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Remembrance Day In Piotrkow

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        This past week I had the honor of attending the Remembrance Day commemorations that took place in the Polish town of Piotrkow Trybunalski.

 

        Whenever Jews in Poland gather for a remembrance day, it always focuses on the Shoah and this day was no exception. There was the gathering at the Rakow Forest Memorial, located at the site of a mass murder, the visit to the mass graves of the victims in the cemetery and a visit to the old synagogue.

 

         But this year was different. Four generations of Piotrkow descendents gathered to celebrate the greatness of the ancient heritage of the city and rededicate the Ohalim of the three tzaddikim of Piotrkow, noted Chassidic Masters, Rabbi Meir Menachem Finkler of Radocza and Piotrkow (1862-1912); Rabbi Issacher Dov Ber HaCohen Turnheim of Wolborz (1803-1878); and Rabbi Menachem Moshe Weltfried of Rozprza (1841-1891).

 

 


Rabbi Chaim Turnheim and sons, with Mr. Robert Dessau, at the rededication of the Ohalim of the three tzaddikim of Piotrkow.

 

 

         Twelve years ago, Saul Dessau z ” l, along with his brother Robert, rebuilt the Ohel over the grave of his ancestor. Ambassador Naftali Lau-Lavie approached him and said that since he had done such a great job on the Ohel of his ancestor, perhaps he could fix the three other Ohalim located in the same cemetery. Ambassador Lavie explained who the tzaddikim were and that during the war he and a few other yeshiva students, at the behest of his father, then – Chief Rabbi of Piotrkow, buried the Torah Scrolls between the Ohalim hoping to retrieve them when it was safe to do so.

 

         Saul, Salek to his old friends, and his brother Robert decided, on the spot, to fund the project and started working to get the project done. Many alterations and additions were made, and a change in administration caused a long delay in the completion of the project. Though the construction itself was finished the dedication was postponed and, sadly, Saul Dessau passed away during the past winter before the dedication could take place.

 

 

 


Among the dignitaries in attendance, L-R: Mr. Robert Dessau; Chief Rabbi of Poland, Rabbi Michael Schudrich; and Israeli Ambassador to Poland, His Excellency, Mr. David Peleg.

 

 

        Saul was very proud of having had the privilege of working on the project. He became involved in the tiniest detail, from the basic design to the final wording on the plaques. No expense was spared to honor the rabbis of his birthplace and he would always be sure to include other members of the survivor group in all final decisions.

 

         In the end “The work on the Ohalim,” Rabbi Schudrich, Chief Rabbi of Poland said, “should stand as a model for all other work being done in cemeteries of Poland.” So high was the standard and care given to the project.

 

         The rededication was in many ways a tribute to Saul, Salek, as much as it was to the three tzaddikim.

 

         Guests came from Israel, U.K., and the U.S. Rabbi Michael Schudrich came with a delegation from Warsaw, and Simcha Keller came from Lodz. Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau and his brother Naftali Lau-Lavie flew in from Israel that morning for the ceremony. The mayor, with other local dignitaries as well as the Polish news media, and many townspeople also joined the more than 100 Jews gathered to remember the Jewish history of this, once famous, town.

 

 


Rabbi Lau, speaking to the gathering of Piotrkow survivors and their families, at the Rakow Forest Memorial.

 

 

         Strikingly the descendents of Rabbi Issacher Dov-Ber HaCohen Turnheim of Wolborz came, especially from Jerusalem, to honor their great-grandfather of six generations ago. Rabbi Nesanel Chaim Turnheim, the current Admor of Wolbroz, told how 137 years ago, Rabbi Turnheim told his second son to leave Poland, move to the Land of Israel, and not to return. They relocated to the Meah Shearim neighborhood of Jerusalem and were the only members of the extended family that survived the Shoah.

 

         Yisrael Zylberstein, leader of the Israeli contingent, emceed the proceedings. Ben Helfgut of London read a letter from Ben Giladi, editor of the Piotrkow Voice, leader of the Piotrkow survivor group in the U.S., who was unable to attend.

 

         Many in the group traveled around Poland to visit other important Jewish historical sites and on Shabbat they added their substantial numbers to the davening at the Nozyk Synagogue in Warsaw where they had a chance to meet and interact with the local community. In memory of his brother Saul Mr. Dessau treated everyone to a delicious Shabbat lunch prepared by the Jewish community.

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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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In September 1939 the Germans started establishing ghettos in the occupied territory of Poland. Ghettos played an important role in the Jewish extermination policy. They were filled with Polish and Western European Jewish deportees. The ghettos differed in times of existence, size, internal organization, and living conditions. The Germans called them ” death boxes” (Todeskiste). The city of Lodz belonged to the Wartheland District and the Germans changed its name into Litzmannstadt.

In September 1939 the Germans started establishing ghettos in the occupied territory of Poland. Ghettos played an important role in the Jewish extermination policy. They were filled with Polish and Western European Jewish deportees. The ghettos differed in times of existence, size, internal organization, and living conditions. The Germans called them ” death boxes” (Todeskiste). The city of Lodz belonged to the Wartheland District and the Germans changed its name into Litzmannstadt.

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Growing up in the U.S. during the second half of the 20th century, I, along with most people, know very little about the First World War. The little that I did know was about the trench warfare in France and Belgium. The Eastern Front was barely, if ever, mentioned and usually stated that it ended with the Russian Revolution and overthrowing the Czar.

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