In just a few weeks we will commemorate the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the day that, for many people, marks the beginning of the Shoah. Whenever Holocaust survivors get together to remember family, friends and neighbors that were killed in the Shoah, one thing is very evident. Every year there are fewer and fewer survivors in attendance. Many have died and some are too old or sick to attend.
This fact is also evident at the preservation of Jewish heritage sites in Poland, which for years, was mostly done by the survivor generation. They often were the ones that would start up projects of remembrance, either Memorial Day gatherings of the landsmann groups or setting up memorials in their hometowns in Poland. But sad to say, this group is also becoming smaller and smaller and in many cases the next generation does not continue in its parents’ footsteps.
There is one town in Poland that has had, for the past number of years, various well attended events held by former Jewish residents, including memorials, cemetery clean up, and educational projects. For the most part, these events were sponsored by a single well-off survivor, whose strong will and deep pockets, guaranteed their success. This past summer, I’m sorry to say. he was not well and no official event was held.
In contrast there is the town of Piotrkow Trybulnalski. For many years my friend Saul Dessau had been the main supporter of building the monuments remembering the Jews of his hometown and cleaning/restoring the cemetery. He, too, traveled to Poland numerous times to negotiate with the local officials making sure that every detail was up to his high standards. Sadly he passed away nearly two years ago.
Netanel Yechiel with another volunteer recording the information on one of the tombstones in the Piotrkow Cemetery.
Saul, a far-seeing person, realized that he was doing most of the work and he would always talk of the problem of continuance. Who will continue the work after he was gone was of particular concern to him. Last year his brother, Robert Dessau, organized the annual summer gathering, rededicating the three ohalim in the cemetery, which Saul had worked tirelessly to complete before his passing. Everybody in attendance was very aware of Saul’s passing and saw it as the end of an era. Though he was not the last of the survivor generation, he was one of the most active, in preserving the Jewish heritage of Piotrkow.
There was fear that his work would not be continued but the next generation took up the gauntlet. During the past year there were many meetings at which the second generation took control. They planned a week of events at which they wanted to get the participation of the local townspeople. At first their goal was to begin the process of mapping out the large cemetery, photographing and documenting each of the thousands of tombstones.
A group of second-generation survivors gathered, including Irving Gomolin of New Jersey; Itzik Tushinsky; Chana Furman; Naomi Kirsch; and Netanel Yechieli, who came from Israel. They worked tirelessly with local volunteer students and accomplished a great deal. During the off hours they were feted by the town and met with Mayor Krzysztof Chojniak, his assistant Jacek Bykowski and photo journalist Pawel Reising who gave encouragement and much assistance.
To keep up an interest in the local population, the city organized a mini Jewish festival, which culminated in a Shabbaton, called “Encounters With Jewish History and Culture.”
The events included the dedication of a memorial at the site of the old Jewish cemetery (located just behind the Great Synagogue); the opening of a special exhibit entitled, “The History of Piotrkow Jews” in the Zamek Museum, in which many rare photos and artifacts were on display; a multi-day Jewish film festival; and workshops devoted to crafts, Israeli folk dancing and Jewish cuisine. Mayor of Piotrkow, Krzysztof Chojniak, designated a member of the City Government, Jacek Bykowski, to coordinate all town-wide and Shabbaton events. Posters describing the events were in evidence everywhere in town, on city billboards, at bus stops and other locations.
To Be Continued