Last week, we celebrated Chanukah, commemorating the repossession of the Beit HaMikdash from the hands of the mighty Greek Army. After defeating their enemy, the Jews purified, sanctified and rededicated the Beit HaMikdash that the Greeks had defiled.
Many comparisons can be found in Poland today. Even now, more than 60 years after the Shoah, there is much reclaiming, restructuring and rededication to carry out.
Almost every week, new Jewish sites are revealed, another Jew joins the community, or a memorial service is held for some tragic event of the not-so-distant past.
On November 27, while cleaning out a World War II Era reservoir, workers found the bottom, lined with heavy flat stones, some with designs and Hebrew writing on them. They quickly realized that they were Jewish tombstones from the local cemetery.
As with any Holocaust-related news in Poland it drew immediate media attention and the story was reported in many local newspapers. The Polish weekly Tygodnik Kepinski reported that there were about 200 stones in all, probably taken from the cemetery at Kepno.
Kepno no longer has a Jewish community but the old synagogue building still stands as both a memorial and museum to the Jews that had once lived in the town, which had been 60 percent Jewish, before the Shoah. The local authorities have, as of last week, agreed to retrieve the tombstones and set them up in the synagogue building.
Today, the town of Kepno belongs to the Wroclaw grouping of communities and, as a result, Rabbi Yitzchak Rappaport of Wroclaw was the first to be contacted by the local press for comment. He said he hoped to see the stones for himself soon.
Synagogue building in Kepno
(From Zachowane Synagogi I Domy Modlitwy W Polsce Katalog, Jan Jagelski and Eleonora Bergman.)
He added that removing the stones should not present any Jewish legal problems, as the site is not connected with a cemetery and “Thank God we are not talking about bones.”
The stones were discovered Nov. 27, while workers excavated an area for renovation in the historic market square of Kepno, according to the Polish weekly Tygodnik Kepinski. Hidden for decades, the stones apparently were removed from the town’s Jewish cemetery and used by the Nazis to line the bottom of the small reservoir. There was no immediate word on the condition of the stones.
Authorities in Kepno, located on the border of Silesia and Lodz Province, have agreed to remove the stones and place them in the town’s historic synagogue. Kepno has no active Jewish community, but was reportedly 60 percent Jewish before World War II.
The site of the old cemetery in Kepno is covered by a gas station today.
When I contacted Chief Rabbi of Poland, Rabbi Michael Schudrich, he said. “I heard about this last night (the second light of Chanuka). The first problem is to locate the bones that were necessarily uncovered during construction of the gas station.
“Next, how much of the cemetery is overbuilt by the gas station? Third, we will sign an agreement with the gas station that no new building will take place. Fourth, the matzevot should be returned to the Jewish cemetery and not the synagogue.”
It is possible that as a Jewish cemetery, the gas station will be returned to the Jewish community of Poland, and dignity will be restored to the Jewish remains interred within.