An Incomplete Guide to Cemetery Care

A workshop in Małastów, Poland with Stowarzyszenie Magurycz

A workshop with Stowarzyszenie Magurycz in Małastów, Poland. Photo © 2016 Jay Osborn.

This is an incomplete collection of methods and ‘best practices’ for the care of cemeteries, in particular those cemeteries where the communities and organizations which created and managed them no longer exist. We are gathering here the information and guidance of others with experience in this work, as we learn from them and from our own experience in the Jewish cemeteries of Rohatyn. We anticipate that this guide will never be perfect or even complete, but we assume that other volunteers must have the same questions we had when we started. We hope the life of this guide will be brief, and we will happily link to a more complete and useful guide when one is available.

A brief background to this guide is included after the table of contents on this page.

Table of Contents

Ownership & Stakeholders, Partnerships & Engagement

Surveys & Assessment


Marker & Monument Materials Types

Grounds Maintenance & Rehabilitation

Marker Cleaning, Rehabilitation & Preservation

Marker Repair & Restoration

Long-Term Maintenance Planning

Comfort & Safety


Preservation References & Links

About this Guide

In the new Jewish cemetery in Rohatyn

In the new Jewish cemetery in Rohatyn. Photo © 2016 Jay Osborn.

This guide grew out of our interest in and concern for the Jewish cemeteries of Rohatyn, which endure as tangible memory of the now-lost Jewish community in the city; see our Projects pages in the site menu above to learn more about them. We are far from alone in our attention to Jewish cemeteries in Central Europe: in 2015, a Rothschild-sponsored cross-disciplinary conference on European Jewish cemeteries was held in Vilnius, and cemeteries were a component of a 2013 working seminar on managing Jewish immovable heritage, also sponsored by Rothschild. Thanks to these and other initiatives, a circle of experienced heritage preservation experts is forming to communicate and compare perspectives and strategies for Jewish cemetery care, from art to politics to media to funding.

The Matzevah Foundation working in Oświęcim, Poland

The Matzevah Foundation working in Oświęcim, Poland. Photo © 2014 Jay Osborn.

The need for this type of knowledge and skill is not limited to Jewish cemeteries. In Europe and the Americas, at least, cemeteries are at risk anywhere the population which originally developed and cared for a cemetery is diminished or gone, for reasons ranging from ordinary economic changes to forced migration and mass murder. In the images and information shown in this guide, you will see examples from Jewish, Lemko, Roman Catholic, Protestant, and other cemeteries.

The old Jewish cemetery in Rohatyn

The old Jewish cemetery in Rohatyn. Photo © 2016 Tom Traber.

Fortunately, there are some resources in a variety of forms (books, websites, videos) which present practical information and methods for the care and preservation of isolated cemeteries. Understandably, much of the available information is narrow in scope, focusing specialist knowledge in a single type of cemetery work or applicable to a small subset of the range of materials and situations found in “our” cemeteries. Where resources are more general, often they lack the depth to be of practical use in our work, though there are important exceptions we draw from in these pages. And a key difficulty in transmitting this knowledge from experts to the rest of us is that some of the work is so specialized it can really only be learned through hands-on experience; one of the experts who provided examples and information for this guide conducts volunteer workshops in stone marker repair for exactly this reason, and he readily acknowledges that he, too, learns new things in every year of his work.


Volunteers working with The Matzevah Foundation in Nasielsk, Poland. Photos © 2016 Jay Osborn.

We are attempting with this online guide to bring together resources and advice from a variety of sources and in a variety of formats. At a minimum, it will serve as a reference for us in our work in Rohatyn, and it may also serve others who have similar needs. One day, we hope a more comprehensive and practical guide can be developed by real experts for free access on a site such as Jewish Heritage Europe, which is already organized to communicate cemetery preservation best practices.

In the meantime, we thank the true experts who have shared their practical knowledge with us and encouraged us in our own efforts; you will see their handiwork throughout this guide.