This first cemetery was located at the foot of the castle hill, along the banks of the Danube, and was operational from 1696-1847. By 1847, the cemetery contained over 6000 graves, and it had became so crowded that bodies had to be buried directly on top of each other. There were three layers of bodies buried within it (looking not unlike Prague's jam-packed Jewish cemetery). With the cemetery's close proximity to the Danube, flooding was an ongoing problem as well. In 1847, a larger plot of land just up the hill was given to the Jewish community for a new cemetery. Jews were buried only in this new cemetery from that point on. That is the cemetery that Terezia and I explored back in March.
|Bratislava's old Jewish cemetery. Notice the Danube in the background.|
The old cemetery was of obvious historical importance, but its status was elevated by the fact that it contained the graves of several hugely important figures, most notably an Orthodox rabbi called Chatam Sofer. Sofer had a monumental impact on Orthodox Judaism, and he lived and worked in Bratislava for over thirty years, until his death in the 1830s.
At any rate, in late 1942, around the height of Jewish persecution in Slovakia during WWII, the city decided it needed to run a major highway along the right bank of the Danube, as well as a tunnel through the adjacent castle hill, that would spill out right into the cemetery. Given that the cemetery was directly in its path, and given that Slovakia was at that time governed by an anti-semitic, Nazi-puppet regime, they simply built the road right over it. However, the Jewish community somehow managed to convince the regime to let them preserve a cluster of twenty three graves in a corner of the cemetery. These were of great significance to the local community since they included the graves of Sofer and several other important rabbis. Many other graves were apparently exhumed and relocated in the newer cemetery.
|Workers exhuming graves that were to be relocated in the newer cemetery up the hill.|
|The original make-shift mausoleum for Sofer et al. before the road was laid on top of it.|
|Compare this 80s-era shot with the first photo up above, taken from about the same vantage point.|
Check out this cool 4 1/2 minute video I found that documents through a series of chronological photos the old cemetery, from its pre-destruction years up through the new and improved mausoleum sight:
It's obviously quite sad that a cemetery filled with so much history was destroyed. Prague, to name one example, is mighty lucky that its Jewish cemetery didn't meet a similar fate. It's just one more way in which the history of not just Bratislava's Jewish community, but the history of the city as a whole, was wiped out.
I know, you've heard enough of my whining about the rampant destruction that Bratislava's historical section suffered throughout the 20th century. But damn, this city would look so much nicer had its officials and planners felt like preserving more of it (or if they'd at least introduced new development in a more sensitive and thoughtful way). And the fact that the history and heritage of a once-thriving Jewish community was almost completely obliterated in the process, makes it all the more depressing. Tourists who come to Bratislava today are only seeing a fraction of what this city used to be, and they're getting an incomplete picture of its history.
(Hey! Click here to see the full set of Bratislava cemetery photos!)