Doubts Surrounding Cemeteries
My experience and knowledge of cemeteries was limited before I started working on this project. My past experiences with cemeteries are tragic, since I lost my cousin and grandmother recently. I was unsure as to how I would react returning to one after a year. I will admit that I hesitated to sign up for this field course because of my insecurities, but I am relieved that I mustered up the courage to do so.
I grew up in an environment where the topic of death was not discussed, and if it had to be discussed, it was not greatly elaborated on. This inclined me to do some preliminary research on the topic of death and found this great article by, SAPIENS, which helped me prepare.
This first thing that one can learn when working in a cemetery, is to respect and remember the individuals buried here. On our first day, we went to Emanu-el synagogue to meet up with Rabbi Harry. He talked to us about Jewish customs and practices of burying the dead. One thing he mentioned, was that we were sure to encounter small stones throughout the cemetery, in placement of flowers.
On Tuesday morning, I arrived at the cemetery at about 9:20, which gave me ten minutes to explore. I decided to pay my respect to the holocaust memorial site. As you walk through the gate, the structure is immediately to the left of the cemetery. It stands in the cemetery as a reminder of the past atrocities committed upon the Jewish community. As the Rabbi mentioned the week before, small rocks had been placed upon the memorial, symbolizing that people had been visiting the site.
After a brief class meeting, we all went our separate ways to record and work on our assigned monuments. The plot I was assigned to was the, Rothfels. Here Horst A. Rothfels was buried and his wife, Edith, commemorated. Their gravestone is in pristine condition, and furthermore, the dates reflected that they had passed away recently. What stood out to me was the motif of a skier found on the granite gravestone, at the top left corner, above Horst A.’s name. This time, I was certain that this individual was an avid skier, as underneath his name was inscribed, “Husband, Father, Grandfather, Educator & Skier.” Under Edith’s name was inscribed the words, “They Showed The Way.”
According to the cemetery map, a holocaust survivor was buried underneath this plot. Later in my day, I discovered that the survivor was Horst A. Rothfels, and through the Victoria Times Colonist obituary, I was able to discover more about his life and his wife, Edith’s as well.
Work Worth the Dedication
By the end of my second day, I reflected on the work we were doing as a class. I realized that the work being accomplished here is beyond what I imagined. This work is incredibly valuable to the Jewish community, and I now feel an element of dedication on my part to help finish this work. I look forward to uncovering bits of history and learning more about the practices that pertain to burying and mourning for the dead through the lens of another culture.