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Exploring Jewish Roots In Poland

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         Before my most recent trip to Poland I gave my readers a chance to hire me to find the town of their origin in Poland. I offered to visit the town and videotape and photograph anything that I would find, to give a feel of the way the town looks today, as well as look for any remnants of the former Jewish life of each location.


 


         I received many requests and traveled over most of Poland during my more-then-five weeks in the country. Over the next couple weeks I will be highlighting some of the places that I visited and will describe some of what I experienced.

 

         Once such adventure, for in most cases it really was an adventure, took me to the towns of Pyzdry and Miloslaw, west of Warsaw.

 

         To start off I went to various offices in Warsaw to find out where these towns are and what I might find there. I also gave the names to the archives in Warsaw to start the research process going. I found that the towns were located in the Poznan Province, and regional archives dating to before the Shoah, were also located in Poznan.

 

         I traveled to Poznan where I explored the town (more on Poznan in a later article) and in the morning found a driver to take me to Pyzdry.

 

         According to Alicja Kobus, president of the Poznan community, there was a Jewish gentleman, living in the town of Wrzesnia, who would be able to help me in Pzydry. Mr. Crestow Prondela is an older man, a survivor, and the only Jew in the town, who speaks no English, but taught himself Hebrew.

 

         He told me that he had never been to Pzydry or Miloslaw but was glad to be of whatever assistance he could.

 

         We traveled to Pzydry and started looking for the synagogue and the cemetery. The Police Station/City Hall was closed and we had to ask many people before we got directions to the cemetery. We were told that there is nothing to see there, as there were no tombstones or even a gate at the location, and we probably wouldn’t even find it, as it was hidden in a forest. The synagogue, we also learnt, had been torn down after it was deemed unsafe.

 

         After a search of the dirt roads behind the town we came to a place where the cemetery was supposed to be. We got out of the car at a farmhouse to ask directions but nobody was home. My friend and I started looking around and, after half-an-hour of running around the woods, found a memorial pillar made of bricks and a few fragments of tombstones. A bronze plaque in Polish said that this was the location of the Jewish cemetery of Pzydry.

 

 


(l-r) Mr. Crestow Prondela with a local resident recalling her memories of the Jews of Pzydry.

 

 

         An elderly local woman approached us. She had heard in town that there were Jews looking for the cemetery and this 92-year-old woman came running. It seems we were the first Jews in Pzydry for a long time.

 

         She remembered a number of Jewish friends from before the war and said “They were all killed.”

 

         She also told us that the forest now encroached the actual cemetery, as well as the nearby farmhouse, whose owner was not at home. She explained that after the war a German owned the property and took care of the cemetery, but after he died, a Pole took over the farm and is not as caring or respectful of the cemetery.

 

         We saw that there seemed to be a ditch dug into the sandy soil and also a pile of small stones that did not seem to be from the area. I supposed that these were parts of tombstones that had been broken up, scattered around, but later, gathered into one place by the farmer. I could not find any inscriptions or even carving on the stones so I was not able to confirm my suspicions.

 

         I said some Tehillim for the long deceased, took videos and pictures, and we continued on our journey.

 

         The local museum was closed, I was told that even though the web site talks about Jewish relics at the museum, including some tombstones, they had all been removed and there was nothing left to see. They also informed me that any pertinent records of the Jewish population of Pzydry were in the regional archives in Poznan and the National Archives in Warsaw.

 

         From there we went to Miloslaw, a town about 15 miles away, and could not even find the cemetery. First we were told it was at one location, then at another, and found that what we were being guided to was a Christian cemetery. The “Synagogue” was also a church, turned into a closed museum.

 

         The best information we were able to get was from kids and their teachers at the local school. They spoke some English and were very knowledgeable and friendly. It was a pity that there was nothing positive with which they could help us.

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