March of Remembrance commemorating the 77th anniversary of the liquidation of Brzesko ghetto was organized in Brzesko on September 15, 2019. We gathered at plac Kazimierza Wielkiego already for the fifth time. It’s from here that Bresko Jews were deported to Bełżec death camp on September 13, 1942.
Although just over 2,000 Jews lived in the city before the war (which constituted almost 60% of the inhabitants), nearly 6,000 people belonged to the Bresko Jewish community – Jews living in Brzesko, Czchów, Wojnicz, Radłów, Szczurów, Jadowniki, Borzęcin, etc. During the war, all these Jews were resettled to Brzesko ghetto, which was finally liquidated in the fall of 1942. About 6,000 people murdered just because of being Jewish. Hasidim and non-believers. Men, women and small children. Often entire families, parents and 4-6-8 children. Murdered. Shot in the streets. Buried alive. Gassed in Bełżec. We have no right to forget them.
We were together in this March – Brzesko residents and descendants of Bresko Jews, priest and rabbi. We listened to the letters received from the Israeli Ambassador to Poland, Mr. Alexander Ben Zvi and the Chief Rabbi of Poland Michael Schudrich. The sound of shofar could be heard in Brzesko. Shofar is supposed to awaken conscience, remind us of our sins, but also of the possibility of coming back to God. Brzesko ghetto was liquidated on the second day of Rosh Hashanah in 1942. And on the first day – according to Torah’s commandment – shofar should be heard in every synagogue. Maybe it was the last commandment that Brzesko Jews could fulfill before being deported to Bełżec.
We went to the building of the former synagogue on Pushkina street. Parish priest Józef Drabik read one of the psalms, Rabbi Eliezer Gurary and former Brzesko resident, Holocaust survivor who lived through five concentration camps and death march, Dov Landau, prayed together for murdered Brzesko Jews. We lit the candles and offered flowers by the plaque commemorating Brzesko Holocaust victims.
Later we went to the Jewish cemetery at Czarnowiejska street where many Brzesko Jews murdered during the war are buried in several mass graves. Mrs. Ewa Platner – daughter of the last Bresko Jew Szymon Platner – read an extremely moving poem written by her husband, Jerzy Przybyło.
Descendants of four Brzesko Jewish families joined us for the March of Remembrance. I read the names of their murdered relatives. Let me share at least about one family that used to live in Brzesko for generations. Dawid and Perel Teeman had six children: Szoszana (1914), Anda (1915), Sabina (1918), Zeew (1919), Arie (1924) and Menachem (1924). Only one daughter, Sabina, survived. Sabina’s daughter – Pnina Doliński – came to the March of Remembrance from Israel together with her husband Szlomo and daughter Efrat. And I think we all were deeply moved when Efrat talked about her great grandparents, David and Perel, being 45 years old, her peers, at the time of their death. And her grandmother’s twin brothers, Arie and Menachem, who were murdered being the same age as her son who serves in Israeli army now.
Later prof. Jonathan Webber read the names of 419 Bresko Jews who had been murdered in various extermination camps. The youngest victim, Abraham Leibel, was less than 2 years old, the oldest, Yitzhak Fogelhut, 87 years old. These people don’t have graves. There is nowhere to come and light a candle, put a stone. They were gassed and their bodies burned. But at least we can – and should – remember about them.
Rabbi Gurary and Dov Landau prayed for the murdered, and all those present at the ceremony had a chance to come to the monument on the mass grave, think about these people, put a stone. (And later I could show the descendants of 2 families, Teemans and Minglelgrins, the graves of their ancestors at the cemetery. Especially moving is the story of Pinkas Mingelgrin who died in Brzesko on May 27, 1941. Although ghetto had been already established in the town by then, he still had a proper Jewish burial and even a matzeva was put on his grave. Most likely this was the last matzeva from the war time at the cemetery. His grandson was so deeply moved when lighting a candle by his grave. Pinkas Mingelgrin died of pneumonia aged 67. If it wasn’t for that infection, he would have been gassed in Bełżec with other Brzesko Jews a year later…)
It was an important, deep and sad celebration. But those people who had been co-creating Brzesko for several centuries deserve to be remembered not only in connection to their tragic death. Their life also shouldn’t be forgotten. They lived as much as anyone – worked, started families, celebrated, went shopping, cooked meals …
This year, for the first time, members of the association „Memory and Dialogue. Common history” prepared something special – Jewish dishes typical of several of the most important Holy Days. At the presentation in the city culture center one could not only taste cymes, charoset, hamantashen or challah, but also get a recipe for these dishes and learn about the way Jews celebrate Shabbat, Rosh Hashana, Pesach and Purim. There was a lot of interest in the subject, which probably means that we will have to continue this tradition.
Then there was a concert of Jewish songs performed by young – and extremely talented – Bresko vocalists, and shortly afterwards – premiere of the film “Dov Landau: My Brzesko” directed by Mateusz Kudła.
I think we were all very moved to see on the screen 91-year-old Mr. Landau who, when walking down the streets of Brzesko, recalled events from 80 years ago …
This film is absolutely remarkable. It allows not only to listen to Dov Landau’s testimony, but also to feel, what life in Brzesko looked like prior and during the war. We will make it available at our website, but not right away. After the film director Mateusz Kudła – extremely talanted young man who spent many sleepless nights working on the film – adds several more scenes to it, we want to submit the film to couple of festivals of Jewish films. Due to that more people will learn about Brzesko (Briegel) and its Jewish community. But it also means that for the time being it can’t be put in the internet.
As always – I’m very grateful to everyone who made these commemorative events possible. Brzesko Jews are nor forgotten.
Special gratitude goes to:
– the city administration: Brzesko Mayor Tomasz Latocha, deputy mayor Grzegorzs Brach and Mrs Iwona Leś (and also the previous Brzesko Mayor Grzegorz Wawryka who’s been supporting us during the previous 4 years)
– director of the city culture center Beata Kądziołka (and former director Małgorzata Cuber)
– Dov Landau, Ewa Platner, Piotr Mingelgrin, Shlomo, Pnina and Efrat Doliński
– parish priest Józef Drabik, rabbi Eliezer Gurary, prof. Jonathan Webber
– members of the Association „Memory and Dialogue. Common History” Grzegorz Bach, Damian and Agnieszka Styrna, Mieszko and Agnieszka Musiał, Zuzanna Peters, Dorota Pstrąg, Magdalena Sowa, Bernadeta Styczeń, Anna Kudła (and Mary Brzyska for baking hamentashen)
– Mateusz Kudła who spent many sleepless nights working on the film
– Katarzyna Szlachta. Małgorzata Nawrot and Krzysztof Musiał for very beautiful singing of Jewish songs
– Bogusław Hajduk for very beautiful pictures of Brzesko Jewish cemetery which were exhibited in the city culture center
– Krzysztof Wasyłek, Paulina Miś-Wiewióra and Aleksandra Brzyska for the pictures used in this article
Anna Brzyska, September 2019