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November 27, 2015 / 15 Kislev, 5776
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The Old Shtetl Ozarów

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The village of Ozarów is located in the Kielce region. The Ozarów cemetery dates back almost 400 years and is one of the few remaining Jewish cemeteries in Poland. The approximately 300 (including about 200 recently uncovered) monuments stand in solemn testimony to the former thriving Jewish community. A search for ancestral roots and the remarkable beauty of the monument’s detailed carvings visit many visitors each year to Ozarów.

Before World War II, Jews far outnumbered Poles in Ozarów. Almost all were sent to Treblinka. Others, who were rounded up after the deportation, were forced to dig their own graves and were shot.

The cemetery wall was almost totally destroyed during the war, and many of the stones were taken by the Germans for fortifications about 15 km away. According to the custom of the time, no surnames appear; only the first name of the deceased and the father’s first name. While this is a serious limitation for family research, it may still be possible to identify many individuals, based on certain clues. These include family information, description on the stone carvings and the date of death.

Pertinent information is assembled in two documents that can be found on the Internet: a list of matzevot and a map of the cemetery, with matching numbered positions of matzevot . For years, Ozarówers and their descendants have dreamed of restoring the cemetery walls, erecting a commemorative monument, and repairing and raising toppled stones onto firm bases.

In early May 2001, the Ozarów Cemetery Restoration Project (OCRP) was formed with generous assistance from Ozarówers and non-Ozarówers from many countries. Funds have been raised for much of the restoration work and for producing a documentary film which was released in 2003, titled “Return to Ozarów-Mending a Broken Link.” The dedication ceremony for the restored cemetery was held barely five months later in Ozarów on October 15, 2001.

Norman Weinberg, determined to do what he could to honor and remember victims of the Holocaust, reached out for help from Ozarów descendants worldwide via the Internet. Their enthusiastic response was immediate.

At the dedication ceremony, Weinberg, his wife Hannah and other Jewish Ozarówers were greeted by over 500 townspeople, the mayor and the local priest, as well as by Polish and foreign dignitaries. A moving ceremony followed at the mass grave, where the priest and the Ozarówer rebbe, Rabbi Tanchum Becker – a descendant of the famous rabbis of Ozarów, led prayers.

No Jews live in Ozarów today. The restored cemetery, the former synagogue (now a plumbing supply business), the mill, and the houses formerly belonging to the Jews are all that remains of “a small Jewish town” that once was.

The book Memories of Ozarów, a Small Jewish Town That Was, by Hillel Adler, has been translated by William Fraiberg into English from French. An excerpt of that translation was published in the Kielce Radom SIG Journal. The book records the bittersweet life of the Jews there, from the 16th century until destruction. Thanks to a number of Ozarówers living in Canada, Fraiberg has collected and added new materials, stories and photos to this remarkably readable and wonderful account of shtetl life. They include the village characters, customs, religious life, humorous nicknames, the jail, various occupations and the trials and tribulations of the pre-war inhabitants. The book contains additional information on the cemetery.

Copies of this wonderful book are available for sale at $55, plus shipping. To order, contact Norman Weinberg at nweinberg@pjcrp.org

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