During Chol Hamoed Sukkot the sound of singing in a sukkah was heard in Czestochowa for the first time since the Shoah. The gathering was the byproduct of an exhibit remembering the Jewish community of Czestochowa, which has been traveling the world for the past two years.
The people came from 12 countries and totaled more then 200, the remnants of a community of more than 30,000. They came from the U.S. and Israel but also from South America and Australia and all over Europe. All have roots in the same fabled city of Czestochowa.
Survivors came with their children and grandchildren to remember the history of what was. They remembered the time before the Shoah, when Jews intermingled with their non-Jewish neighbors, and spoke of some of the illustrious as well as the colorful inhabitants of the prewar community. Many went to the city archives to try to find information about their families, and discovered details that had been lost to memory. Others searched and found ancestral homes, schools, places of business and other sites that remained in often-repressed memory.
The sukkah was built with the help of a local school of fine arts and decorated with materials sent by Jewish schools around the world, including New York’s Park East Day School and Solomon Schechter of Bergen County. The banquet meal in the sukkah was attended by the mayor of the city, Tadeus Wrona, Israeli Ambassador Shevach Weiss, Rabbi Michael Schudrich and many other dignitaries.
Sigmund Rolat, who organized the original exhibit, is also responsible for most of the work being done to preserve the memory of the Jewish heritage of Czestochowa. Mr. Rolat led the march of the survivors (second and third generation) from the place of “selection” to the recently discovered Umschlagplatz. At various points along the way, he stopped and described in great detail what took place in those terrible times 60 years ago.
At the Umschlagplatz, which today is only a cement platform surrounded by high weeds, he explained that this was the last place he saw his father before his father was sent to his death in Treblinka. He said there are plans to develop the site into one of honor and of memory.
At the cemetery there was a moving ceremony recalling the glory of the past and the horrific yet heroic times of the Shoah, in which 30,000 people from Czestochowa were killed.
Those who survived the Shoah in Czestochowa did so by working in the Hasag Arms Factory. During the group visit to the Hasag factory complex, Mr. Rolat and the other survivors described what life was like under those conditions and what each of the many buildings was used for. To a great extent, the buildings are the same as they were 60 years ago, though now some are being renovated. We saw the seamstress house where German uniforms were made, and the munitions plant. At another place stood the kitchen, where two second-generation members of the trip found each other’s parents’ best friend.
At the end of the three-day gathering, people promised to stay in touch with their old and new extended family. This will be made easier through the formation of the World Society of Czestochowa Jews and their descendents, led by its executive director, Lea Sigel Wolinetz.
For more information on the society contact firstname.lastname@example.org.