Hidden cemetery only remnant of Poletown community

The cemetery is beyond some railroad tracks.

The Poletown neighborhood was demolished by the city in the early 1980s to make room for the luxury car factory. Beth Olem is open only for four hours on the Sundays before Passover and Rosh Hashanah.

Most of the graves seem to date from the 1880s to World War I.

"Fewer and fewer people are going to come — these are our great-grandparents," said Brian Weinstein. "Their own children are dead."

Weinstein, 64, of Washington, joined his cousin, Dian Wright, 64, of Lansing, Mich., and her son, Terry Wright, 41, of Essex, Vt., to visit the graves of Isaac and Blume Gottlieb on March 24. They think they found them, but could not be certain, because nearly a century of Michigan weather had obscured the markers.

"It could be our ancestor, and it could be someone else's," Weinstein said.

The marker was topped by a crown and contained Hebrew script. Weinstein and the Wrights did graphite etchings of the faded lettering and participated in a brief ceremony. They placed customary stones on top of the grave markers and recited a selection of Psalm 119.

There are 1,400 people buried in Beth Olem, according to Clover Hill Park Cemetery in Royal Oak, which manages Beth Olem for its owner, Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield.

Next door to this tranquil burial ground is a massive auto plant, belching steam. A rumbling locomotive idles in the distance. To the west is an abandoned, seven-story factory, its windows dirty and broken. Ring-necked pheasants strut across the plant grounds, and two foul-tempered Canada geese honk at visitors.