Recently the Jewish cemetery at Wysokie Mazowiecie held a ceremony marking the first stage of its restoration project. The major benefactor, Marvin Brooks, was not able to attend but sent a moving letter that was read at the ceremony. The project is conducted by The Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland:
Dear Major Town Officials, Residents and Students of Wysokie Mazowiecie, FODZ representatives, Members of Jewish Community of Poland and Friends:
I truly regret not being with you this morning to participate in the re-dedication of the Wysokie Mazowiecie Jewish Cemetery due to a health restriction.
Wysokie Mazowiecie holds a special place in my heart and in my family history. I believe my family story is representative of many Jewish families in the area.
Here in Wysokie Mazowiecie my great-grandfather, Akiva Joseph Lipshitz, a poor religious man, who always attended synagogue, struggled to make a living as a Melamed (teacher) of Jewish boys training them for their Bar Mitzvah.
Family history is that my great grandfather was born in nearby Czyzewo in 1837 and married his first wife, Yenia Mirla, in that town before 1868. They had two children and came to live in Wysokie Mazowiecie. These two children, Ida and Miriam, married, had children and immigrated to the United States in 1889-1902. The fate of Akiva Joseph’s first wife is unknown.
My great-grandfather married again to Yenta Schrenitz in about 1875 in Wysokie and had six children over the period from 1887-1907. Two children, Dawid and Shefra died at ages of six and 17, respectively, in Wysokie. My grandfather, Schmuel, also trained in religious studies, was sent for further education in Lida or Vilna, where he met my grandmother, Ester, had a child, Miriam – my mother – and immigrated to the U.S. in 1917.
The three other female children (Lea, Anna and Shenka) remained with my great-grandparents in Wysokie. The family was very poor. Wysokie had a central market where you could buy potatoes, eggs, and fruit. The stores were owned by Christians and Jews. My great-grandmother, Yenta, was the family business lady who would sell aprons and stockings, which she had purchased from others, who had done the manufacturing. She would sell these items at the Wysokie market one to three days a week. This was the major source of income for the family. According to a recorded family history, my great-grandfather died in 1912 (age 75) in Wysokie. After the death of my great-grandfather, my great-grandmother and her three daughters struggled to maintain their lives through the first World War.
In 1921, the older two female sisters, Lea and Anna, immigrated to the United States, followed by their mother (my great-grandmother), Yenta, in 1929. The youngest sister, Shenka, married a man from Jablonka and immigrated to Argentina in 1926. Half of this family remained in Argentina, and the other half later immigrated to Israel.
My family in Wysokie did not suffer through the Holocaust; unfortunately, my other family in other cities throughout Poland and Belarus were not as fortunate and many perished.
To me, what personally started as a search to find the grave of my great-grandfather and two of his children in Wysokie has taken on new, more significant meaning. We have uncovered a Lipshitz matzevah (tombstone) in the Wysokie cemetery. Perhaps he was a cousin? He has the exact name as my grandfather, Schmuel, and he died in 1920. From the tombstone we have learned that his father’s name was Eliahu.
But more meaningful to me presently, is to have provided a more appropriate and respectful holy resting place for the Jewish community in Wysokie. I am hopeful that this small remnant of what was a Jewish community will serve as a memorial to the Jewish soul of Wysokie Mazowiecie.
In closing, I would like to thank Michael Traison and Wojtek Faszczewski, who initiated this restoration of the “Jewish Forest;” Dora Zitno of Argentina, our major contributor; our other donors (see the donor plaque at the cemetery); Norman Weinberg of the Polish Jewish Cemetery Restoration Project; and Monika Krawczyk of the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland; along with their responsive staffs for making this restoration possible.
Marvin A. Brooks
For more information on the work of the foundation, see fodz.pl/?d=1&l=en