From chatting with a number of my fellow travel bloggers, it seems as though Łódź is somewhat overlooked. Poland’s third city is a fantastic way to break free from the usual tourist crowd. I visited the other year and am now wanting to share my experience to encourage you to visit too, starting with Łódź Jewish Cemetery, in Poland.
Up until 2007, Łódź was the second biggest city in Poland. It lost out to Krakow due to population decline – partly down to one way migration. This doesn’t mean that it is a quiet town or less than anything special. Sometimes known as the Manchester of Poland due to its links to the textile industry and plethora of red brick mills, it also has a good vibe to it. Something I find about the smaller towns and cities is that you can get to know them better. The people seem more ‘local’ in a way. Happy to share snippets of information while you shelter together from the heat, or generally have a natter. I guess fewer people means you can stop to have that moment without holding up the commenting crowds.
During WWII, the city was invaded by the Germans and renamed Litzmannstadt. It was during this time that the Jewish population of the city were forced into a walled area of the city, the Łódź Ghetto, where they would be held before being sent to concentration and extermination camps. The results of this horrific place can still be experienced in the part of the city housing the Łódź Cemetery and the Radegast Train Station where the people would be boarded onto the trains.
Łódź Jewish Cemetery
The Łódź Jewish Cemetery is the first for the area and was created in 1811 with the second part in 1892. There are around 160,000 people buried there, which gives you an idea of the vast scale of the place. Over the years, the cemetery has seen some neglect due to the sheer size and the amount of land needing to be maintained. From what I discovered, there seems to be a team of volunteers working to keep things in manageable. With nature claiming back the land, there is a strange draw to the space. I spent a good few hours here, wandering in the silence and shading from the intense sunshine and heat.
Arriving at the Cemetery
The walk from Łódź town centre to the cemetery might not be your typical holiday jaunt. But it will certainly give you a feel for the area and let you have an experience of the real life of the city. I personally find that to get a feel for a place, you need to find the people. The ones who live in the affordable areas and love their lives in the area. The walk certainly helped me gain this insight, and I got to enjoy the pocket parks and residential streets along the route.
Once I found the door through the thick cemetery wall, I was welcomed by the scent of roses. Having not expected there to be much flora from the pictures of the ivy covered headstones, I was surprised.
I had to decipher the signs in order to pay my (minimal from what I can remember) entry fee. Behind the wall, it was like entering a secret garden. The sounds of the housing area all but vanished and I could hear the faint sound of the tree branches and leaves ruching. I followed the path into the grounds and took my time to enjoy the surroundings as I went.
Within a few meters of walking into the grounds I was standing beneath the most stunning of arches standing above the cemetery Synagogue. Opposite which was the brick built entry into the imposing forest of graves.
I could hear voices inside the Synagogue, so decided to continue my journey in solitude. Opting to head into the shaded woods.
Inside the Cemetery
Once through the entrance the air cooled instantly, my skin pimpling despite the thirty-eight degree heat on the other side. It might have been the temperature or it could very well have been the sight of such beauty. I know a lot of people might reel a the thought of a cemetery being a place of beauty. I personally think there has to be a lot said for the thought which goes into memorials. The natural world in Łódź Jewish Cemetery was as thought it was hugging the people who were buried there, taking them back. I found it to be quite a comforting thought.
I have a fascination with cemeteries. They are often a quiet haven in highly populated city areas. They hold a wealth of history and stories, which can only be uncovered through visiting. Seeing the stones crumbling, disappearing under a wave of ivy, it felt even more like a discovery. How places which held such high regard at some point in time, become forgotten lands. With sometimes only people like me heading in to bring them back to life.
In contrast to the grand headstones, shrines and tombs, I discovered an expansive field of green grass. Fewer trees. No imposing structures. Simply low-lying flat stones. Some of which held ever lasting flames and others a selection of arranged pebbles. I had come into what is known as the Ghetto Field.
The Ghetto Field is the resting place for more than 43,000 victims of the Łódź Ghetto who dies of starvation or consumption. This is the most important past of the cemetery and one which has received the most support over the years. Work has been carried out to identify many of the people lying in this field, with some still tended to by living relatives. The area is supported so that the families may place the matzevah (inscription) on the graves.
Standing at the foot of the stones and looking out over the field, it is hard not to feel the lump in your throat and the heavy feeling in your heart that so many had to suffer in this way. Preserving the area for the future generations to feel the impact is important. Even if it feels morbid and challenging to take on board.
Łódź Jewish Cemetery Buildings
Returning to the other side of the wall, through the dappled light of the cemetery, I decided to venture into the Synagogue and surrounding buildings. Now almost alone in the cemetery and grounds, it had a slightly eerie feel to it. I creaked the door open to the Synagogue and walked into the icy cold hall.
Through obvious signs of decay from its years of standing in the Łódź Jewish Cemetery, it was obvious to see the former beauty beneath the cracks and flaking paint. The windows so beautifully laid with triangular patterns and the decorative tiled floor far outshined the chips and mould.
Curious of the opened door to the end of the room, I made my way over. Only the light tapping of my feet on the floor and the faint sound of a lawnmower from outside to accompany me. What I hadn’t expected to see, was exactly what I found.
The preparation room as part of the Synagogue itself. There wasn’t much in the way of information about the space, but I gathered from the tilting bed, wheeled coffin and floor grates that it was the room where the bodies of the deceased would be readied for tahara (or purification) where the deceased is cleansed and dressed by family members.
Having explored the space and taken in the temporary exhibition about the children from the Ghetto, it was time for me to draw my visit to an end. I personally found it to be a very interesting place to visit. Łódź Jewish Cemetery shares the story of the Ghetto from the time, up until now. A glimpse into the history of the Jewish population in Łódź and the final resting place – with the rich and poor consecrated in the same ground.
Łódź Jewish Cemetery
Whether you are curious about the history of the Holocaust, intrigued by an overgrown cemetery in the city or love some urban nature, I encourage you to take the walk over to visit. I am sure whichever reason you go, you will discover and interest in the other parts too.
Have you visited the Łódź Jewish Cemetery? Have you been to Łódź?
Are you curious about the spaces in cemeteries? Or do you find them somewhere to avoid?
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Łódź Jewish Cemetery
Bracka 40, 91-717 Łódź, Poland