The historic Warsaw Jewish Cemetery on Okopowa Street has been in continuous use since the late 18th century and contains an estimated 250,000 individual graves as well as mass graves of thousands of residents of the Warsaw Ghetto. While about one-third of the gravestones have survived, the cemetery burial records were totally destroyed by Nazi forces during the WW II occupation of Warsaw.
Because the vast majority of 20th century Jewish birth, marriage and death records of Warsaw did not survive WW II, information from the cemetery gravestones can be of great significance to genealogists researching their families from greater Warsaw.
Over the years, remarkable efforts have been made to create an index of the gravestones, initially by the first post-war Cemetery Director, Pinkus Szenicer, and then by his son Bolesław. By the time of Szenicer’s retirement, approximately 50,000 gravestones had been recorded.
The Second Project to Document the Gravestones
In October 2003, Przemysław Isroel Szpilman, the new Cemetery Director, commenced an aggressive effort both to clean up sections of the cemetery and also to undertake a new project to document the gravestones and their locations. Using a digital camera provided by JRI-Poland, work proceeded at a brisk pace and by the end of 2008, the new “Beis Olam" database had information on more than 60,000 gravestones. However, notwithstanding the best efforts of Director Szpilman, which continue, a shortage of funds and other priorities of the Warsaw Jewish community have made it difficult to expedite the work to everyone’s satisfaction. This resulted in the subsequent launch of the third project undertaken by The Foundation for Documentation of Jewish Cemeteries (FDJC).