Ada in the Jewish cemetery of Grodzisk Mazowiecki, Poland, September 1997
Back from Poland (1)
Message to Gombin Email Exchange Group - Tel Aviv, 24.9.97
I have returned last night from Poland and am still overwhelmed with all what I have experienced in this trip.
I have had a most important experience of recording for commemoration, myself, with my own hands, what was once a Jewish cemetery in Poland, Grodzisk Mazowiecki near Warsaw. There, I met in person, Jan Jagielski, from the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, who came for an hour to meet Yaari and me, but got carried away with our enthusiasm, and ended up working himself, with us, until the afternoon.
Not a word was exchanged between us about Gombin project, although we talked quite a lot about other matters concerning memorial of the Jewish history in Poland. He was extremely cooperative and happy with the project me and Yaari volunteered to do for the Grodzisk Maz. organization which consists of only two young men, one from Paris, Serge Rozenblum, and one from Atlanta, USA, and with whom I was in contact merely through the internet - total strangers to me before - but with the same interest like Gombin Society, except that in Grodzisk, 1/7th of the stones are at least in the cemetery, and it is fenced. About 6/7 of the plot was seized by a factory which is paralel to the right wall of the cemeterty.
They collected in 2 years the sum of $2000, "because nobody cares anymore for the old cemetery in Poland" as Serge put it... Their main concern was to record the tombstones, but until one sees the neglect, the broken stones, the wild vegetation, the miserable conditions of the neglected site is and the horrible condition of the lonely stones there, one cannot understand what it means to do this task of recording the Hebrew inscriptions for eternal commemoration. Until your own hands are wounded and bleeding, from trying so hard to clean and make the inscriptions readable somehow, desperately, fighting against the impossible sometimes, one cannot understand what it is to do this kind of work. Jagielski was very impressed and it was an excellent start of a future cooperation with him. (for me, as Yaari is an old friend of him).
In the end of the last day, Yaari had to finish early and go to Warsaw around 14:00. At 19:00 there was already a taxi waiting for us to take us to the airport. I insisted to stay, alone, and try to do some more tombstones, just dismantled, from a pile of broken tombstones, returned to the cemetery by the municipality, waiting to be put someday on a wall, as a monument. Two workers, previously dismantled the pile, not all though. Yaari and Jagielski left and I stayed alone. I worked until 16:00 and than packed the brush, chalks special markers and materials. I said to myself, let's have another look around. And than, under a tree, hidden by bushes, I found, a black tombstone of Azriel Gelbert, with a poem in Hebrew, and this was the great grandfather of Serge Rozenblum from Paris, the one who initiated the cemetery restoration project... Azriel was a Jewish doctor in Grodzisk , lived in the end of the last century, admired and loved by all. I lit a memorial candle and departed with tears in my eyes...
I had an extra ordinary experience also in Gombin, and in spite of my weariness, I shall tell you this now, as may be the climax of my trip. Yaari and me checked the cemetery of Gombin and had a mission to make a survey about the tombstones and where they are now, after they have been removed by the Nazis from the Jewish cemetery.
The cemetery of Gombin is in a terrible condition, appalling! I don't find words to describe situation, a real shame! No fence; plot full of dirt; broken bottles of vodka; wild vegetation; empty deserted space on what is still the plot of land where our ancestors were buried for hundreds of years. Lukaszewski, president of the Land Lovers Association in Gombin was very nice and kind to us during the whole visit. He took us there. When we arrived he told me in English a few times - "I am sorry, I am sorry" - what is he talking about? I didn't understand, until we got near the place where some broken fragments and pieces of tombstones and bases of tombstones are lying. All of them (!) were profaned by black paint with dirty anti-Semitic gratify...
Further up, I found a stone with some Hebrew letters. I dug around it and if I had a worker, it could be lifted up. I took a picture and may be the name is Etinger. I had no better tools to further dig down and find out.
We were taken later by Lukaszewski to Browarna street. Yaari noticed immediately, all the inner curbstones of the pavement are made of Jewish tombstones. He measured the street and until he returned I was watching the curbstones and made a decision, I have to dig around one stone and find if it is true. I try the first one - only 1 cm to the pavement stones - impossible to dig. Yaari tells me to forget about and continue the mission. I said NO, I want to see in my own eyes, it cannot be true. I check the second curb-stone and ask Yaari to take out a simple building spoon he had in his bag. There, the space is already 7 cm and we can dig. Yaari starts to dig and slowly slowly an Hebrew letter is disclosed... The tombstone is put upside down, but I can read. Yaari keeps digging and there is "LAMED" and "AYIN" and "KUF" , "NUN" and AIIN" and "RESH" and...
F R E N K E L ! I shout: F R E N K E L !!! Yaari, who has seen a lot in his life, whisper to me that he also never experienced this before...
Lukaszewski gives me a kiss...
We decipher the year of death: "TRZG" - 1933... The inscriptions are in perfect condition (hidden in earth for 55 years). Now it is not the end! There, under the name, a beautiful "SEFER TEHILIM" painted in black, (the book of the Psalms). Under it there is a poem OF mourning in Hebrew, but it starts deeper, and we cannot continue digging.
BUT, what we do record, with no shadow of a doubt, is the end of one verse: "LASHAMAIIM" - TO THE SKY! and the end of the line beneath it: "AMUNA" - FAITH!
I think it is more than symbolic that these were the words. Have faith my friends, we are capable of doing what has to be done in that cemetery, to protect (and this is INDEED the correct term) it and restore the last remnant of Jewish life in Gombin!
We quickly covered the earth back and left the place without being seen by anybody.
Dear Gayle and Mark, check your family records if anyone of your family died in 1933. The tombstone is in perfect condition, in the street in Gombin, and will be
removed back to the cemetery! There were other Frenkels I know from Gombin, and it doesn't really matter - I felt I am a Frenkel myself in
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