Research /Jewish cemeteries in Latvia

Jaunjelgava Jewish cemetery


Latvia has had 58 Jewish cemeteries that dated back to XVIII-XX centuries, but for the moment already 11 of them were liquidated, the tombstones removed and the land abandoned.
Within the aims and objects of the project association “Shamir” has chosen the cemetery of Jaunjelgava in order to preserve, conservate and renovate it.
The old Jewish cemetery has 3000 graves, 700 tombstones, the chapel, the cholera cemetery and memorial for Holocaust victims. The cemetery was established in 1848. After the WWI the remains of Jaunjelgava Jews that perished in Holocaust were reburied in the North-East part of the cemetery. By the middle of 1950s the cemetery was covered with thick bushes, the boundaries weren't visible. Nothing has been done to change the situation, and by the end of 1980s the forest almost overtook the cemetery; some of the trees even grew through the tombstones. The Chapel has lost its roof presumably during the military actions of WWII. In due course the walls also started to ruin.
Design and conservation works carried out:
Chapel: Ground works, partly wall removing, repairing the damaged walls, plastering the walls, fixing the concrete belt, renovating of the brick laying, laying the floor and the porch.
Renovating: defining the border of the cemetery, removing the plants, tracing the line of the border, planting the fir trees, lifting the tombstones.
Inscriptions: photographing, deciphering, translating into English and Russian, converting the Jewish calendar dates to Gregorian calendar dates, creating database.
The following techniques have been used:
All the tombstones have been photographed. The problem of documentation of monuments was that the texts and drawings are very vaguely visible even during the proximate examination, even worse - on the photographs. That's why before the photographing the monuments were treated in a special way. An overall criterion for the methods was that the effect of the treatment should be transient - in order not disturb the natural appearance of the tombstones.
There were used several methods which have been chosen according to the applicability on the surface of the tombstone:
- photographing in the darkness, when the light of the spotlight is directed alongside the surface of tombstone;
- Filling the dips and hollows of the tombstones with the humid white or red sand mass. When the mass drowns, the remains of the mass can be removed from the surface, but it stays in the hollows;
- "wiping out" the tombstone - the paper sheet is being attached to the tombstone and it is being wiped with the sponge with colorant. Therefore the hollows in the stone remain uncoloured.
- covering the stone with soap mass (shaving foam as an example) and removing the remains with paper towel. After that the white foam remains in the hollows for 5 till 20 minutes.
As far as the cemetery is cleaned and renovated, it will be included in popular routes of Jewish tourism.
In order to attract attention of society and to disseminate information, an inauguration ceremony was held on the 27th of July 2008. The ceremony attracted representatives of Latvian authorities, historians, Jewish community members and others. The articles about exhibition and book also appeared in the newspapers.
The results achieved:
- 700 tombstones cleaned and lifted
- About 700 inscriptions deciphered and translated
- 700 gravestones numbered and registered in the database
- The territory of the cemetery cleaned and 1000 fir trees planted
- The chapel is conservated
- Commemorative plank prepared and disposed depicting the information about the cemetery
- The inauguration ceremony attracted both representatives from Jewish organisations, local authorities, ambassadors and religious individuals.


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