My Heart Breaks With Those Broken Stones...
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
I am active in an organization
of the second generation of survivors from the hometown of my parents, Gombin, near
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
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
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
This appeared fantastic...here 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
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
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
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
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.
And the camps. Six million of our people died here and were not brought to
burial. In the
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