September 17, 2006
By Manya Friedman
The Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah, Georgia—acres of land located on the Wilmington River—is visited every year by thousands of tourists. It is a unique burial place dating back to the 18th century. In addition to the famous Georgians that are interred there, there is an unusual collection of statues telling the story of the people whose graves they adorn as well as an assortment of mausoleums and headstones. The most touching are the statuettes on the graves of young children. One reads: “Papa’s Sweetheart.” The moss-draped mighty old oaks stand erect protecting the elegant statuary and headstones. The cemetery is on the National Registry of Historic Places.
At the beginning of the 20th century, one of Savannah’s Jewish congregations purchased land in the cemetery and established a Jewish burial section. They also erected a burial preparation chapel, which was recently renovated. There is a place for services, benches for mourners, and marble plaques with some names and dates of the deceased. According to Jewish law, the Jewish section is less ornate. However, this section is easy to recognize by the many pebbles covering the headstones and graves, an indication that they have been visited by relatives and friends.
After walking through the rows of graves, reading the names and dates of several generations buried there, I came across a seemingly insignificant headstone. What caught my attention was the number of pebbles on the headstone and on the ground around it. The inscription read: “Here lieth a third of the ashes of 344 cremated sacred souls. Victims of the Nazis, including the remains of Schmul, son of Y’Cheel Szcerkowski who was killed on the third of Nison 5705—March 17, 1945 and brought here from Alem, Hanover, Germany.” The father of one of the victims brought the ashes to the United States.
I kept lingering at that grave, reading and rereading the inscription while envious thoughts started to circle in my mind. Here was a group of people killed by the murderous Nazis, but at least their ashes are buried where one can come to pray for their souls, meditate…My thoughts went back to my own parents and my two younger brothers. How I wished that there was somewhere a marker indicating their place of burial. Instead, I can only envision the smoke from the chimney rising toward the sky and a handful of ashes from the ovens of Auschwitz scattered around in the fields and blown away by the wind.
How can I place a pebble, a sign of visitation, on this headstone in the air?
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