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December 8, 2016 / 8 Kislev, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘Rabbi Michael Schudrich’

Polish Prisoners To Help Maintain Jewish Cemeteries

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009

As I have reported many times over the past 12 years that I have been writing this column, one of the major problems in Poland today, even greater then anti-Semitism, is the poor condition of Jewish historical sites. Many of the cemeteries are overgrown and synagogue buildings are in disrepair.


Lack of funds is one of the major reasons for this sorry state but even when money is available manpower is often not available.


Last week a unique solution to the problem of manpower was realized, a solution that can serve as a model for other countries where there is a similar problem. But it will only work if it is in a country that is at least sympathetic to Jewish history, culture and memory as is the case with Poland.


The Polish Government and the Warsaw-based The Foundation For the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland have signed an unprecedented cooperation agreement under which prison inmates will help to refurbish Jewish historical sites throughout the country. The deal that was linked between Poland’s Central Board of Prisons Service and the Foundation is believed to be the first of its kind in Europe.


The program will make use of funds provided to Poland by the European Union under a program, which sponsors a variety of projects for those serving time in the correctional system.


Inmates From 85 Polish Jails Expected To Take Part


“The agreement is based on the idea that prisoners will help to maintain and fix up Jewish cemeteries and other historical Jewish sites as part of their rehabilitation process,” Foundation CEO Monika Krawczyk said.


“It will also involve an educational component, such as teaching them about Jews and Jewish history in Poland,” she added.


The idea behind the program arose after the Polish Prisons Service and its Israeli counterpart agreed several months ago to cooperate in jointly restoring the Jewish cemetery in the city of Radom, 100 km. south of Warsaw.


“After that initiative was launched, we thought: Why limit it to Radom? Why not do it more generally throughout Poland?” explained Krawczyk, whose foundation is responsible for more than 1,100 Jewish cemeteries across the country, many of which are in dire need of repair.


“I think this agreement is a good and very constructive example to follow, because it is based on respect for history but is also directed to the future,” she said.


The refurbishing of Jewish burial grounds will be carried out under the supervision of the Polish Rabbinical Commission on Cemeteries, which is headed by Chief Rabbi of Poland, Rabbi Michael Schudrich.


Memorial Plaque Unveiled At Former Synagogue In Przemysl


On June 23, 2009, an official ceremony took place in the city of Przemysl in Poland. A memorial plaque in three languages (Polish, Hebrew and English) was unveiled on the front of a building, which served as a synagogue for the town’s Jews prior to the Holocaust. Among the dozens of participants attending the ceremony were: Israel’s Ambassador to Poland Mr. Zvi Rav-Ner; Shavei Israel Chairman Michael Freund, who initiated the event; Monika Krawczyk, CEO of the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland; a representative of the US Consulate General in Krakow, as well as members of the local city council and other official organizations in Poland.


The building originally housed the Przemysl New Synagogue, which was completed in 1910. It was also known as the Scheinbach synagogue, named after Moishe Scheinbach who initiated its construction. The synagogue served as a house of Jewish prayer until the Nazi invasion of Poland. After the war it was confiscated by the Polish Government and turned into a library.


Speaking at the ceremony, Michael Freund, Chairman of Shavei Israel, said: “I am deeply moved that after so many decades, a sign has finally been posted here on the front of this synagogue to remind everyone that Jews once prayed here, including my relatives. This is an important step towards ensuring that what happened to the Jews of Przemysl during the Holocaust will not be forgotten. I urge other Jews and Israelis whose families came from towns in Eastern Europe to become more involved in preserving what remains of the priceless Jewish heritage that once flourished there.”


Then, turning to the audience, Freund addressed Przemysl Deputy-Mayor Wieslaw Jurkiewicz directly, urging him to return other Jewish sites in the city, such as the Old Jewish cemetery and the grounds of the Old Synagogue, to the Jewish community. “Mr. Jurkiewicz, I appeal to you in the name of the Jews who once lived here and played such a central role in the development of Przemysl: restore these holy places to their rightful owners,” Freund said, adding, “We cannot change the past, but we can – and must – do it justice. The time has come for the city of Przemysl to return the Jewish communal property into its hands to the Jewish people.”

Shmuel Ben Eliezer

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.

Shmuel Ben Eliezer

Purim In Warsaw

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2008

         Purim is major event throughout Poland. Many marginal Jews bring their whole families to the synagogue for the festive reading of the Megillah. For the established religious community it is an opportunity for outreach.


         In Warsaw everybody gets into the act from Rabbi Michael Schudrich to the youngsters.





         Before any religious event Rabbi Schudrich, Chief Rabbi Of Poland, explains to those present the significance of the event, the proper practice, as well as any possible link to Polish Jewish history. In the case of Purim there is a parallel between Haman y”s and Hitler y”s.




         In a playful Purim atmosphere Rabbi Schudrich was carried into shul before the reading of Megillat Esther.




        While reading the Megillah was done in full costume it was still read with reverence.




Enough said!”



(All photographs courtesy of Adam Tuchlinski.)

Shmuel Ben Eliezer

Getting Results In Poland

Wednesday, January 9th, 2008

         During my trip to Poland last summer I discovered a few areas that needed attention.   There was the accidental uncovering of the Old Cemetery in Lodz and the excavations at the Chelmno Death Camp. A third place of interest was the discovery in Lubachow of a major mass grave of Holocaust victims. At that time I wrote about the findings and received a lot of mail asking about the current condition of the places in question.


         Last week I had occasion to sit and talk with Chief Rabbi of Poland, Rabbi Michael Schudrich, and we discussed these and other issues regarding the Jewish community in Poland.



The exposed Old Jewish Cemetery in Lodz as it looked this past summer.



         When I visited Chelmno with Chief Rabbi of Galicia, Rabbi Chaim Baruch Gluck, we discovered that there had been recent archaeological probing in the scope of the mass graves. While no large bones were found, we saw many exposed bone fragments lying on the ground, as well as large open pits. This situation at a Jewish cemetery is intolerable, against Jewish, and even, Polish law.


         I asked Rabbi Schudrich what was being done there and he said that he had sent an engineer to the site and received a report from him, but work to preserve the site had to be put off until after the winter.



The archaeological digs in the area of the mass graves at Chelmno.



         I am happy to report that at the Old Lodz Cemetery the situation has been rectified and all bones have been returned to the cemetery. The area was covered and a halachic solution was found regarding the tramway.


         In Lubachow, which I visited with Rabbi Gluck in July, an agreement has been reached with the townspeople, as well as the local parish, as how to safeguard the site. Even though it is in the middle of an agricultural field, a line of trees will surround the mass grave, and a monument will be built to commemorate the victims.



Artist’s rendition of the site of a mass grave of Holocaust victims in Lubachow. 



         All the work was done with the help of Rabbi Michael Schudrich, Chief Rabbi Of Poland, Rabbi Chaim Baruch Gluck, Chief Rabbi Of Galicia, the local Jewish communities, as well as local and national governments. 

Shmuel Ben Eliezer

Chanukah Joy And Festivities In Poland

Wednesday, December 19th, 2007

         The Jewish community held a candle-lighting ceremony at the Presidential Palace, with the participation of President Lech Kaczyñski.




President Lech Kaczyñski; Undersecretary of State in the Chancellery of the President; Ewa Junczyk-Ziomecka; and Rabbi Michael Schudrich playing dreidel.




Children of the community joined the festivities at the Presidential Palace and presented the president with a menorah tapestry.




Rabbi Michael Schudrich dancing with the children at the Warsaw Community Chanukah party.




    Chanukah celebrations were not confined to Warsaw only. Parties were held in other cities, too.



The Chanukah party in Lodz was well attended. 

Shmuel Ben Eliezer

Chanukah In Poland

Wednesday, December 12th, 2007

         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. 

Shmuel Ben Eliezer

Old Cemetery In Lodz Exposed

Tuesday, September 11th, 2007

         It is said that Poland is one large Jewish cemetery. While that is not 100 percent true, anytime people dig in Poland, they have to be careful of what they might find.


         Last week the city of Lodz was working on the trolley line, that runs near the known boundaries of the old Jewish cemetery, when the workers came across bones. To their credit, the work was immediately stopped and the police came and told Simchah Keller, head of the local Jewish community, about the situation.


         Since it was the end of the day and dark, it was decided that further investigation would have to wait until morning. In the meantime, Mr. Keller contacted Chief Rabbi of Poland, Rabbi Michael Schudrich, who happened to be in London at the time. There, Rabbi Schudrich consulted with Rabbi Elyakim Schlesinger, an expert on halachot regarding cemeteries.


         In the morning I went to the site with Mr. Keller and found a large-scale ditch, about three-and-a-half feet deep, in the ground. After checking with a local expert on the cemetery, as well as old maps, it was confirmed that the ditch indeed passed right through the edge of the cemetery.


         The cemetery, which was in use between 1811 and 1892, had survived the Nazi invasion of Poland, and the Shoah, only to be destroyed by the communists in 1949. It was during the time of reconstruction, after the war, that the communist authorities decided that the property was too valuable, and built housing and a major road over the cemetery.



Rabbi Ephraim Moshe Maisels, giving his morning Torah class after shachrit.



         Today the Jewish community fights hard to ensure that there is no further construction (desecration) on the site. The question now remains of what exactly can be done. Rabbi Michael Schudrich arrived directly from London before Shabbat to examine the situation for himself. He met with town engineers, as well as the local community. Mayor Jerzy Kropiwnicki assured Rabbi Schudrich that no more work would be done on the site until a solution, agreed upon by all parties, can be found.


         Aryeh Klein, an engineering expert from Israel, will visit the site later on this week. He has experience working on several cemeteries in the past, and will report back to the Rabbinic Commission of Cemeteries in Poland, on what can be actually be done in this situation.


         Rabbi Michael Schudrich, said in an interview with The Jewish Press, “We, the contemporary Jewish community are committed to fight for the preservation of Jewish cemeteries in our country. This incident reminds us of the desecration committed by both the Nazi and the Communist regimes, against the sanctity of both the living and the dead Jews of Poland.


         “It also shows us of how Poland has changed, how in a free democratic Poland, national and local authorities, work with us to preserve Jewish cemeteries and not desecrate them.”

Shmuel Ben Eliezer

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/travel/old-cemetery-in-lodz-exposed/2007/09/11/

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