Some time ago I was contacted by a chasid family from the US. Isaac and Lea Stengel were planning their visit to Poland and it was really important for them to try to find the graves of Lea’s ancestors at the Jewish cemetery in Brzesko. We met on March 25. It was very cold, rainy and windy. We spent almost 3 hours at the cemetery, but we could finally locate the graves of Lea’s grandparents and great-grandfather. (My and the Stengels’ gratitude goes to the Foundation for Documentation of Jewish Cemeteries as the grave of Lea’s grandmother, Hena Weiss, has been already documented and included in the Foundation’s database, and due to that we could easily locate it. I hope, that Witold Wrzosiński and Remigiusz Sosnowski will finish the documentation of the Brzesko Jewish cemetery this spring.)
I’m not sure, whether I will be able to share with you something that moved me so deeply. It was raining. I was standing next to Lea and could see her tears mix with the raindrops. Lea’s mother was the only one from her family to survive the Holocaust in Poland. After the war she moved to the US, got married, had children, lived a long life. She was buried at the Jewish cemetery in NY. Each time, when visiting the cemetery, Lea would promise her mother that at some point she would go to Poland and find the graves of her parents. It finally happened on March 25, 2019. We stood together by the graves of Hena Weiss nee Klingenfrau and Rafael Yaakov Weiss. Lea was praying and her husband, kneeling, was trying to decipher every word of the inscriptions and cover the letters with black ink so that this memory won’t get lost again…
“A man young in years, G-d fearing, a scion of righteous people, a grandchild of Grand Rabbi Zalka from the city of Novy Sanz who was 32 years old and died on the 5th day of the month Nissan, 1921. R’ Rafael Jakob the son of Aron Weiss. “
“Hena Weiss, the daughter of Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Ha’Levi from the city of Zakliczyn. She died on the 4th day of the Holiday of Sukkot 1930. She was a modest, correct and obliging woman. The wife of R’ Rafael Jakob who had already passed away and was a grandchild of the Grand Rabbi Zalka of Novy Sanz “
And here is another story. Lea’s grandparents died young, leaving their daughter – Lea’s mother – an orphan. It’s the grandfather, Tzvi Hirsch Klingenfrau, who took care of the granddaughter. However, he also became very sick and was afraid, that he would die and the child would be left without a family. He went to his Rabbi, who, after a long prayer, told Tzvi Hirsch that God granted him with extra 7 years of life. According to Lea, starting from that point, her great-grandfather had always known when he would die. He had enough time to raise Lea’s mother. He completed whatever needed to be done, went to pray to the synagogue, purified himself in the mikvah, returned home and died. Exactly 7 years after that prayer of the Rabbi…
“Rabbi who was fearful for the words of G-d Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Klingenfrau, the son of Tzvi Ha’Levi who died the 24th day of the month of Tammuz 1932. An honest person, who was engrossed in Torah and he served G-d all his life with learning Torah and doing good deeds.”
These stories are also part of Brzesko history, and by learning them we join this circle of history. And the cemetery ceases to be a territory of forgotten graves. People – real people, with their joys and sufferings, pains and victories – are coming back from complete oblivion.
© Anna Brzyska, 2019