My Heart Breaks With Those Broken Stones...

By Ada Holtzman, (Written first in November 1997, revised in February 2003)
Translated by Ellen Stepak

The matzeva of Riwa Frajda, daughter of Yitzhak in the Jewish cemetery of Tomaszow Mazowiecki

Background to My Involvement

This article is being written as a preface to the book about the cemetery of Czestochowa, Poland, documenting the gravestones remaining there, by Benjamin Yaari and a youth group from Israel. My activity towards commemoration and preservation of the memory of the Holocaust are part of me. The need to preserve the cultural assets of the annihilated Jewish community of Poland, remains today as it was then, and maybe it is even stronger....The main difference in my activity is in the existence of my website, where are inscribed the names from the monuments which were deciphered in Czestochowa, as well as other cemeteries which have been added since. The address of the website is:, and almost daily, new memorial material is added, virtual monuments to a world which was and was demolished, and countless reminders of the tragedy of the Jews, the Holocaust.

I am active in an organization of the second generation of survivors from the hometown of my parents, Gombin, near Plock, Poland. We became intensively active in the Internet, set up a website, and located about 300 former residents of Gombin and members of the second generation. We have translated the memorial book of the town from Yiddish to Hebrew, we have uncovered old records from archives in Poland, and we have uploaded to the Internet the population registry from the early 20th century, which was translated from Russian at our expense. With concentrated effort, after raising contributions of $9000, we had a memorial erected at the site of the first death camp of Chelmno, where the Jews of Gombin were executed in gas trucks in April 1942. One of our projects was renovation of Gombin's ruined Jewish cemetery, and it is in this context that we first established contact with Mr. Benjamin Yaari.

In the cemetery of Gombin there are practically no gravestones. It was a small town in Mazowie, where Jews lived already in the 16th century, and since those days there has always been a Jewish cemetery. During the Holocaust there were around 2000 Jews in Gombin. Immediately after the occupation, the Nazis destroyed the glorious wooden synagogue, an exquisite treasure 229 years old, which was incinerated, and a number of Jews thrown into it, to be consumed together with the synagogue. Afterwards, the Nazis tortured the Jews in the ghetto, during two and a half unbearable years, until they were taken to be annihilated in Chelmno.

Later, the German criminals continued to "take care" of the last remnant: the cemetery. According to newspaper clippings we found, the Nazis built a defensive line against tanks, across the cemetery. These ditches remain there to this day. It defies understanding to imagine what this did to the graves themselves. Almost all of the tombstones were removed by Polish forced laborers (who were later exiled to Ukraine, and of whom not one returned) and used to build sidewalks, and for building a bridge across the town, etc. This is the awful story of a cemetery in Poland, a story which represents hundreds of similar cases. Thus gravestones remain till this day as curbstones, people walk on them when crossing the bridge; some are in the depths of the beautiful lake, in the yards of farmers, and at the bottom of wells.

With great difficulty we collected $15,000 from former Jewish residents of Gombin, and this sum was doubled by the Nissenbaum Foundation for the preservation of Jewish sites in Poland. With these funds we walled the cemetery in once more (the original fence was destroyed by the Germans and they used the material to build a gravel path to the village of Dobrzykow), we built an impressive gate and a memorial monument from broken pieces of gravestones which were removed from sidewalks. This is the best that we could do for our forefathers buried there. Thus we could at least restore some peace of mind to ourselves, having done our utmost, but it is doubtful whether this can relieve the deceased whose rest was disturbed and whose sons and daughters were destroyed and have no graves....

In this context I met Benjamin Yaari, who helped me greatly in the project in Gombin. Then one day this dedicated Jew asked my professional advice regarding computerization of the data, which had been collated in the cemetery of Czestochowa and in other cemeteries.

This appeared were existing cemeteries which had survived in spite of all, among them cemeteries where the German Nazis did not shatter and destroy the gravestones (the Third Reich was supposed to last 1000 years-so they had plenty of time...) and local Poles, after the War, did not continue the destruction and did not hoard the holy stones...and thus I joined the labors and cooperated with Yaari in many important documentation projects.

Gravestones as Final Memorials

In Poland there remain thousands of gravestones. We must find a way to confront the problem of their abandonment, of the lack of human touch and decent care, over several decades. The elements and time are doing their damage, the devastating plants, the physical deterioration, and the ravages of nature and man...and over all of these factors looms the shadow of future urban development....First of all, we need to take advantage of the borrowed time, to record, to record, to record-every bit of information, every name-because behind each is an entire world.

The tombstones were erected as an eternal memorial to the deceased, and we must respect them, renew and protect them, even if all of the close relatives of the deceased no longer dwell in that country. To our sorrow, most of them were murdered in the worst Holocaust to devastate our people. So that there remain orphaned and derelict graves, but still the cry of mourning goes out, calling for a helping hand.

On the grave markers are revealed moving passages, true poetry, prayers, words of wisdom and love for G-d and man. The words of mourning break one's heart, and are astonishing in their beauty. All of the life of the lost Jewish shtetl is reflected in these verses etched in stone. Righteous men, Chassids, Rabbis and teachers, Deciders [on matters of Halakha] and kosher butchers, great Rabbis and great scholars, modest people and true believers, important, generous and charitable women, unmarried young women and girls, charming young men, pure of heart...

Ada near the matzeva of Golda Lea GOLDFARB from Grodzisk Mazowiecki; all inscriptions from existing matzevot were transcribed (October 97) and a book was published (October 98); 6/7 of the original plot is now a factory; since publication of the book, the present Jewish community of Warsaw has restored the fence and maintain the cemetery.

An entire culture is shrouded behind the graves, and we must make every effort to try to preserve and document them as long as this remains possible.

I am active on the Internet, in the JewishGen Discussion Group, and I am conscious of the fact that people of all ages tirelessly seek their roots. They are looking for traces of their grandfather or great grandmother, sometimes desperately, since those who might have provided information about them are themselves no longer living. The tombstones comprise a primary source of information, from the point of view of the genealogical data imbedded in their lettering.

The gravestone is family, and at times the only one left regarding an anonymous Jew somewhere in the world--the last connection to the people of his forefathers who died in this hard country, Poland, to which he himself may never come, but the memory is recorded, witness to his heritage. Therefore I have joined the singular act of commemoration wholeheartedly and with a sense of performing holy work for the coming generations.

Difficulties in Deciphering

Only upon my arrival for a visit in Poland for the second time in September 1997, to work with my own hands in the documentation of cemeteries, did I comprehend once more the major which is the publication of the list of gravestones in the Jewish cemetery of Czestochowa (another project initiated by Benjamin Yaari, in which I helped by entering the data collected from the grave markers). Because what one sees from there, he doesn't see from here...

I assisted Yaari in Krakow, then we carried out a very successful cooperative project, following the request of two young people from Atlanta and Paris, in Grodzisk Mazowiecki near Warsaw. I had volunteered to help in the project to preserve the graveyard, which they had launched, by recording the Hebrew writing, which they were unable to do.

Only when coming into direct contact with the gravestones, can one comprehend the magnitude of the achievement of recording the names of over 2000 grave markers. It is very difficult, and at times almost impossible, to read the names on the crumbling gravestones. Sometimes there are no surnames (even among those who were buried in times when surnames had become accepted; however, religious Jews retained the tradition of recording only the given name of the deceased along with his father's given name), and at times the names have been simply erased. There have been cases in which we have succeeded, despite great difficulties, to decipher beautiful acrostic lines of verse, wherein the first letter of the lines spell out the given name of the deceased. And then, at the bottom of the tombstone, the name itself was indiscernible. I recall moments of bitter frustration, and times when the palms of my hands already bled from the scrubbing, in desperation when already all hope was gone, and there was nothing left to do but to try to feel with my fingers to try to decipher the writing. There were of course other moments, of joy and satisfaction, when a gravestone which had been a "lost cause", slowly, after dedicated treatment, revealed its secrets....

In this place there is neither marker nor sign of the former cemetery. There is no memory of the destruction, and in this place forgetfulness has won! Even the local population doesn't realize, and perhaps it is best that the former Jewish residents of Kleczew won't know, or they would continue to suffer beyond what they have already suffered.

We returned to our Land of Israel, to my birthplace, the land of desire of my ancestors. The love for Israel, after returning from there, knows no bounds...and there only remains to complete the documentation which we have begun (and to begin documenting other places), for the sons of Czestochowa who were fortunate, and have something to document....

Forget me not!!!

I wish to finish this report by quoting from a book entitled Hamekhir [The Price]1), by a well known writer, born in Krakow, Miriam Akavia, in the part of this work entitled "El Hakoreh" [To the Reader], page 173. In her words is intermingled the essence of my own feelings, following my last visit to Poland, and the total dedication to carrying out, to the best of our abilities, commemoration, renovation and preservation of Jewish cemeteries in Poland and of other remnants of our holy people in that country.

"Fresh and strong remain my impressions from my visit in Poland (Spring, 1988), the land where I was born, myself and the heroes of my story.

They came to see me from the yards of abandoned homes, from strange apartments they peeked at me through doors, in which I had known each crack; from old buildings they came down the familiar steps to me, and when I was in the street-they peeked at me through empty windows. In public parks. I saw them walking in the shade of trees, or resting on the benches drenched in sunlight; their children, and I was among them, played hide-and-seek among the lilac bushes, or behind broad tree trucks.

The meeting with them was painful, because my longing for them has not ceased. With my trembling hands I wanted to reach out and touch them, but I couldn't, because they were and they were not - because they are gone.

My visits to cemeteries were difficult. Here rose up not only those whom I loved; but also an entire people rose up from the depths of the earth, from crumbling graves in the knotted jungle around them. And the entangled roots of the trees grow tightly around the graves of our forefathers and swallow them. The gravestones rise and bend from the pressure of the roots. These tombstones, built over the graves of our dead, are fighting for their lives....

And they are too numerous to count. Hebrew words, not understood by residents of that country, but comprehensible to us, are carved by artists in the stone, in letters of silver and gold, and they comprise songs of love and mourning, of praise and glory, of pain and parting, of wisdom and sorrow... and longing for Zion... imposing Jewish gravestones, abandoned now and left in a foreign land, in a land where Jews are no more.

In Poland.

And the camps. Six million of our people died here and were not brought to burial. In the land of Poland.

And now, in the spring season, wild flowers grow around Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Majdanek and around the Jewish cemeteries. And among the flowers, one beautiful small flower stands out, whose color is the color of the sky: Forget-Me-Not. Their flowering was to me like magic! How did they grow here, so many-too many to count-so pretty and fresh, in this land soaked with blood. The appearance of these small flowers filled my heart with a sense of thankfulness, for their growing here, for their color which was the color of the skies and for their name: Forget-Me-Not"

  Miriam Akavia, Hamekhir, Sifriat Hapoalim, Tel Aviv, 1988, ISBN965-04-2045-2


These are the last remnants of Jewish life, heritage and Jewish culture in Losice, Poland... Tombstones recovered from the yard of a Pole whose house was confiscated by the Gestapo during WWII and the matzevot were there for more than 60 years...
Losice Recovered Matzevot

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Last updated June 18th, 2006