Municipal cemeteries before 1945

A tombstone in Grabiszyński Park – a remnant of one of the sections of the former municipal cemetery at today’s Grabiszyńska Street. Photo by Marcin Bradke, 2014

Have municipal cemeteries always existed in Wrocław? No. Their creation and development are inextricably linked not only with the territorial development of Wrocław, but also with the activities of the city authorities resulting from the obligation to solve sanitary problems, including the creation of new burial areas. When and where were the first municipal cemeteries established? Which ones operated the longest? Have any survived to this day? 

The earliest decision of Wrocław city council exercising the power to create burial fields was to buy the area in front of the Świdnicka Gate (Schweidnitzer Thor, the area of today’s Tadeusza Kościuszki Square) around 1318 and to locate there the oldest city cemetery, intended primarily for serving the poor. This necropolis – the Cemetery of St. Gertrude – was referred to in various descriptions as Alte Begrebnuss or Kirchhof zu St. Gertrudis. The next burial field that was created as a result of the activities of the Protestant city council was the church cemetery of the Saviour [I] – known back then as Newe Begrebnuss or Kirchhof St. Salvator – founded in 1541 on the area of today’s Czysty Square (Salvatorplatz) and used by the the parish of the Saviour.

In a rescript published in December 1775, King Frederick II of Prussia banned the further burial of the dead within the city walls and inside churches for sanitary reasons. This meant the closure of all cemeteries within the area bounded by the walls. In accordance with the royal order, the city council initiated the creation of a number of necropolises located outside the walls, right next to the fortification structures. These necropolises were called Glacisfriedhöfe (cemeteries at the bulwark). These were the first modern municipal burial facilities, and their area was leased or purchased from the town hall by interested city parishes. Standing out among the necropolises created in this way was the Great Cemetery (Großer Friedhof), which over time became the resting place of outstanding Wrocław residents.

The search for further solutions for creating new burial areas intensified, especially after the demolition of the city walls (this process took place in the years 1807-1836), when Wrocław developed in both urban and demographic terms. During this period, commune necropolises were established in suburban settlements near Wrocław, which were also the resting places of Wrocław inhabitants regardless of their religion. However, similarly to the cemeteries established on the bulwark, they were leased by Protestant or Catholic parishes. The city council and then the Wrocław city hall, as bodies responsible for the proper operation of sanitary facilities, allocated part of their budget to creating new necropolises, but at the same time they leased the burial places they had purchased to maintain the city’s finances.  The city authorities were also responsible for the burials of the poor and homeless, as well as for solving the problem of burials during great epidemics of infectious diseases, from the 17th century – especially cholera (e.g. in 1866, during an epidemic of this disease, approximately 4.5 thousand people died in Wrocław ). Epidemic cemeteries were established at some distance from city buildings, and these places were usually called “cholera cemeteries” (Cholerafriedhöfe).

The responsibilities of the city authorities also included allocating land for creating cemeteries for the large garrison stationed in Wrocław. Since 1777, three burial fields were created for soldiers serving in Wrocław, which were often also the resting place of members of their families. Apart from the garrison cemeteries, two more military necropolises were established in the city at different times. These were of a different nature: historical – as in the case of the French Cemetery from 1806, and honorary – related to the creation of the mausoleum of Italian soldiers in 1928 (Cemetery of Italian Soldiers in Grabiszyn).

However, the problem of providing an appropriate number of cemeteries to meet the city’s needs was still not dealt with when the actions required by the provisions of the 1773 rescript were implemented. Organising a network of cemeteries in Wrocław’s satellite settlements did not resolve the issue. The first step to address the burial problem was the establishment of the Gardens and Cemeteries Board in the mid-19th century –  an agency of the Wrocław city hall, which was to deal with the issue of burials in a centrally organised manner. Two large municipal cemeteries were established in 1867 on the initiative of this institution: the municipal cemetery in Osobowice and the municipal cemetery in Grabiszyn.

When more settlements near Wrocław were incorporated into the city (especially at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries), former commune cemeteries received the status of municipal cemeteries, although they were still being leased to parishes or religious associations as before.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the area of municipal necropolises was significantly extended after the opening of the municipal cemetery in Kozanów in 1904. Its creation contributed to a radical improvement in the situation related to the shortage of burial places. During this period, a provision was also introduced regarding the liquidation of neglected or unpaid graves after a period of 20 years from the date of their establishment.



Written by: Dr Marek Burak
Edited by: Kamilla Jasińska
Translated by: Fabryka Tłumaczeń