Polish Cemetery in Brest

The cemetery, located in the center of Brest, has the official name of Catholic Cemetery. But such is the custom that people call it Polish. Both the nationality of the majority of the dead and the religious and ritual side are mentioned in this “people's” name. In the history of Brest there was a period when it with its surrounding territories was a part of Poland. Many ethnic Poles contributed in the development of the city.  

In the late 19th century the authorities allotted a land for a cemetery. But the city was gradually expanding and ousted the cemetery, the territory of which was significantly reduced. Since 1956 the holding of burial has been prohibited here. Nowadays there are about 3 thousand graves in the cemetery. Some of them are nameless, some nameplates are unreadable: wind, rain and time have contributed – inscriptions have been erased.

Historical and aesthetic values of the necropolis

It is accepted to decorate graves with sculptures, religious symbols and small architectural forms-vaults in the traditions of Catholicism. There are grieving angels, a bas-relief of the Crucified Savior, symbolizing the salvation of the soul of the deceased, a sculpture of the Virgin Mary, taking the dead under her holy protection and bringing a sense of comfort to those who are mourning for them...  Every gravestone is as an artwork, symbol of faith, modest tribute to the eternity from the living people who send their dear persons on the last way. And together with the special silence prevailing in all the cemeteries, the effect of seeing such burials is striking: it makes you think about the transience of the terrestrial life and the timeless, eternal beauty of life.  

Those who enjoy history can find here many interesting things. Here is a grave of a lady colonel; here is a photo of a young face fastened to the tombstone. Somebody buried here a beloved daughter.  There are officers, bureaucrats, aristocrats, priests, a mass grave of Polish soldiers (the 1920-ies) … once they were representatives of a whole era, but now they only remind it.  

And here is a grave of a Polish pilot. Not so long ago, historians managed to establish his name, Roman Lampe. The Originality of the graveside decoration, an airplane propeller, attracted here a lot of curious people in the 30-ies. The cracked glued blades of the propeller disappeared with the lapse of time because constructions of airplanes were not strong at the dawn of aviation. However the burial is still considered as unique, people remember the pilot.

Everyone here knows the graves of two Polish tankers. The crosses on them as well as a preserved fence on one of these graves were made of tank caterpillars and transmission gears of a tank. Someone very indifferent took care about these graves, having invented and realized such a “creative design” as it would be called now.

The oldest known burial in Polish Cemetery dates back to 1835. Not far off a time when it will be 200 years old.

Outside interferences: destruction and recovery

For a long time the cemetery has been unattended: time was mercilessly destroying it, there were people who were breaking something and spoiling. The natural component also contributed to the destruction: the trunks of two maple trees tightly covered the cross on one of the tombstones. When they began to grow and turn into adult powerful trees, they lifted up the cross with such force that broke the cement base.  And now the trees are holding the cross high above the ground.

However there are positive interferences.  They are:

  • The restored graves were consecrated, the restoration works were made for the money of Polish ministries and funds;
  • The presentation of the first popular science publication about the Catholic necropolis in Brest was conducted.

These events are recent, they happened in 2016, but we want to believe that there will be a continuation, memory of the dead and the original forms of the tombstones will be gradually restored. In any case, Polish Institutes on preservation of historical heritage and Belarusian historians are very determined to do it.