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July 31, 2015 / 15 Av, 5775
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Myszyniec, Ostroleka

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Abe Schwartz of Detroit. He and his family had traveled to Poland last year to see where their family had originated just one generation ago. They went first to their home town of Myszyniec, where they found almost nothing remaining of a thriving Jewish community. The cemetery is an empty field showing no signs of the hundreds (possibly thousands) of Jews who are buried there. Most of the homes from the pre-war era have been updated, and the whole town has changed. The family was able to find the home where the family had lived before the war in a courtyard of another home, but little else of interest.

 


A family portrait at the sign welcoming visitors to Myszniec, the town from where the family originated.

 

 


One of the Schwartz family members saying Tehillim at the desecrated memorial in Ostroleka.

 

         They went from there to nearby Ostroleka, where the family patriarch went to yeshiva. The yeshiva building, little more than a shack, is now used for storage. The cemetery at Ostroleka is also empty of marked graves. But there is a memorial marking the site made up of some broken tombstones. The small group of travelers were surprised to find that the reverse side of the monument had been desecrated. Some hooligans had thrown buckets of blue and red paint at the monument, covering a representation of the Ten Commandments. The group said some Tehillim for the martyrs and left, disturbed by their discovery.

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The official beginning of World War II was September 1, 1939. On that day German soldiers invaded Gdansk after bombarding the city with a military warship. As part of the Polish Government’s official series of events marking seven decades since the start of World War II, Poland’s Jewish community and the Jerusalem-based “Shavei Israel” organization held a special ceremony yesterday in the Gdansk synagogue to commemorate the outbreak of the war, which paved the way for the Holocaust.

September 1, 1939 is the date on which Germany invaded Poland, starting WWII. While it should be said that the start of the war was not the start of the Shoah, which actually began with the rise of Nazism in 1933, it was a major milestone in the annals of the Holocaust. Within the first few days of the war, Germany had conquered and/or bombed much of Poland, including the capital, Warsaw.

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