“Have You Killed and Also Taken Possession”

Under the Cloak of Polish Law


By Eva Bar-Ze'ev


Written in May 2001 and published in "Mizkar", Holocaust Bulletin in Israel



In July 1997, we, a group of mostly second-generation offspring, traveled to the town of Zamosc in Poland, where our parents and forebears were born.


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 letters to Poland, to anyone who might be able to help. And, yes, the synagogue and all the community property were returned – but not to us.


Here, a word of explanation is called for.


Before World War II, there were more than 1,500 Jewish communities in Poland. Every community, even the tiniest, had assets. At least a cemetery and a mikveh ritual bath. The larger ones had also a chapel, a residence for the rabbi, a study facility (heder), etc. The larger the community, the more assets it owned, such as synagogues, an orphanage, an old-age home, cemeteries, schools, one or more high schools, a hospital, a community house, etc.


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.


Today, Poland would like to be accepted to the European Union. But what about the ungainly hump on its back –  stolen Jewish property – the private Jewish property being sold and looted every day? What about the community property? To deal with the hump, new legislation came into being – born in sin – and so it remains. Legal? Certainly – by Polish law. Legal, but pardon me – foul, rank, stinking of Nuremberg. Immoral. Inhumane. Unjust.


According to a law passed in Poland's Parliament, Jewish private property will be restored only to people who were Polish citizens in… 1999. A veto by the Polish President has meanwhile prevented the law's implementation, the delay being due to its “high cost.”


As for Jewish community property Poland was divided into nine fiefdoms. Nine Jewish communities were created out of the blue (Where did they get their Jews from?). These were subordinated to nine "elected" officials (Who are they? Who appointed them? Why? Whom do they serve? Who checks what they do?). These happy nine, under the cloak of the law, dispose of the property – our property  – as they will.


There are no Jews in Poland. They were murdered. The few that survived chose not to stay in the valley of death – Poland. Those who did not leave after World War II, or flee after the Kielce Pogrom  – in which Poles killed Holocaust survivors    left for Israel when Gomulka rose to power and Poland's gates were opened. The only ones who remained were Communists, closely affiliated with the authorities. And they, too, were spewed out by Poland in the 60s, expelled and stripped of Polish citizenship. The only Jews left are a few, lonely old people living off pension or those who turned their backs on Judaism: married non-Jews, posed as Poles, and raised their children as such.


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 Krakow, one Jakobovitch (and Krakow has already founded a dynasty, since the former head of its Jewish community was this one's uncle), who embarked on a clearance sale. In Zamosc's new city, the synagogue was sold. The Jewish high-school was sold to the municipality. The old mikve, unique in Poland, was also sold.


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 commissioner over Poland's "treasures and antiquities," no one has the authority to intervene.


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 Krakow’s Jewish community,” did reply. He was full of holy rage: how dared we write to the mayor about the museum! There is a law, he noted, and he will do what he likes; he and the mayor of Zamosc, he added, are cooperating. We have made a note of the fact.


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.


WIRO – 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 origin in Israel – nothing of the kind.


And we – what about us?


What is the place of the legal heirs of the 1,500 communities who live outside of Poland today?


Who will save the Renaissance gem – Zamosc's Sephardi synagogue?



Poland's Jewish Heritage Under Attack


The Last/Lost Synagogue of Plock


We Remember Jewish Inowlodz


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What Will Remain from the Remains...???


Interior of the Zamosc synagogue, 1930s


Last Updated February 26th, 2004