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From (February, 2003) · ,

Jewish War Cemeteries in Western Galicia

by Adam Bartosz

In the multinational Austrian army there were, of course, Jewish soldiers. They fought on all fronts of the First World War and were killed with their comrades in arms of other nationalities and regions; but if identified as Jews they were buried separately. All other soldiers, regardless of religion, were buried in common cemeteries or common graves, according to a law derived from Emperor Joseph’s 1784 regulations on burying the dead.

In western Galicia, bloody battles between Austrian and Russian armies lasted until May 1915. There are hundreds of military cemeteries, and military sections in parish cemeteries, in this area. The greatest number of casualties were near Krakow, in the battles against the Russian army: in its advance from the east (4-10 December 1914), in its retreat from Limanowa (5-19 December 1914), and especially in the Austrian army’s spring penetration of the front under the command of General August Mackensen. This Austrian offensive began with a fierce attack on Gorlice and pushed the Russians eastward; it was only the Russians’ summer offensive under General Aleksei Brusilov (June-September 1916) that pushed the Austrians back towards their original positions. Apart from these offensives, there were periods of positional warfare lasting many months and destroying entire platoons from both armies. The dead were buried on the battlefield, predominantly in shallow common graves.

The Austrians started to clean up the battlefields after driving the Russians out of western Galicia in the spring of 1915. In spite of continuing war (there were battles in eastern Galicia and in Bukovina), a systematic burial of the dead at newly established cemeteries began. It was carried out by the War Graves Division (K. u. k. KriegsgraberAbteilung) established in the spring of 1915 and located in Krakow. The division consisted of specialized units for design, surveying, construction, statistics, and so on. It employed prominent painters, sculptors, and architects of Polish, Czech, German, and other nationalities. The workforce consisted mainly of Russian prisoners of war, but there were also Italian prisoners of war and civilian workers from factories and small ventures.

The area of western Galicia was divided into ten cemetery regions (Kriegsgraber-Bezirke), named after the main town of the region (the number of cemeteries is given in parentheses): 1. Zmigrod (31); 2. Jaslo (31); 3. Gorlice-Grybow (54); 4. Luzniany-Ciezkowice (27); 5. Pilzno (26); 6. Tarnów (62); 7. Dàbrowa Tarnowska (15); 8. Brzesko (50); 9. Bochnia (40); 10. Nowy Sacz-Limanowa (29).

Between summer 1915 and autumn 1918, the War Graves Division designed and constructed 365 cemeteries. In addition other units (e.g. the regional commands) built war cemeteries too; all in all in western Galicia 378 were built, with an additional twenty-two established in the area of the Krakow fortress. Of these 400 war cemeteries in this part of Poland, some were not completed, since in the meantime the Austro-Hungarian state had ceased to exist. At those 378 cemeteries built by the War Graves Division, 60,829 dead were buried. They were soldiers of both the Austrian and the Russian armies, as well as civilians killed during war activities. The builders were driven by an ideal of treating the dead equally, regardless of nationality.

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