Poland to Recover Jewish Gravestones From WW2 Lake

Image: sztetl.org.pl

Plans for Lake Rusałka in Poland began in 1939 and construction began in 1941. Construction took 16 months. During that time, this region of Poland was under occupation by Nazi Germany.

Lake Rusałka is a popular lake for residents of Poznań to go swimming and to enjoy the ice cream and fried fish shops located there. There is also a playground for children and an outdoor gym for adults. But all the fun to be had there masks the tragic past of the area.

More of a peaceful sight now
More of a peaceful sight now

In order to create the lake, the Germans dammed the Bogdanka River. Jews and Poles were used in the back breaking labor of strengthening the banks of the new lake. For materials, the Germans used pieces of headstones from the Jewish Cemetary on ul. Głogowska.

This was extremely painful for the Jews as cemeteries are sacred places where the dead lie waiting for the coming messiah. Their religion forbids cremating, moving or exhuming dead bodies.

In May 2019, the Office of the Monuments Conservator was approached about a piece of a headstone that was found on the bank of Lake Rusałka. Based on inscriptions on the fragment, it was determined that the piece was from a Jewish headstone.

The intent of the Germans was to make the city of Posen in Poland a model German city.
The intent of the Germans was to make the city of Posen in Poland a model German city.

Poznań City Councillor Andrzej Rataj called for something to be done, but budgetary constraints made this impossible.

As word spread about the situation, Maciej Krajewski of the Łazᶒga Poznańska Association and Aleksander Przybylski, a journalist, joined the Abisynia Residents Association in the effort to remove the gravestones from the lake. In a letter to the mayor, they offered to help organize volunteers to remove, clean and move the gravestones. The only request they made was to have the lake lowered two meters.

Mayor Jacek Jaśkowiak was in favor of the plan though he noted that they may not be able to retrieve all of the headstones. He offered to stand the recovered headstones in a memorial site.

Last month discussions were underway between the activists and representatives of City Council. During early discussions, it was agreed that information boards will be erected at the site. These boards will tell the history of the lake’s creation. The city will also begin preliminary work to begin extracting headstones that are closest to the banks. Work has also begun to design the memorial to hold the headstones.

Lake Rusałka is 36.7 hectares. There are 3,300 meters of coastline which is mostly wooded with walking paths. It is a favorite spot for outdoors activities like fishing, cycling, and photography. In the summer, it is the most popular swimming and sun-bathing site in Poznań. In the fall, it is a popular location for watching the leaves change color.

Just south of the lake is Fort VII. This was converted into the first concentration camp the Nazis ran in Poland.

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It is estimated that anywhere from 4,500 to 20,000 prisoners were killed there during World War II. Several other WWII memorials and mausoleums are located in the area around the lake.