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October 24, 2014 / 30 Tishri, 5775
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Jewish Heritage’

Polish Writer Henryk Halkowski

Wednesday, January 14th, 2009

Polish writer Henryk Halkowski, z”l, one of Poland’s most notable contemporary Jewish personalities, died suddenly on January 1, just days after celebrating his 57th birthday. Friends said the cause of his death was a heart attack. He wrote and translated several books and essays on Jewish culture, history and thought. An expert on the Jewish history and heritage of Krakow, Halkowski also was an acute observer of the transformation of Jewish life after the fall of Communism. With his thick glasses, gray beard and zest for conversation, Halkowski was a familiar figure in this city’s Jewish quarter, Kazimirez.

 

“Henryk was one of a kind,” Chief Rabbi of Poland, Rabbi Michael Schudrich said. “His soul was gentle and his intellect fierce. He would always let you know what he was thinking. While you may not always have agreed with what he said, it was always well thought out and absolutely sincere. He was an anchor of Yiddishkeit in Krakow and we will miss him very greatly.

 

I first met Henryk on my first visit to Krakow more then 10 years ago and we quickly became friends. His enthusiasm about the Jewish history of his hometown, Krakow, made him an unforgettable character. He was a fixture in the Aleph Café on the main square in the Jewish neighborhood opposite the Rema Synagogue. Henryk wrote a popular book on legends of Jewish Krakow and often gave impromptu tours of the many synagogue buildings and cemeteries in Krakow.

 

The last time I saw Henryk, during the High Holy Days, he was an active participant in the minyan. Although not overly religious he felt very protective of his Jewishness. He once commented to me that he had retired from being a professional Jew. He had problems with the fact that many of the “Jews,” and especially vendors at Jewish events, were not in fact Jewish but only taking advantages of Jews coming to Poland, searching for their roots, for monetary gains.

 

“Kazimirez will never be the same without him and all his craziness,” said Malgosia Ornat of the Austria Jewish publishing house. “We will miss him a lot. He was so important for Jewish life in Krakow and a certain period of its revival is gone forever.”

 

Joachim Russek, the director of Krakow’s Centrum Judaicum Jewish Center here, called Halkowski “a guardian of Krakow’s Jewish legacy” and said, “The Kazimirez quarter without him will not be the same.”

 

Torah Comes To Poznan


 


On January 8, 2009, a Hachnassat Sefer Torah, a ceremony introducing Torah Scrolls to the seat of the local Jewish Religious Community, took place in Poznan. The representatives of the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland participated in the ceremony. When I visited the community last year it was explained to me that they did not have regular services, as the community was too small. They gathered regularly twice a month for Oneg Shabbat and held regular services when enough people joined them. Now with the introduction of the Torah Scrolls it is hoped that they will be able to have services on a more regular basis.

 

Sign Erected At Bilgoraj Cemetery


 


It was recently reported in this column that the cemetery in the town of Bilgoraj was in danger of being obliterated. While negotiations are ongoing as to the final disposition of the Jewish cemetery and adjoining mass grave a sign has been erected at the site through the initiative of the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland, reminding visitors of proper behavior during the visit on its grounds.

 

Jewish Scholastic Agreement With Chile


 


The Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland recently announced an agreement between itself and the Center of Jewish Studies of the Chilean University (Centro de Estudios Judaicos Universidad de Chile) concerning, among others, intellectual cooperation, exchange of publications and information about Jewish culture and history as well as joint educational and scientific projects. It is hoped that the cooperation between the two will raise awareness, of the importance of Jewish-Polish culture on the Jewish world, to the university in Chile.

Cemetery Cleanup In Poland

Wednesday, November 26th, 2008

     Recently I wrote about the partial desecration of the cemetery in Bilgoraj, by a construction company, despite the promises of local officials that no defilement would take place. While desecrations of cemeteries do happen in Poland the situation is getting better as the local population sees that the Jewish community is interested in preserving the memory of its ancestors.

 

 


Students that cleaned the cemetery in Shiniva

 


    The Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland has been working with Jewish organizations from around the world to look after as many of, the more than 1,300, cemeteries in Poland as possible. They have been encouraging local schools to go into the cemeteries and clear the area from debris and undergrowth.

 

 


The cemetery of Zambrow was recently purified and catalogued by students from Kibbutz Sdeh Eliyahu in Israel.

 


     The work, sometimes done with Jewish volunteers from Israel, gives these students an appreciation for the Jewish history and ancient culture that had existed in Poland before the Shoah. Hopefully this process of education will spread and help to protect Jewish cemeteries in the future.


  For more pictures of these cleanup operations and other events in Poland go to the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland website: http://fodz.pl/index.php?d=1&l=en.

Cemetery Cleanup In Poland

Wednesday, November 26th, 2008

     Recently I wrote about the partial desecration of the cemetery in Bilgoraj, by a construction company, despite the promises of local officials that no defilement would take place. While desecrations of cemeteries do happen in Poland the situation is getting better as the local population sees that the Jewish community is interested in preserving the memory of its ancestors.

 

 

Students that cleaned the cemetery in Shiniva

 

    The Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland has been working with Jewish organizations from around the world to look after as many of, the more than 1,300, cemeteries in Poland as possible. They have been encouraging local schools to go into the cemeteries and clear the area from debris and undergrowth.

 

 

The cemetery of Zambrow was recently purified and catalogued by students from Kibbutz Sdeh Eliyahu in Israel.

 

     The work, sometimes done with Jewish volunteers from Israel, gives these students an appreciation for the Jewish history and ancient culture that had existed in Poland before the Shoah. Hopefully this process of education will spread and help to protect Jewish cemeteries in the future.

  For more pictures of these cleanup operations and other events in Poland go to the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland website: http://fodz.pl/index.php?d=1&l=en.

Tragedy In Bilgoraj Jewish Cemetery

Wednesday, November 5th, 2008

      Last week I wrote about the Bilgoraj group that traveled to Poland last year and had a somewhat good experience. I was shocked that on the day my column went to press there was a major development regarding the Jewish cemetery in Belgoraj that was first reported by the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland. I immediately brought the report to the attention of Harold Baum, president of the United Bilgoraj Society based in N.Y. and it generated a spate of letters back and forth between N.Y. and Poland.


    Mr. Baum first asked Rabbi Michael Schudrich to confirm the report. Rabbi Schudrich sent one of his assistants to check the situation and true enough; it was as bad as could be imagined.


   From Rabbi Schudrich: “What has happened in Biljgora is a tragedy and unacceptable. No cemetery, Jewish or not, should ever be disturbed. On this past Thursday, Alex Schwarc of our Rabbinic Commission for Cemeteries visited Bilgoraj on my behalf to see what the actual situation is. Alex reported the following:


  ” ‘In the 1980s, the current wall was built around this cemetery. Recently, a Polish company gained rights to the plot of land next to the cemetery. They began to clean the plot of overgrowth and rubbish that had collected over many years. While cleaning the site, hundreds of bones were uncovered. It is now clear that the fence built in the 1980s included only a limited part of the actual Jewish cemetery and that the plot next to the cemetery was, in fact, in the cemetery itself.’


     “Alex buried the hundreds of bones in the place where he found them (as per my instructions). I am now working on a contact to this company and am hopeful that within the week will meet with them and to help them understand that this plot of land will be protected forever as part of the Jewish cemetery.”


     Can someone let me know who built the fence in the 1980s? Also, please let me know about any other cemetery or mass grave issues in Bilgoraj.


    Mr. Baum is, of course, very upset about the situation and there have been a number of angry letters sent to Poland over the issue. While the answer he received from the local authorities seemed sufficient from the Polish side, it further upset Mr. Baum who took it as an insult that the city would not stop everything and deal with the issue of the Jewish community.


    After reading the letters I saw that much of the problem was in the difference in language and culture. On the one hand, Mr. Baum feels that the situation is of utmost importance and he cannot understand why the world does not stand still to correct the wrong done to his cemetery. The Polish officials, on the other hand, see that the problem is much greater. It is a problem that happens on a regular basis throughout Poland. When he said in the letter that Mr. Baum was “fortunate,” it wasn’t because the situation happened but that he was aware of the problem and had the possibility to correct it. In many towns and villages, where there are similar situations, often the problems never get reported and, therefore, not fixed.


    Last week we saw the good relations between the Jewish survivor group and the local officials. I hope that the situation in Bilgoraj cemetery can be resolved to everybody’s satisfaction, and the good relations will be restored.


   One thing that we can learn from this latest chapter in the preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland is that when work is done all possible safeguards should be taken that the work be done properly. The cemetery in Bilgoraj is not the first place in which the exact boundaries are questionable. The Rabbinic Commission for Cemeteries and the Foundation for the preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland, were specifically set up to resolve these kinds of problems.


      Any time any group goes to Poland to work in a cemetery they should work through these two groups. They have much experience in working with the local governments and dealing with the red tape involved. They are also very knowledgeable in the many halachic issues involved in cemetery work and should be consulted every step of the way.

Radom, Poland

Wednesday, July 30th, 2008

       During the construction work carried out in the city of Radom workers found a number of richly polychromatic (multi-colored) matzevot (tombstones) beneath the ground. This is the first time in many years that such a large number of tombstones, with perfectly preserved colors,  was found in Poland.   

 

       At the time of the mass deportations in August 1942 hundreds of Jews fled to the forests to organize guerrilla units. These units were comprised mostly of persons who escaped from Radom. All the partisans fell in battle with the Germans. Many who escaped from Radom reached Warsaw and took part in the Warsaw Uprising (August 1944).

 

       On the whole Radom District’s 380,000 Jews lost their lives during the German occupation, according to figures of the Radom Regional Commission to investigate Nazi Crimes. A few hundred Jews settled in Radom for a short time after World War II, but soon left due to the hostility of the Polish population. 

 

 



Polychrome (multi-colored) matzevot


 

 

     The Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland immediately took action to protect the historic tombstones. In cooperation with the local branch of the Monument Conservators Office, and the building workers, the Foundation will assure that the matzevot will be given proper treatment and be transported to the Jewish cemetery in Radom.

 

      To date, The Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland saved 80 matzevot taken by the Nazis, from the Jewish cemetery in Radom, 60 years ago. The matzevot were discovered during road construction. The Foundation had received an anonymous phone call that, “Jewish stones” had been found. The Foundation sent its representative immediately, who contacted the site manager, and the information proved to be correct. We immediately notified the city’s Antiquities Authority, which arranged the conservation of the matzevot. The finding is very important because the tombstones are painted – a rare occurrence – in recovered matzevot.

 

     Monika Krawczyk, the Foundation’s CEO said, “We get more and more information every year that matzevot, used by the Germans, are being found. In most cases we manage to save them. However it happens also that the workers prefer to take them for scrap. We believe they are important for Polish and Jewish culture and testify to the high quality of Jewish art. Discovered stones may be also important for Jewish genealogists or survivors of Radom.”

 

 



Matzevot discovered during roadwork in Radom


 

 

      The Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland has posted many pictures of the find on the Polish Jewish Heritage website, www.polin.org.pl, where photographs of the polychromatic matzevot were just uploaded. The POLIN web portal has over 5,700 pictures and nearly 60 short films, of great interest, from over 300 Polish localities.

 

        Radom is a city in Kielce Province, Poland. Jewish residence in the city was banned in 1633, 1724, and 1746; a few Jews settled in the suburbs and numbered 67 by 1765. They were later permitted to reside in a special quarter. The settlement began to develop after 1814, and an organized community was formed; a cemetery was established in 1831 and the first synagogue built in 1884.

 

      Before World War I and during the period between the two World Wars Jews played a considerable role in the development of commerce and industry in Radom, both as entrepreneurs and employed workers. Jewish organizations in 1925 included a merchants and artisans bank and trade unions; there were numerous welfare institutions, including the hospital, founded in 1847, and an old age home, founded in 1913.

 

Religious and secular educational and cultural needs were met by yeshivot, the first of which was founded in 1908, the Talmud Torah, and prayer houses for the chassidic community, as well as schools of various types, including a high school, and five libraries. Periodicals published in Radom during the interwar period were the “Yiddish Daily Radomer Tzeitung,” until 1925; the weekly “Radomer Lebn,” later “Radomer-Keltser Lebn” then, the “Radomer Shtime;” and the Trybuna (in Polish).

 

At the beginning of the 19th century, for the first time, the community had its own rabbi. Ensuing rabbis of note were Samuel Mohilewer and Simchah Treistman (1904-13), later rabbi of Lodz.

 

        In 1939 over 30,000 Jews, comprising 30% of the total population, lived in Radom. During the German occupation it was the capital of the Radom District in the General Government.  

Preserving Jewish Cemeteries In Poland

Wednesday, June 4th, 2008

         Every spring and summer, there is renewed activity throughout Poland regarding the preservation of Jewish cemeteries. There are two kinds of work being done: Some are done by private people who see a situation in a cemetery in the region from where their family originated and attempt to restore the cemetery on their own. The other type approaches the Jewish community with a proposal to do the work and it is then channeled through the proper authorities. In the next few weeks, I will be reporting on a few instances that have recently occurred.

 

         Michael Freund, chairman of Shavei Israel, who has shown great interest in helping to restore Jewish life in Poland, was instrumental in restoring the cemetery in his ancestral town of Siedlezcka. Working with the Rabbinic Commission in Poland and the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland (www.fodz.pl), as well as gaining the cooperation of the local government, he did an exemplary job in preserving the remains of the cemetery. He sent the following report:

 

         SIEDLEZCKA, POLAND (Tuesday, May 27, 2008) – In the town of Siedlezcka in Galicia, Poland, yesterday, Monday, May 26, a moving ceremony took place marking the completion of the restoration of the local Jewish cemetery, which was established in 1850. Attending the ceremony, which took place at the ancient cemetery’s entrance, were Michael Freund, chairman of Shavei Israel, and the mayor of Kanczuga, Jacek Solek (who agreed to pave a new road to the cemetery at the town’s expense).

 

         The restoration works, which were financed in part by Freund and his family (through the Warsaw-based Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland and the Siedlezcka-Kanczuga Landsmanschaft headed by Howard Nightingale) included: the general cleaning of the cemetery, restoration of the gravesites and building anew the stone wall surrounding the cemetery. The urgent need to build a wall arose recently due to the incursion into the cemetery by local Polish farmers attempting to expand their farming area.

 

 



Michael Freund in front of the new gate of the restored Jewish cemetery.


 

 

         The town of Siedlezcka is located in the district of Galicia, which is in the southeast of Poland near the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains. For many years the local Jewish cemetery served various Jewish communities in the area, among them: Kanczuga (the community where Michael Freund’s family is from), as well as the villages of Gac, Bialoboki, Markowa, Manasterz, Zagorze, Chmielnik, Jawornik Polski and Zabratówka. It is estimated that to date only 500 graves remain, with the last known burial having taken place in 1940.

 

         In 1942 the Nazis rounded up over 1,000 Jews from Kanczuga, marched them to the grounds of the cemetery and murdered them before tossing their bodies into a mass grave on the site.

 

 


Michael Freund at the recently recovered matzevah of a relative.

(Photos are courtesy of Michael Freund)

 

 

         In his address at the ceremony, Michael Freund said that he could no longer stand by passively and watch the ongoing neglect of the Jewish cemetery and so he decided to fund its restoration. “It was sad for me to see that a number of the gravestones collapsed or were broken and that the cemetery was overgrown by trees and bushes and essentially looked like a forest. It was also evident that many gravestones were taken from the cemetery over the years to pave local streets, or were looted by local persons.” Freund added that, “today when I look over the result of the restoration work, I am very hopeful that the cemetery is now safe from plunder and that it will continue to serve as a monument to the thousands of Jews who lived in this area before the Germans arrived and destroyed everything.”

 

         About the town of Kanczuga:

 

         The first recorded Jewish presence in the town dates back to 1638. According to the 1921 census, the Jewish population was 967 people, but by the start of World War II, it had grown to over 1,000, and Jews made up more than 80 percent of the town’s population. Among the Israelis who originated in Kanczuga were former Knesset Member and Mapam party founder Meir Yaari and Binyamin Siegel, a former senior officer in the Israel Police Department. 

Anti-Semitic Incidents In Poland

Wednesday, March 26th, 2008

         People are on edge when it comes to the topic of anti-Semitic occurrences in Poland. Some have even said that I see Poland through rose-colored glasses. In truth anti-Semitic incidents in Poland do exist, and denying it would be living in a dream world. But the fact is, they have become less frequent in the recent past.

 

         The Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland, which has jurisdiction over many Jewish sites throughout Poland, has just published a report of events that have been passed on to the police for further investigation. Though there are 14 events listed below, others took place outside the Foundation’s jurisdiction, and therefore are not listed. One such example is the recent anti-Semitic graffiti at the Ohel of Rebbe Elimelech of Lizhensk (Lejask).

 

Anti-Semitic Incidents In Poland


Reported By The Foundation

 

         1. Warsaw, January 22, 2002 – Propagating of anti-Semitic contents and calling for hatred towards Jewish people on the Internet website www.polonica.net. Investigation made by the Public Prosecutor’s Office was discontinued on September 20, 2007 as no perpetrators were identified.

 

         2. Swidnica, September 1, 2003 – Propagating of anti-Semitic contents on the website www.historianiebezpieczna.kgb.pl/syjon/klinika.html, established by Mariusz R. Investigation made by the Public Prosecutor’s Office was discontinued on June 28, 2007, as the case was not classified as an offense.

 

         3. Brzeziny, December 14, 2006 – Devastation of the Jewish cemetery: a commemorative plaque was damaged. Investigation made by the Public Prosecutor’s Office was discontinued on March 14, 2007 as no perpetrators were identified.

 

         4. Swidwin, February 26-28, 2007 – Devastation of the Jewish cemetery: a commemorative plaque and matzevot were damaged. Investigation made by the Public Prosecutor’s Office was discontinued on June 9, 2007 as no perpetrators were identified.

 

         5. Suwalki, March 2007 (exact date unknown) – Devastation of the Jewish cemetery: swastikas were painted on matzevot. Investigation made by the Public Prosecutor’s Office was discontinued on May 8, 2007 as no perpetrators were identified.

 

         6. Warsaw, March 19, 2007 – Anti-Semitic graffiti were painted on the monument of the Warsaw Ghetto Heroes. Investigation is being made by the District Police.

 

         7. Augustów, probably April 8, 2007 – Devastation of the Jewish cemetery: a commemorative plaque was damaged and matzevot were covered with swastikas. Investigation made by the Public Prosecutor’s Office was discontinued on September 20, 2007 as no perpetrators were identified.

 

         8. Krakow, April 14, 2007 – Anti-Semitic slogans were shouted and Fascist gestures made by the participants of the NOP (a neo-Nazi organization) demonstration. Investigation made by the Public Prosecutor’s Office was discontinued on November 26, 2007 as no perpetrators were identified and the case was not classified as an offense.

 

         9. Warsaw, May 18, 2007 – Participation of David Irving, author of works denying the Holocaust, in the 52nd International Book Fair. After the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland and other institutions, filed a complaint to the organizer of the Fair, a meeting with Irving was cancelled and he was asked to leave the Fair.

 

         10. Tuliszków, probably June 22, 2007 – Devastation of the Jewish cemetery: a commemorative plaque was torn off from the wall and swastikas were painted on a matzevah. Investigation made by the Public Prosecutor’s Office.

 

         11. Bialystok, August 18, 2007 – Devastation of the Jewish cemetery: swastikas and anti-Semitic slogans were painted on the fence and on matzevot. Devastation of the monument of the Bialystok Ghetto Heroes: it was covered with paint and an obelisk was damaged.

 

         12. Bialystok, August 19, 2007 – Anti-Semitic symbols and slogans were painted on houses in Zamenhofa St. and Sienkiewicza St.

 

         13. Bialystok August 26, 2007 – Anti-Semitic symbols and slogans were painted on a building in Zamenhofa St., below the plaque commemorating Ludwik Zamenhof.

 

         A bill of indictment against three suspects was filed in the District Court. They were all members of an organized group called “The Fourth Edition.” They may be sentenced to five years in prison. The case was separated from another one, concerning 11 youths (the youngest are 15 years old); it was transferred to the Family and Youth Court.

 

         14. Suwalki October 25th-27, 2007 – Devastation of the Jewish cemetery: swastikas were painted on the facsimile of the Wailing Wall and on matzevot. Investigation made by the Public Prosecutor’s Office was discontinued on November 27, 2007 as no perpetrators were identified.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/columns/anti-semitic-incidents-in-poland/2008/03/26/

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