The Jewish Cemetery of Tomaszow Mazowiecki

The Journey to Tomaszow

We arrived in Poland on the Polish airline "Lot" on Tuesday, August 15, 1995. Warsaw welcomed us with heavy rains. We rode on a bus that traveled slowly to Tomaszow, stopping in many places on the road, towns and villages whose names brought to mind many memories from the past.

I remembered with nostalgia the lively Jewish presence in this region, and the pictures from the past. we arrived in Tomaszow, and went to the house where we stayed on Szkolna Street. Nearby, there is Polna Street, where in number 24 was my "Talmud Torah." The voices of the Jewish children who studied I could not hear. I soon awoke from my daydreams: no sign from the past remained, no Jews, and nothing to remind me of my past.

Our target in this journey was to find headstones in the Jewish cemetery, and to expose, record and photograph them in order to preserve them and create a memorial to the glorious Jewish community that lived in our city for many years, until 50 years ago, when the Nazis destroyed Judaism in Poland, including our community.

Upon arrival, in Tomaszow, Benjamin and I with Mrs. Kosmola, who came from Germany to help, and a few of the local people, discussed the work plan we made in Israel, and requested the workers to begin to work following morning.

The cemetery was badly neglected. Most of the headstones were uprooted, and some of them were upside down with the inscriptions facing the ground. Some headstones were smashed and broken, especially those of marble, which had been uprooted. Most of them were full of lichens and it was difficult to decipher the inscriptions. the cemetery's fence was broken and the local kids played football in the western part, which was, for the most part, empty of headstones.

Approaching the headstones was difficult. Thistles, bushes and weeds prevented access, and in some places, there had accumulated garbage and dirt, left by other people who gathered in this place for different reasons. A total disaster, there is no forgiveness for what had been done to the living and to the dead. There was a great difference between the Jewish cemetery and its neighbor, the catholic cemetery, because the later has been well cared for and is clean and blooming.

The work was very hard: the heavy headstones had to be turned over and cleaned in order to be able to read their inscriptions, access to the headstones had to be cleared and weeds and bushes had to be pulled out. From dawn to dusk, the entire team, including the local people, worked with devotion, willingness and enthusiasm.

We discovered beautiful headstones which were delicately carved with flowers, coronas, candle holders, charity boxes, blessing hands, the six books of Mishna, the five books of the Torah, and engravings in different styles. Most of the headstones are inscribed in Hebrew, beautifully carved, and some headstones were also inscribed in Polish.

It appears that the headstone carvers were artists who infused their work with soul and love. We knew that it was our duty to do the job for posterity , so that people will know and remember the history of our city. We shall not forget our families, friends, neighbors and the entire community, of whom this is the last sign remaining in the region, and to perpetuate their memory for eternity. May their souls be bound in the bundle of life.

The city itself has changed a great deal, from my point of view: many houses have vanished, the spaces have grown larger. The city is vastly different from the picture in my mind: kerosene vendors are no longer seen in the streets, no more horse-drawn carriages, there are traffic lights, cars and neon signs.

People are dressed nicely, the city streets are clean, there is much greenery, beautiful public gardens, the sun is shining, but there are no Jews in the city, there is no memory of the rich Jewish life that used to be here. A period of history has come to an end, the circle of Jewish life in Tomaszow has closed in the great disaster the Holocaust, the total and brutal destruction.

At the conclusion of the job, which took exactly one month, we met with reporters from the local newspapers, the secretary of the city, priests from the catholic Church, and the people who worked with us faithfully and gave us so much support, and we thanked all for their help. we were glad when we received the promise that in the future, the Jewish cemetery will be cared for and preserved by the municipality.

The memories of the past continue to strike, and the heart refuses to believe that this is how it all ended.

The Jewish life in the city where we were born and raised has ended. we hope for a better future, a future without wars of Holocaust.

Shlomo Birenstock

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