"Behold, let this is the stone be the witness for you"
(Book of Jeshua 24:27)
The settlement of Jews in Warta was first dated in the early 16th century. In 1554, in the vicinity of the market square, on the corner of the present Streets Kościuszki and Garbarska, Orthodox Jews erected a brick oriented synagogue. Next to it, at the northern side, they located a cemetery which was closed around the year 1800 due to the lack of space for further burials. At that time, the Jewish Community purchased a parcel of land of 2.5 hectares situated north-west of the synagogue. Half of the parcel was used as a cemetery which was fenced on its three sides with bricks and concrete blocks. The kirkut is located on the corner of Deczyńskiego and Sadowa streets.
Some 4,000 bodies had been buried here before 1939. The graves were marked with fieldstones, sometimes slightly chipped, and decorative headstones (matzevahs) facing east. The headstones were decorated with admirable reliefs which presented crowns, books, lions, deer, pigeons, candleholders, broken candles, and other symbols. supplemented with Hebrew texts often engraved in the form of acrostic poems. The headstones were painted black, white, yellow, blue, green, red, silver and gold. There were no ohels (catholic equivalent of chapel) at that time. Some graves are lined with concrete. There is one sarcophagus. The unimposing headstone placed at the grave of Abraham (died in 1812) is the oldest one there.
More than 2,000 Jews resided in Warta before World War II, i.e. 52% of the general population. After 1939, the town was included in the 3rd Reich. From the very beginning, Jews were out of any laws. They suffered incredible anguish and persecutions. They were humiliated, beaten, famished, tortured and murdered. The occupiers blew up the historical synagogue, and made Jews, including women and children, dismantle the remainders of the building. Holy books were burnt, the cemetery was devastated. Jews had peyots and beards cut off, sometimes with blunt knives.
Jews were the most frequent victims of terror and crime. Below, we list some examples of the horrors, unknown to many present citizens of Warta:
Since then, there are no more Jews in the town where they used to live for more than three hundred years. Their presence cannot be erased from memory. They are commemorated in the houses with numerous traces of mezuzas, in the reconstructed mikveh, the Chanukijah, the map of Warta with Jewish houses marked with the star of David, some photographs of Jews and the kirkut which I was effectively trying to save in the 1980s.
The above are nearly all the painful and dramatic events I was told, in order to save the stories from oblivion, as a warning for next generations. To some extent, I have proved that the cemetery soil is soaked with blood of martyrs - innocent victims of the occupier's terror. The cemetery witnessed Holocaust and that is why it should be enshrined as a special place.
In the name of these obvious values, such premises shall never be liquidated, devastated or forgotten. Unfortunately, up to December 8, 1986 it was being damaged, perhaps inadvertently, but there is evidence that the devastation of the cemetery was premeditated. The brick fencing was removed, headstones used to be knocked over, destroyed or they were taken away and used for other purposes. The area was used as a pasture and waste dump site. For many years, the authorities of the town used to puzzle over the way in which they might get rid of the cemetery. For example, in 1960 a dairy factory was to be built in the Holy Place, then a car-service station. There were plans to sell the land for housing purposes. In 1984, the Town Hall of Warta was going to arrange a lapidarium of headstones in a small place of the northern part of the cemetery. The remaining land was to be changed into a park. Two years later, a road from Łódź to Błaszki was planned to be built there.
As a citizen of Warta, a regionalist, I could not agree to such plans. Although I am not a Jew myself, I could not accept any of the plans in my conscience. My actions aimed at saving the cemetery were driven by teaching of the Polish Pope John Paul II, and in particular, his famous statement: JEWS ARE ELDER BRETHREN OF CHRISTIANS.
In the situation in which the cemetery was at various hazards, I took to struggle for saving it (...) In the years 1984-87, I used to discuss and negotiate the issue with various offices and institutions (Town hall of Warta, Regional Conservator of Historical Monuments in Sieradz, Vice-Governor of Łódź Province, Association for Warta Town and River). Only when I established cooperation with the Union of Jewish Religious Communities of Warsaw, I managed to obtain assistance in the form of intervention from the Minister for Religious Denominations. However, the devastation was quite advanced; there was only one headstone left standing there, the one of Jochwed who died in 1936. That was a definite turn of the course of events. On December 8, 1986, a commission of delegates from Warsaw, Regional Conservator of Historical Monuments of Sieradz, mayor of the Town and Commune of Warta came to visit the cemetery. Following the meeting, a report was compiled which obliged the Conservator and the Mayor to repair the damages to the cemetery.
A few days after having saved the cemetery, I found a mass grave of the Jews hanged in 1942, and I cleaned it as it should be.
As the cemetery was not devastated anymore, I placed there warning and information signs I had prepared (...).
The signs made the community gotten interested. The metal-sheet signs did play their role. The attitude of the local community towards the kirkut changed immeasurably. Many used to come and, pensively and reverently, they were reading the messages which depicted shortly the situation. Following the actions of mine, some invisible, noble hands used to bring flowers and light candles there.
Still, the cooperation with the Conservator and the Mayor of Warta was the most difficult (...). A good coincidence was that in October 1987 Ryszard Wójcik came to the cemetery to film the works of cleaning the area. The shooting was published in the TV program "Strażnicy echa" [Guards of Echo] all over Poland. There were also mentions in the press, i.e. "Głos Robotniczy", "Nurt", "Zarzewie".
Unfortunately, my activities were misunderstood, even after the television program had been emitted (...).
On November 30, 1987, the cemetery was fenced, and an iron gate was fixed, then the Star of David was added to it (...).
The cost of all the works, machinery, and the cost of fencing were incurred by the Town hall of Warta from the budget of the Regional Conservator of Historical Monuments of Sieradz. In my opinion, no office or official body have been interested in the cemetery since.
In time, some of the headstones removed from the cemetery to Warta and its vicinity were returned. People themselves used to report that they possessed headstones, and asked to take the headstones back to the cemetery. Anyway, there were some problems to recover the headstones.
The most difficult and most urgent work within the scope of cleaning the cemetery was to transport and re-place some 150 headstones, which was eventually done in 1986.
The cemetery should be regularly taken care of and the area should be cleaned.
the story by Ireneusz Ślipek
In the 1980s, Ireneusz Ślipek used to meet Ruben Gelbart, the latter was one of the few Jews of Warta who had survived the Holocaust. The work Ireneusz Ślipek carried out in the cemetery pulled on Ruben's heart strings. He actively supported Ireneusz in the latter's attempts to maintain the kirkut. Later, Ruben founded a headstone for his brother Motuś who had been murdered by the occupier in August 1942. After than, he also co-funded of the monument to commemorate the ten Jews hanged by the Nazis on April 14, 1942.
The news about the restored cemetery was soon widespread in the world (in the Diaspora). The site used to be visited by people who were personally related to Warta, who had their roots here, groups of students from Poland and abroad, incidental tourists. Most of them wanted to visit the Eternal Home in Warta, to spend a while on prayer and musings. Those were very important events for Ireneusz; he felt his work and commitment were appreciated.
On September 7, 2000, Ada Holzman and Beniamin Yaari came to Warta. Together with Ireneusz, they made a list and then a catalogue of all the headstones in the cemetery. Although it was a huge job, they met the challenge (with some help of a student-volunteer). The entire accurate list is included in the book "THE JEWISH CEMETERY IN WARTA (D'VORT) published in Tel Aviv, Israel in May 2006.
Over time, the mentality of the local community changes, their horizons broaden, "young blood" flows in. Owing to involvement of a group of people, a mobile exhibition "Museum on Wheels" was presented in Warta. The event was initiated by the Museum of the History of Polish Jews POLIN. The Town Hall of Warta and the Foundation for Maintenance of the Values and Tradition of the Małków Palace hosted the event in Warta. People had the opportunity to see the exhibition and participate in an educational workshop at the Warta Cultural Center. It is worth emphasizing that part of the workshop was organized in the Jewish cemetery. Citizens of Warta, scouts cleaned the area of the cemetery. The educational aspect of the visit was prepared by educators of the Polin Museum.
Each day brings a new story. Let us look into the future optimistically as we create history.
supplemented by Adriana Dzieran