Ghostlike Appearences

Portraits of the deceased on gravestones do actually not exist in Jewish tradition. It is a custom that is common in Christian cemeteries in many European countries and was adopted since the interwar period. The Jewish cemetery of Czernowitz (Chernivtsi) is particularly rich in such portraits.

There are mostly cheap gravestones made of cement, on which the portraits are found – Soviet and gray. Many visitors therefore ignore the gravestones from the postwar period. They do not fit to their expectation of a Jewish cemetery. The adoption of this practice from Christian cemeteries can be interpreted in two ways, as a loss of tradition or as assimilation – both interpretations are accurate. The portraits are interesting because they represent the deceased as relatives wanted to remember him or she. We see bon vivants, glamorous ladies and serious grandmothers. Even after decades these people look at us.

The early portraits from the interwar periode were made of porcelain; most of them have survived without damage. The Soviet variant is cheaper – Enamel on metal. Rust decomposes the metallic base and destroyes parts of the surface. The portraits dissolve and fade, as the memory of the deceased in the minds of the living. Slowly they go where we all go.

Who had money was trying to trick eternity. On the Czernowitz Jewish cemetery, there are also busts – such as that of a doctor. Made from golden painted concrete he looks into a future that already vanished. The defiant pre-stretched lower lip will be of no help. The steel reinforcement of the sculpture will rust and one day destroy the concrete.

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3 thoughts on “Ghostlike Appearences

  1. Thank you, dear Christian, great photo series! You will agree, in this case color photography is at an clearly advantage over black-and-white photography! Welcome back and warmest wishes!

  2. Thank you Christian. It is most unusual to find pictures on graves in a Jewish cemetery. You once mentioned and photographed the old stones and their beautiful works of art and inscriptions. Is it possible that those graves were dug during the Russian occupation since 1944?
    You have a great eye and camera, thanks, as ever

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