Ada and Benjamin Yaari in the cemetery of Krakow

 

Back from Poland (2)

Message to Gombin Email Exchange Group, Tel Aviv, 29.9.97

 

Here is another message which I started to write upon my return, but send only now. So good to be back in Israel. I have returned last night, very late, around 02:00 and I can't tell you the feeling of joy I had when the plane was over the lighted Tel Aviv area... There is no place like Israel, and you feel it very strongly after visiting

I've had overwhelming experiences in Poland, and it is too early for me to start summarize all. I was with Benjamin Yaari all the time and worked with him in the Jewish cemetery of Krakow (one day) and in Grodzisk Maz. (two days). The experience I have acquired, in recording and handling the crumbling tombstones is very important for us all, once we do the same in the cemetery of Gombin.

A young Polish student, Michael Rzeznik, waited for me with his father at the early morning on 16 September, and they kindly took me to Krakow, a 4 hours drive in the countryside. They came from Tomaszow specially to pick me up, 2 hours drive to Warsaw airport, and they were extremely nice and kind and their gesture will be kept in my memory. I was going to meet Yaari, who has been in Poland already since 5th of September, working with the help of youth missions from Israel, recording the tombstones of the Jewish cemetery the Krakow.

Poland has changed a lot since my last visit in 1989. From a country more similar to one of the third world countries. It has modernized and has changed without recognition. There are huge molls, Mac Donald, Pizza Hut, Office Depot. People drive modern European cars and we have experienced heavy traffic in Warsaw. Many youngsters already speak English. But still, later in Warsaw, in the Central Train Station, there was only one public telephone available in the whole station (all others were broken) and there was a huge queue before it... Poland is changing but not is not yet a regular western country.

There is anti-Semitic gratify everywhere. Shocking. Sometimes for hundreds of meters, as in front of the built wall fencing the Jewish cemetery of Lodz.

While we were heading to Krakow, I was impressed with the pastoral landscapes, with cows in the meadows, farmers still working with horses in their fields, and mainly the forests, endless forests, with the huge trees now starting to change colors, in the beginning of autumn. My mind though, wanders to other times, wondering how mother nature witnessed what happened here on these florishing fields, in those green woods, in those peaceful rivers...

I stayed two days with Yaari in Krakow. There is one wonderful unique exhibition of Chagall, in the National Art Museum, open until 3rd of May 1998. It is real celebration to the heart. A symphony of colors and images, longings and love of the artist to his lost shtetl. What a nice start to the journey which awaited me.

Mark Chagall: A woman with two faces, 1927, oil, 99 x 72 cm.

After Krakow, we went to Tomaszow Maz., Benjamin Yaari hometown whose cemetery he restored and later published a very nice book. I posted its main parts in the "JewishGen Cemetery Project" of Mrs. Sacks in the Internet. We lived two days with Ursula Trucha, a warm Polish widow, with whom I could speak, without a common language, and whose excellent Polish food stays in my mouth...

We drive to Konin. On the way, I begged Yaari to stop in Lodz. Mrs. Reiss from Jerusalem, who edited and published the book about Chelmno and who helps the commemoration project in Bergen Belzen, asked me, if it will be possible, to find for her the tombs of her father Izak Yoskowitz, and her brother, both died in the Ghetto Lodz.

She gave an indication number, which was not correct at all, as we found out later. We arrived to the large cemetery and searched for the Ghetto plot. We found endless tombs in endless rows, may be thousands. Part of them are not even marked. There are Poles working among the rows. Cleaning the plants. Someone is paying for this restoration, who is the "zadik"? The lines of tombs are endless and many are not in that site but scattered ikn other plots. We get near and start to search. Mission impossible as it seems.
Suddenly, the incredible happens, Yaari finds the tombs! We take a picture from every possible angle, light a memorial candle and go back in silence.

We arrive to Konin. "Konin - a Quest" of Theo Richmond is in my mind. Theo Richmond, once Ryczka, was drifted in his longings and desire to commemorate him parents' home town. He left journalism and for 7 years he devoted all his life to interview every living Koniner. The result is a unique, breathtaking book, source of inspiration to me and all who search their family past, be it Konin, Zdunska Wola, Kleczew or Gombin...

We are now in a typical small town in Poland, but for some, every building and every street, every tree and every path, has meaning, memories, tragedy...

As all Jews are connected this way or another - Gombiners have a direct link to Konin Concentration Camp, documented in Theo Richmond book and recorded in the secret diary of Rabbi Moshe Aaronson, the rabbi from Sanniki.

Dr. Nowak picked us up, and we spent the whole next 7 hours with her. She was very cooperative and kind and left all her work to be with us from 12:00 until 19:00. The negotiations regarding the Gombin Memorial Monument were very hard, since I was not in control, due the language barrier. Yaari was the translator, but it was difficult and not as when dealing with someone directly.

I reported to our Memorial Committee in details what has been discussed and agreed regarding the plaque What I can tell you now still is that the way is still hard and long!

We had a drive together with a young Polish historian there, Jislew Lurek (I am not sure about the correct spelling of his name) who left the faculty of medicine after 6 years of study, to become an historian in the Konin museum). He drove us to Kleczew, a personal gesture for me, as my step mother, Lotka (Lea) was born in that small town.

Kleczew, like Gombin, is a mirror to all shtetls in Poland : grand culture, destruction, oblivion... It is important to know what I saw and what I have experienced in Kleczew, so you may understand better the importance of OUR GOMBIN group and the value of what we do for Gombin memory.

They took me to the cinema of the city, and here, before the war, was the Jewish synagogue. The cinema is closed, we cannot get inside. There is no sign about the previous original role of the hall. I take photos of old houses near it, and one (found later) is Lotka's house - Mosze Krzywanowski house -

Ul. Koninska 7, Kleczew...

For 58 years Lotka didn't know if the house still stands, with the land around it, with the old warehouses where the flour was stored. Everything, to my amazement, is still standing. There, her father, Mosze Krzywanowski, mother Hana nee Herszlik and their 12 children, most of them already married with little children, was once living.

The Krzywanowski family of Lotka from Kleczew, (Kalisz region), Poland, in a family wedding, taken around 1936.

Lotka was the only one daughter who survived, since she left Poland on an illegal ship to Palestine, just in time, on July 1939, together with both my parents, the Colerado ship.

The Jews of Kleczew were liquidated in the Kazimierz forest nearby, in mass graves, dug before by forced labor Jewish prisoners, forced to jump inside and not even shot. Then lime was poured on them to burn them alive.

And now, we are heading to the Kazimierz forest. A pastoral landscape spreads in front of our eyes. Beautiful forest is disclosed, and Lurek turns to a side, unpaved road, and stop after 500 m Nobody can reach the place without guidance. I am sure also the people of Kleczew or Konin, most of them do not know. Nowak takes her camera and we step out. There, walking in a small path, we reach a Polish shining memorial, with a huge cross of Jesus Christ and Polish wordings, engraved in gold. There are also flowers on the ground. The plaque commemorates the victims of WW2. No mention of the Jews. I look at Yaari and he looks at me and we are both very embarrassed. Lucia and Lurek then tell us it is not the end.

Then they lead us into the forest itself. We cross branches and leaves and bushes and get to a much smaller memorial, surrounded by white pillars.

The memorial says in Polish that here is a memorial for the Jews murdered by the Hitlerians in 1941-1944. It stands on a mass grave.

We pave our way further deep into the forest, and there is another monument, with the same text. We return silently to the car and Lurek says there are about 4-5 more such memorials inside the forest.

He drives us back to Kleczew, and takes us to a very nice big football stadium. There is a 10 m sign on top:

"THE STADIUM OF KLECZEW".

And here was the Jewish cemetery of Kleczew. No sign about it anywhere. And Lurek tells in Polish that the Germans erased the place completely, used the tombstones for pavements in town (Dr. Nowak has collected some of them and they are now in her Konin Museum), then they gathered all the bones, buried them in one big pit and built a public lavatory on it.

How much horror could the Nazis invent? What else can one learn? Will I be strong enough to go on and not collapse on the road...?

If it won't be Nowak and Lurek, I would have never guessed, not to speak of a stranger passing by, or a local Pole, coming there often to play or watch the football games.

Yaari, who has seen a lot in his life, is also depressed, and in silence we drive back to the Konin museum, where Nowak shows us her over 500 tombstones collection, scattered all around the site, on the ground and yards, not marked, broken, breaking the heart... There is also a room dedicated to a great Jewish artist: Chanoch Glicenstein. Nowak keeps in his room also one matzeva, signed by the carver "Glicenstein" from Turek, - the grandfather of the great artist... There is also a room with a Torah scrolls found in a nearby town of Sompolno, and about that I shall write in another message.

We leave to Chelmno. It is already 17:00. Leon already described the site in details and his feelings, after his trip. I identify with all what he wrote. I feel the same, while walking in this place of horror. There is really no bird in Chelmno...

The nature is beautiful. What a contrast to what crime was committed on that peaceful piece of land. I have an official job here. I try to make photos and ask, through Yaari, a lot of questions, and take notes. But my heart breaks and often tears fill my eyes. I light a memorial candle under the big 30 mm long, cement board, with the last note of the of the victims, urging the world to act, to know, to do...

Translation of the note, found in the wood, written by the last prisoners in the death camp Chelmno:

"WE DESCRIBE TO YOU THE LIFE OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE FROM 1939 UNTIL 1.12.1942. HOW THEY KILLED US? IN GAS THEY KILLED US.

THEY TOOK US, OLD AND YOUNG, BETWEEN THE CITY OF KOLO AND DABIE, THEY TOOK US TO THE WOODS AND THERE THEY GASSED US, SHOT US AND BURNT US.

WE ASK YOU, OUR FUTURE BROTHERS, TO PUNISH OUR MURDERERS. THE TESTIMONY OF OUR OPPRESSION AND MURDER SHOULD ARRIVE TO ALL THE EDITORIAL BOARDS.

WE WERE ALIVE, 24.12.44".

The board is crumbling down. Nowak tells Yaari, she is fighting to get financial aid to save the board. They are in search of the "Palace", the authorities now wanted to build on its land, and they fight it, a pending fight for the time being. They plan to dig in the place where the church stood, where the victims were held one night, before liquidation.

Night is falling down. The taxi driver, whom we hired for the whole day, and his friend, tell Yaari in Polish, that they never were here. When they realized what this site is about, they felt how meaningless all their troubles are...

I took many pictures of boulders, memorial plaques and monuments and reported to the Gombin Memorial Committee about it in details. But my mind floats away, backin time, 55 years ago. Trucks are brought, after starvation of 3 days. People of Gombin inside; a few hours operation; soon to be replaced by another and another and another... You cannot grasp millions, not 320000 murdered in Chelmno ( now they write on a new memorial plaque I saw in my own eyes: 16000 Jewish victims only) not 1000 and not 100... One can grasp a person. An image. I cling to one person, my aunt, one of 7 brothers and sisters of my father who were murdered there, Golda Itta Bauman nee |Holcman. I am named after her, (he just told me that recently), and her two beautiful daughters, Channa and Hela. What did she feel, what did she do, did she know how my father loved her, longed to her, missed her endless devotion to him and her family? Or her last thoughts were to her poor husband, Hersz Lajb Bauman, a peddler from Gombin, who always fought to bring living to the family; and than, died, a sick broken man, during the Ghetto times in Gombin. Or did she think of her two lovely girls, and how can she save them from her own fate. All the misery and troubles she endured, before the war, is nothing now. She becomes an object for extermination, for the only sin that she was born Jewish. What was the source of such insane craziness which flooded the whole of Europe in blood and sufferings? How the German people as a whole, cooperated, obeyed, and performed the killings of millions... What did Golda Itta Bauman do to be sentenced to death by such awesome method, which the mind cannot grasp. Her life and soul lost all human value, meant to them less than a bug. And I stand in this valley of the shadow of death, Chelmno, helpless, crying without comfort.

Blessed be hers and all the Jews' memory. We shall not forget, and never forgive the Germans and their collaborators as long as we live on this earth.


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