14.09.2020 | Redaktor

Brzesko: bond of memory 2020

Commemorative events “Brzesko: bond of memory” were organized in Brzesko on September 13, 2020, on the 78th anniversary of the liquidation of Brzesko ghetto

This year we had special guests in Brzesko, the Ambassador of Israel in Poland, Mr. Alexander Ben Zvi and his wife. The city Mayor of Brzesko Tomasz Latocha and myself had a short meeting with the Ambassador in the regional museum prior to commemorative events. Presence of the Ambassador  emphasized that every person counts in this Memory work, that Jews from tiny shtetls are as important as those most influential people from the capital…

Mr Alexander Ben Zvi and his wife in the Brzesko regional museum. Book of Remembrance of Brzesko Jews murdered in the Holocaust is in the background.

As usual, the March of Remembrance started at Plac Kazimierza Wielkiego – the place from which Brzesko Jews had been deported to the Bełżec extermination camp 78 years ago.
More than half of the city’s population; Jews from nearby villages who were relocated to Brzesko ghetto in 1942; Jewish families who moved to Brzesko from large cities at the beginning of the war, hoping that it would be easier for them to survive here. Almost all of them perished – in the city itself, in Bełżec, in other camps … 

Due to an epidemic, descendants of Brzesko Jews living in Israel, USA and other countries could not join the March of Remembrance. I was a bit afraid that only a handful of us would gather for commemorative events, but there proved to be more people than ever.  

The ceremonies started with the city Mayor Tomasz Latocha greeting everyone. And here I must add that organization of these events would be absolutely impossible without the support of the Mayor, the director of the municipal cultural centre, Ms Ewelina Stępień, employees of the culture centre and City Council, especially Ms Iwona Leś, and members of our Association. It’s only through our joint efforts that memory can be restored and kept.

Beginning of the March of Remembrance: Ambassador Alexander Ben Zvi; Brzesko Mayor Tomasz Latocha

“Life was buzzing here, and these two communities, Polish and Jewish, worked together to build the city” – Brzesko city Mayor Tomasz Latocha

” We must pay tribute to those who died during the war. We must pass this memory on to these young people, so that they would do everything so that Holocaust would not happen again.”  – Ambassador of Israel to Poland Alexander Ben Zvi.

Cracow rabbi Eliezer Gurary; Anna Brzyska
People listen as rabbi Eliezer Gurary blows the shofar

It seems to me that these exceptional photos by Konrad Wójcik and the Brzesko City Council hardly need any comments. They probably show the most important thing: that we, while being so very different, were together on Sunday: Brzesko residents, priests, Rabbi Gurary, principal of Brzesko high school, representatives of the city council and police; Orthodox Jews and Catholics; youth from Brzesko schools; people who came from other cities – Cracow, Tarnów, Nowy Sącz, Dąbrowa Tarnowska, Jasło, Warsaw.  We listened to the letter received from the Chief Rabbi of Poland Michael Schudrich and to the sound of shofar; we offered flowers and lit candles by the building of the former synagogue; we prayed by the mass graves at the Jewish cemetery…

People gather by the building of the synagogue at Puszkina street (former Łazienna) while the Ambassador and the city Mayor prepare to offer flowers.
Parish priest Józef Drabik reading one of David’s psalms
Rabbi Gurary praying by the plaque commemorating Brzesko Holocaust victims
Brzesko Jewish cemetery: Professor Jonathan Webber praying
Franciszek Podłęcki playing violin. (This talented young man composed a very moving melody in honour of murdered Brzesko Jews.)
By the mass graves at the Jewish cemetery

“By Saturday, the fence had been repainted. People had gathered. A surprisingly large number of people. The rabbi came. Ancient Kaddish resounded over the crowd.

And suddenly the great crown of a gigantic oak, whose roots were soaked in blood, rustled and groaned … There was a crackle of a broken branch and birds soared into the sky. Lots of birds.

Towards freedom. Above the clouds. Towards the stars. The birds seemed to be souls departing into eternity, becoming more and more transparent… Until they disappeared into the boundless blue of the sky… As if they had never been here.

But they were real. One such feigele dropped a feather, black like Basia’s hair. Whirling lightly and freely in the arms of the wind, the feather crouched on the bowl of a huge menorah. That’s all.

Perhaps the souls of those who are no longer with us, feel that someone remembers them? ” (from the story “My name is Basia” by Zinaida Vilkoritzkaya.)

We came together so that to commemorate tragic death of Holocaust victims, but also to celebrate life of the community that had been co-creating Brzesko for several centuries.

In the evening, after the March of Remembrance, we gathered at the Market Square. Young vocalists from Brzesko performed Jewish songs from the balcony of the museum – a tenement house that once belonged to the mayor Henoch Klapholz. Members of our Association talked about various Jewish Holy Days and treated everyone to dishes typical of those Holy Days. A queue of people eager to see their names written in Hebrew lined at Ania Kudła’s stand. An open-air exhibition provided some facts from the history of the Brzesko Market Square and two exceptional Brzesko-born Jews: Hebrew writer Mordechaj Dawid Brandstaeter and Mayor Henoch Klapholz. The restaurant “Malinowy Chruśniak” served Jewish cuisine. And when the sounds of melodies played by “Jarmuła band” spread over the Market Square, it seemed that we had moved back to the pre-war times, and those Brzesko Jews were once again with us, here at the Market Square.

People start gathering at the Brzesko Market square
Young Brzesko vocalists perform Jewish songs
Members of the Association “Memory and dialogue. Common history” sharing about Pesach
Hebrew calligraphy
“Jarmuła band” performing

Mr Marek Kołdras made an excellent short video summarizing these commemorative events, and you can see it now with English subtitles on youtube.

I would also like to add that several days prior to the March of Remembrance an unusual exhibition opened in Brzesko; part of it was dedicated to the 78th anniversary of liquidation of Brzesko ghetto. Mr Janusz Mytkowicz, Brzesko-born artist, presented a series of stones, which reflect the reality of the Holocaust and the world that was lost as a result of it:

Mr Mytkowicz and his stones

It is very moving – to witness more and more people joining events commemorating Brzesko Holocaust victims

© Anna Brzyska, 2020