Memorialisation in the Scottish Jewish Context

Guest blogger Harvey L Kaplan, Director of the Scottish Jewish Archives Centre reports on Jewish memorials in Scotland.

The Scottish Jewish Archives Centre (SJAC) aims to document and illustrate the Jewish experience in Scotland since the 18th century, collecting and preserving the records and looking at religious, organisational, social, economic, political, cultural and family life, as well as placing the Jewish story against the background of Scottish history and society.

SJAC receives many enquiries from family historians and there are a number of sources and resources for memorialisation in the Scottish Jewish context:

Jewish cemetery records

There are 17 Jewish burial grounds in Scotland (http://www.sjac.org.uk/collections/jewish-cemeteries-in-scotland/) : in Glasgow (9), Edinburgh (4), Aberdeen, Dundee, Greenock and Inverness.  SJAC has gathered together copies of the lists and registers of all these

Riffkin-Yetta-TREE-1948-22(53) - Copy
Yetta Riffkin tombstone (Sandymount Cemetery, 1948) in the shape of a tree-trunk. Copyright Scottish Jewish Archives Centre

burial grounds, as well as many tombstone photographs.  Some are specifically Jewish cemeteries, such as Glenduffhill (opened 1934), but others are Jewish sections of Christian cemeteries, such as the Jewish Enclosure of the Glasgow Necropolis (in use 1832-1855), Cathcart in Glasgow (opened 1927) and Greenock (1908-1945). Most tombstones in Scottish Jewish cemeteries have inscriptions in Hebrew and English, although some are in English only.  Jewish tombstones tend to be plain in appearance, although the Jewish section of Sandymount cemetery in Glasgow (1905-1993) has some examples of tombstones in the shape of tree trunks – symbolising a life cut short.

Glasgow Hebrew Burial Society now has photographs of Jewish tombstones in its cemeteries in Riddrie, Sandymount and Glenduffhill on its website at: http://glasgowhebrewburialsociety.org/cemeteries.htm .

Outwith the formal cemeteries, there are some isolated Jewish burials around Scotland.  In 1795, Herman Lyon (Lion), a dentist and ‘corn operator’ from Prussia who had settled in Edinburgh, purchased a burial plot for himself and his family north of the City Observatory on Calton Hill.  Lost for many years, the site was rediscovered in 1994.[1]

In 1924, little Fanny Rose Greenwald, only ten days old, died of gastritis and was buried on a hill in the cemetery in Lerwick in the Shetland Islands.  A second Jewish burial in the town occurred in 1942, when 25-year old Canadian Air Force pilot Moses Lewis Usher was killed in action.  Julius Quint, a Latvian Jew who converted to Christianity, worked as a pedlar in the “West Side” of the Shetland Islands, and died in 1938 – is interred in Walls parish churchyard.[2] These are probably the most northerly Jewish burials in the British Isles.[3]  Polish-born Canadian, Sgt Moses Charton, was killed in 1942, aged 22, and is buried in Kinloss Abbey burial ground, with a Star of David marking his grave.  Leon/Nathan Mendelson/Norman Middleton, died in August 1942 in the Canadian Forestry Corps and is buried in a churchyard in Urray in the Highlands.[4]  In Kilbride Old Churchyard, Lamlash, Isle of Arran, lies American Jewish pilot Captain Jack Wixen of RAF Ferry Command. He was the son of Tanya and Aron Wixen of Los Angeles, and he died aged 27 on 10 August 1941. [5]

In June 1904, the Scandinavian-American emigrant steamer Norge, with 765 passengers and 71 crew, left Copenhagen bound for New York.  Many Jews were amongst the mainly Scandinavian and Russian passengers.  Six days later, the ship foundered on the reef off Rockall, sinking with the loss of 600 lives.  Some of those who died were buried in Stornoway’s Sandwick Cemetery.  These include Rebecca and Max Pruzhansky – children from Slonim in Belarus – as well as Salman and Sara Reismann of Shotsky (?) in Russia. [6]

War Memorials

Scottish Jewish servicemen and women fought in the Boer War, as well as the First and Second World Wars.  There are First and Second World War memorials in Garnethill Synagogue in Glasgow and in the prayer hall in Glenduffhill Cemetery in Glasgow.  There are also memorials in Piershill Cemetery in Edinburgh and in Edinburgh Synagogue.  The synagogue in Dundee has a memorial plaque for members of the community who served in the Second World War.

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Historical Database of Scottish Jewry

SJAC has built up a computer database which collates and cross-references a wide variety of around 70 lists & sources, including cemetery records, synagogue registers, naturalisations, charity subscription lists and school admission registers-  relating to Jews who have lived in Scotland, but are now deceased.  It has information on over 40,000 individuals.

Jewish refugees in Scotland

Between 2000 and 3000 Jewish refugees came to Scotland in the 1930s and 1940s, many of them on the Kindertransport, on domestic service visas, to retrain as physicians, or as survivors. SJAC is building up a very large collection on this period, including oral history interviews, photographs, personal papers and artefacts.  This has allowed us to build up a list of almost 1,000 of these refugees, with more being added as evidence emerges.

There is a Holocaust memorial sculpture by Lyn Wolfson in Cathcart Hebrew Cemetery in Glasgow.  The Gathering the Voices project at http://www.gatheringthevoices.com/ is making available interviews with a number of former refugees in Scotland.

Holocaust sculpture - Lyn Wolfson - Cathcart Cemetery - 2012
Lyn Wolfson Holocaust Memorial Sculpture. Copyright of the artist, Lyn Wolfson.

More information about the Scottish Jewish Archives Centre is available at www.sjac.org.uk, including access details.

[1] A.Levy, ‘Origins of Scottish Jewry’ , Transactions of the Jewish Historical Society of England, 1958, p12; Lionel H. Daiches: ‘The Jew of Calton Hill’, Edinburgh Star; No 3, September 1989; “Subterranean Secret of a Capital Landmark”; Evening News, 24 February 1994.

[2] J Albert Hunter: ‘Julius Quint – Shetland’s Wandering Jew’, in New Shetlander, 1987, no.159, pp 24-25.

[3] Ethel G Hofman: Mackerel at Midnight – Growing Up Jewish on a Remote Scottish Island, 2005, p19; Nathan Abrams: Caledonian Jews- A Study of  7 Small Communities in Scotland , 2009, p162.

[4] Martin Sugarman, email to author, 19 February 2016.

[5] Jewish Chronicle, 17 October 1941; David Strang.

[6] Stornoway Gazette, 17 April 2003.

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