Cemeteries In Poland

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Cemeteries In Poland

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” J.R.R.Tolkien The Fellowiship Of The Ring

“We were here. We are what is left of what was once a thriving civilization.” This is what the headstones in the Jewish cemeteries in Poland say to me. (Lodz)

Over half a century after the Holocaust, the headstones and their fragments in the Jewish cemeteries personalize the tragedy of the three and a half million Jews killed in Poland. ( Warsaw)

Jews had been in Poland since the Middle Ages. The oldest Jewish grave is in Wroclaw and is dated  1203. In the tangled paths and ruined stones, there is the history of Jewish life in Poland. (Lodz)

In the cemeteries, I feel the ghosts that I did not feel at Auschwitz. Maybe the crime at Auschwitz is too big and too much to comprehend. In the silence of the dead, I wonder if I am doing enough good in this life that I am so lucky to have. (Lodz)

The first cemetery we visit is the Old Cemetery at the Remuh Synagogue in Krakow. It is the oldest cemetery in Poland. It was founded in 1553 and the last burial was in 1800. The cemetery was used as a garbage dump in World War Two and pretty much destroyed.

The gravestone of a famous rabbi – Rabbi Moses Isserles survived and people come to worship there. In 1959, the cemetery was renovated. The fragments of the broken tombstones were cemented together to form a wall.

The Jewish Cemetery created in 1892  in Lodz  was once the largest Jewish cemetery in the world.

After the German occupation in 1939, the cemetery became a part of the Lodz ghetto.

Between 1940 and 1944, about 43,000 burials took place in the spare part of the cemetery that became known as the Ghetto Field.

The cemetery was the site of mass executions of Jews, Roma gypsies, and non-Jewish Poles. The graves of the Polish scouts and soldiers are found there.

The ghetto was liquidated in August 1944 and about 830 Jews were left as a clean-up crew. They were forced to dig large holes for their own graves near the cemetery wall. The Nazis did not have enough time to kill them, and the empty holes have been left as a remembrance.

The Okopowa Street Jewish Cemetery in Warsaw was established in 1806.  Among the notable people buried at the Okopowa Street cemetery are the writers Y.L.Peretz and S. Ansky, the actress Ester Rachel Kaminska; Ludwik Zamenhof, the creator of the Esperanto language; Adam Czerniakow, the chairman of the Judenrat in the Warsaw Ghetto and many notable rabbis.

It also has memorials and the mass graves of fighters in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

During the Second World War, the Germans used it as a place for executions and mass burials of victims from the Warsaw Ghetto. 

The cemetery sustained extensive damage when the Germans decided to bomb all the surrounding buildings after the  Jewish Uprising.

The small Jewish community left in Warsaw are trying to diligently preserve and protect the cemetery.

In the Warsaw Cemetery, there is a  memorial for the one million children killed in the Holocaust.

Another memorial is in memory of the Polish-Jewish pediatrician and children’s author Janusz Korczak, who ran an orphanage in the Jewish ghetto of Warsaw from 1940 to 1942. He was deported with his children in 1942 after he refused to abandon them. He was most likely murdered after his arrival in Treblinka.

There were more Jews in Warsaw than in any other European capital before the war, and the cemetery bears silent witness to this rich and vibrant civilization that made Poland the most Jewish of nations in Europe.

Most of the graves in the cemeteries are abandoned. There is no one left to visit them and tend to them.(Lodz)

In every cemetery, I put stones on as many graves as I can. I don’t have enough time  or enough stones. I try to get to the graves that are further away. The graveyards get messy and overgrown with grass and moss. It’s hard to know where I am stepping so I walk on my toes.(Lodz)

  Putting a stone on a grave has different interpretations. For me it means, I was there. I saw your headstone even though the people who remember you are gone.(Krakow)

 

On Yom Kippur, I light memorial candles for my parents, a friend and one for the people who have no one to light one for them. This year I will light an extra one for the 3.5 million  Jews who died in Poland during World War Two. (Lodz)

Fly safe,

JAZ

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Yad Vashem, Holocaust Memorial, Jerusalem

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Yad Vashem, Holocaust Memorial, Jerusalem

“A country is not just what it does – it is also what it tolerates.’
Kurt Tucholsky (quote on the wall as you enter)

Yad Vashem is Israel’s Holocaust Memorial. I had been here many years ago. I knew what to expect. I went again now because I am going to visit Auschwitz in the spring. It was a winter weekday afternoon and the museum was not as crowded as usual. No photos are allowed. I knew what to expect and yet I was once again newly affected by the inhumanity of systematic cruelty.

The Holocaust History Museum was designed by world-renowned architect Moshe Safdie, and occupies over 4,200 square meters. This museum takes you on a journey through in-depth displays telling the story of the Holocaust. There is a ten and half hour guided audio tour. You choose what you want to listen to. In many cases, the photos are enough.

Yad Vashem, means “a place and a name” in Hebrew and comes from the Book of Isaiah. It refers to the millions who were not given the dignity of a Jewish burial with a specified burial plot.

The chilling Hall of Names is a memorial to each and every Jew who perished in the Holocaust, housing an extensive collection of over two million “Pages of Testimony” – short biographies of each Holocaust victim, with room for six million in all.

Yad Vashem also recognizes and honors a number of non-Jewish people who helped save Jews during this bleak period. These heroes are called The Righteous Among The Nations.

The Children’s Memorial is located in an underground cave, enveloping you in darkness.

As your eyes adjust, you can make out flames of light representing the 1.5 million children who died during the Holocaust.

Recorded voices call out the names and ages of these innocent souls. A few days later there is another school killing spree in the United States.

I return to the hotel. On Israeli news that day, they report that Poland has passed a law making it a criminal offence to suggest that “the Polish nation” was in any way responsible for the murder of six million Jews. I spent a long time in the Polish section of the museum as I will be going to those places. There were photos of Polish people “colluding” and stories of Jews being reported by their neighbors. Three million Jews died in Poland – more than any other country.

It is impossible to visit the Holocaust Museum at Yad Vashem and not be moved, horrified and ashamed. How does this story relate to the present? It began with words, indifference and silence. Indifference and inaction never help the victims. It is our responsibility to speak for the children, the elderly, the abused women, the poor and the refugees. “Whoever saves a single life, it is as if he or she has saved an entire universe.”

Fly safe,

JAZ