“Have You Killed and Also Taken Possession”
Under the Cloak of Polish Law
By Eva Bar-Ze'ev
in May 2001 and published in "Mizkar", Holocaust Bulletin in
In July 1997, we, a group of mostly
second-generation offspring, traveled to the town of
The journey was neither simple nor easy; maybe because the beautiful Renaissance city, built by the Italian architect Morendo (and declared by UNESCO one of 100 World Heritage Sites to be preserved) – remained more or less as it had always been, whereas its Jewish inhabitants – our families – no longer filled the streets.
The dissonance was deafening.
The cemeteries were destroyed, the headstones smashed and used as stones to pave the streets. The splendid Jewish High School (made hideous by Communist “architectural” additions) is populated by Polish children. The ancient mikveh ritual bath (unique, according to studies by Polish experts) houses a bar or jazz club, as the locals call it. One after another, all the sites that belonged to the Jewish Community are being lost.
Amid all this, still surviving in its splendor, is the old Sephardi synagogue. Yes, Zamosc's Jewish community was Ashkenazi- Sephardi.
The synagogue survived World War II because the Germans used it to stable horses while forcing the town's Jews to build riding tracks… After the war the synagogue served as a carpentry shop. Today, it is used as a city library, to be evacuated within two years.
On that day in July 1997, we were filled with a sense of elation at the sight of the splendid building (which belongs to the Jewish community, along with the surrounding grounds where the community offices once stood), and we vowed not to rest until the synagogue was restored to its natural owners – the members of the former community and, we, their offspring – so that it could be converted into a fitting memorial site for the Jews of the entire district.
And so it was. We campaigned, sent off
Here, a word of explanation is called for.
Before World War II, there were more
than 1,500 Jewish communities in
The Germans nationalized and plundered individual and community Jewish property. At the end of the war, the Polish government did not abolish the nationalization law, appropriating the property once again.
As for Jewish community property –
There are no Jews in
Now, with the monies, the posts, the wonderful opportunities that fell into their laps – the fiefdoms spawned new "Jewish community leaders." These new feudal masters, the children of intermarriage, lord it over a few dozen old Jews (if any) and dispose of Jewish property as they see fit. Each lord and the formidable industry of Jewish property that fell to him.
What is happening on the ground (legally, as said above) is appalling. In one city, the "feudal lord," in exchange for personal favors, gave the municipality a several-story high building downtown along with a quarter of an acre of marshland outside of town.
The feudal lords serve their Polish masters as a fig-leaf to cover up the naked Polish robbery, cooperating with them for their own advantage. For their own very great advantage.
Zamosc, by the grace of law, came under
the feudal lord of
A sword hangs over Zamosc's old Sephardi synagogue.
Our petition to the President of Poland
earned a polite, self-righteous reply (the letter, itself, it is worth noting,
was amazingly stately and elegant, bombastic). It said that according to law, the
property was restored to the Jewish community of Krakow (???) and the matter is
not within the control of the Polish government. So that even if the question
concerns artistic-cultural assets of the first order, as stipulated by the
We wrote to the mayor of Zamosc suggesting that, if our assets are already being sold – why not use the money, that the municipality would be paying Jakobovitch, to restore the roof of the old synagogue and convert it into a museum. The mayor did not bother to reply.
The appointed feudal lord, on the other
hand, Jakobovitch, “the head of
We are being robbed for a second time. This is our outcry. Does anyone out there hear us?
The Israeli government has not done very much. The matter, most likely, was not consistent with the policies of former governments.
– the worldwide organization for the restitution of Jewish
property – is also being used as a rubber stamp for what is going on, to judge by the facts on the ground.
The association of Jews of Polish
And we – what about us?
What is the place of the legal heirs of
the 1,500 communities who live outside of
Who will save the Renaissance gem – Zamosc's Sephardi synagogue?
What Will Remain from the Remains...???
Interior of the Zamosc synagogue, 1930s