetery that should have had thousands of gravestones, but there were much less, he would travel around the area, talking to people. He discovered missing matzevot in people’s backyards and public places, but to find them and be allowed to take pictures, he needed to break local taboos.
According to the photographer’s book (from which the above picture is taken), matzevot started to be used for ‘practical’ purposes during the war, when the Germans forced Jews to use gravestones as building material, e.g. for paving the road to the Płaszów concentration camp. Matzevot were later used to construct fortifications in places where soldiers were stationed. Poles continued this disgraceful tradition after the war, using matzevot to build firepools, railway embankments, stoves, floors and kerbstones. Fragments are also embedded in Christian cemeteries and monuments honouring Red Army soldiers. All the matzevot that Baksik discovered still bore Hebrew inscriptions.
Originally written in Polish, translated by AG, edited by MB, Dec 2018
This text is part of the project Metaphors of Independence: Poland In 100 Photos.
To coincide with the centenary of Poland regaining its independence, we have created a selection of photographs that allow us to understand both yesterday and today. A hundred photographs but so much more. Find out more.