Author: Grzegorz Litynski
The Old Jewish Cemetery in Wrocław (former: Breslau) was initially founded in the second part of the 19th century when the city was under German rule.
Walking through the cemetery, one will see that most of the tombstones are stunning pieces of art, intricately adorned. After taking a closer look at these mini-masterpieces, one can not miss that many inscriptions are in German - a lot of Jews were assimilated into German society and spoke the language. The burials continued until 1943, when they stopped completely due to the Holocaust. After the end of World War II in 1945, the city became a part of Poland.
This historical landmark witnessed fierce battles during the war; bullet holes are visible on the tombstones to this day. In 1975 the necropolis was put on the register of the city’s monuments. Today, it’s open for visitors as the Museum of Cemetery Art. It has turned from simply a place of burial to an open-air museum. One can find many Jewish symbols on the tombstones, such as a broken rose (motif for death), hands (on the graves of descendants of Aaron), or a helmet (on the tombstones of army officers).
Many prominent Jews were buried there. Among the most prominent was Ferdinand Lassalle- a political activist who, in 1863, founded the first United Workers’ Party in Germany, which later formed into SPS (Social Democratic Party of Germany) and is still one of the major players in the German political stage.
Numerous outstanding medical professionals were also buried at this cemetery, including Gustav Jacob Born (1851-1900) - a professor of anatomy at the University of Wrocław, father of Nobel Prize winner Max Born, and great-grandfather of American actress Olivia Newton-John; Moritz Neisser (1820-1896) - a medical doctor and father of Albert Neisser, who discovered Neisseria gonorrhoeae in 1879; Herman Ludwig Cohn (1838-1906) - often called the pioneer of ‘eye hygiene’; and Leopold Auerbach (1828-1897) who discovered Auerbach’s plexus - a layer of cells that is responsible for controlling the movements of the gastrointestinal tract.
The Old Jewish Cemetery is a testament to the thriving Jewish community that once lived in Breslau/Wrocław.
All photographs by Grzegorz Litynski, www.litynski.com
Wikipedia- Territorial Evolution of Poland. Access on March 1, 2021.
Strauss, P. WROCLAW: Dolnośląskie | Poland | International Jewish Cemetery Project. Access March 2021.
DoFA - Dolnośląski Festiwal Architektury. Access 1 March 2021.