In 2021, for the first time, the commemorative events “Brzesko: bond of memory” lasted for 2 days.
On Saturday, October 2, the new exhibition was opened in the regional museum in Brzesko. Our association donated to the museum new 1929 photos by prof. Schaje Weiss and the metal bottle from Josef Schnur’s restaurant. The curator of the museum, Mr. Jerzy Wyczesany, presented a short outline of the history of Brzesko Jews. Anna Brzyska shared a few words about the author of the presented photos, which we obtained from the son of prof. Weiss. Very few pre-war photos of Brzesko have survived, and all the more valuable is the new exhibition, which allows us to imagine life in Brzesko at the time when Catholics and Jews lived together in the city.
At 5 pm there started a meeting dedicated to the history of
Galician Jews, which was organized by the city public library organized. Short
presentations were made by:
Adam Bartosz – “Jews in Galicia. Historical Sketch”;
Michał Loranty – “Outline of the history of the Jewish community in the Brzesko poviat”;
Anna Brzyska – “Henoch Klapholz – outstanding Brzesko citizen”;
Lucjan Kołodziejski – “The Jewish Community of Borzęcin 1817-1942”
At 6.00 pm, the film “Polański, Horowitz. Hometown” was broadcast, and both film directors, Anna Kokoszka-Romer and Mateusz Kudła took part in it. It is a very deep and sincere documentary. Neither Roman Polański nor Ryszard Horowitz are trying to act, to pretend. They just walk the streets of Krakow, the city of their childhood – together for the first time in over 50 years. Only two of them and their memories, nothing else matters. They joke a lot, laugh, and next minute come back to the most tragic events… Extraordinary film which is definitely worth watching!
That was the end of the first day of the commemorative events “Brzesko: bond of memory”.
Sunday, October 3
It was already for the seventh time, that we organized celebrations commemorating the pre-war Jewish community of Brzesko in cooperation with the City Administration and the Municipal Cultural Center.
The March of Remembrance always starts at
Kazimierz Wielki Square. Today, this place is primarily used to organize
various joyful events, and it’s great that we have the opportunity to enjoy
life and celebrate. But it’s so important to remember that this wasn’t always
79 years ago, in September 1942, remaining Brzesko Jews were crammed into Kazimierz Wielki Square. They had to kneel, wait for hours without food or drink. Later, they were loaded on trucks, taken to the train station, and from there, in cattle wagons – to the Bełżec extermination camp. Everyone – men, old people, mothers with young children, entire families.
Since 2015, more and more people have been participating in our Marches of Remembrance. There are many important things in life; each person creates his own value system, it will be a little different for everyone. But remembering the past, not accepting injustice and keeping alive the memory of thousands of neighbours who were murdered only because of being Jewish, is an important measure of our humanity. We do it for them – people who perished in the Holocaust, but also for us living today. Forgotten history, missed lessons of the past like to repeat themselves. I hope that it was such a deeper time of reflection for all participants of our March of Remembrance…
Above all, I am happy that so many students from at least 5 different schools have joined us this year. The town hall was represented by the deputy mayor, Mr. Grzegorz Brach. We had many guests: the Charge d’affaires of Israel in Poland, Ms. Irit Yakhnes; descendants of 5 Jewish families with Brzesko roots; as every year, we were joined by Rabbi Eliezer Gurary from Kraków and Catholic priest, father Zygmunt Bochenek; many people came from Krakow and other cities. But most of all, there were so many Brzesko residents!
When speaking at the March of Remembrance, Charge d’Affaires of Israel Irit Yakhnes shared a fragment from a poem “Every man has a name” by the Israeli poet Zelda:
Every man has a name
Given to him by God
And by his father and mother…
Every man has a name
Given to him by his enemies
And by his love…
Every man has a name
Given to him by the sea
And by his death…
That’s exactly what we’ve been trying to do since 2015 – to commemorate not just the general tragedy of the Holocaust, but every name, every life.
There were many touching speeches including the letter from the Chief Rabbi of Poland Michael Schudrich, and then we silently walked towards the synagogue building at Pushkina street to pray, light candles and offer flowers by the plaque commemorating the murdered Brzesko Jews.
Although majority of Brzesko Jews were murdered in Bełżec, we know that about 500 people perished in the town itself. They were all buried in mass graves at the Jewish cemetery.One of the documents kept in the Institute of National Remembrance states: “During the occupation… there were about 4000 to 5000 people in the Brzesko ghetto. In the years 1940-1942, special teams of black German gendarmes organized pogroms and hunts for Jews by shooting in the back of the head. The corpses were transported to the Jewish cemetery and there the bodies were covered with lime and buried in mass graves. About 500 people were murdered in this way…”
We walked from the synagogue building to the Jewish cemetery to honour Holocaust victims buried there.
Probably no one could remain indifferent to prof. Jonathan Webber’s speech and prayer for the murdered Brzesko Jews. Hebrew lamentation hovered over the city.
“…May the Giver of Mercy embrace them in the shadow of His wings forever…”
At the beginning of the March of Remembrance, we gave to each participant such cards, each containing a short information about one person murdered during the Holocaust. And now, standing in front of the mass graves, we prayed for all the murdered, but also looked at the faces of these people on the cards. “Every man has a name …”
The ceremony of unveiling of the renovated matzevah of Henoch Klapholz took place right after the March of Remembrance. Henoch Klapholz (1849-1926) was one of the most outstanding Brzesko citizens. In the years 1877-1919 he was a member of the City Council, and in 1898-1906 – the Mayor of Brzesko. This is how Brzesko chronicler Jan Burlikowski describes him: “He is one of the best mayors in the history of Brzesko. During his tenure as mayor, the greatest fire in the history of the city broke out in 1904. He started rebuilding the city very energetically and wisely. He often went to the national department in Lviv, where plans for the reconstruction of the city were created, he applied for loans for this purpose, he skilfully dealt with numerous and complicated matters related to the regulation of streets and squares, relocation of buildings, etc. In recognition of these merits, in particular for the city’s reconstruction after the 1904 fire, on October 17, 1906, the Municipal Council of the City of Brzesko proposed to name one of the streets after him, but mayor Klapholz refused the honour, and the street was given the name of Berek Joselewicz. In 1910, as the deputy mayor, he contributed greatly to the establishment of the first Brzesko high school, and later he was a long-term member of the district school council in Brzesko. “
In August 2020, the restorer, Mr. Dariusz Jaworek, found the tombstone of Henoch Klapholz at the Brzesko Jewish cemetery – for many decades this matzeva had been lying overturned, in two pieces, covered with a layer of dirt and dry leaves. After obtaining all the necessary permits, we could start the renovation of this unique tombstone. Restoration works were carried out by Mr. Dariusz Jaworek and Mrs. Ewa Dagnan-Jaworek.
The great-great-granddaughter of Henoch Klapholz, Ms. Monica Dugot, flew from the USA together with her husband and daughter especially for this ceremony. We could finally honour this man, to whom the city owes so much.
The Deputy Mayor, Mr. Grzegorz Brach, and Mrs. Monica Dugot unveiled this extremely beautiful matzevah made of black granite. Probably no one could remain indifferent to the text of the inscription on this tombstone.
…He was praised for rebuilding the city,
His merits shall advocate him before His Merciful Chair ,
The Lord of the Universe shall have mercy on him…
Prof. Jonathan Webber
offered a prayer for the soul of Henoch Klapholz; there were bouquets of
flowers from the City Hall, the Israeli Embassy and the association
“Memory and dialogue. Common history”; we could light candles and put
pebbles by the matzevah.
The longer article about Henoch Klapholz can be read here: https://brzesko-briegel.pl/en/2021/01/17/henoch-klapholz-and-his-family/
The evening of Jewish culture
started at 6.00 p.m. on Sunday, October 3. It was prepared by members of the
association “Memory and dialogue. Common history”, Brzesko high
school students and invited guests. We want Brzesko Jews to be remembered not
only because of their tragic death during the years of the Holocaust. These
people lived in Brzesko for several centuries; although Jews and Catholics
differed greatly in many areas, they also had a lot in common. The children
went to the same schools; neighbours visited each other; Jewish artisans often
had Catholic apprentices and vice versa; the city council was always composed
of both Jews and Catholics, all the important decisions were made together…
Therefore, this year we decided not only to tell about several Jewish holidays, but also to show how these holidays were celebrated in Brzesko.
Anna Kudła and Inga Marczyńska prepared several stands where one could read the testimonies of Brzesko Jews about the way various holidays were celebrated in their families; old and modern photos allowed one to see how Brzesko has changed over decades.
High school students Jagna Biesiada, Eryka Brach and Maciej Piekarz prepared photos of Jews who used to live in Brzesko. Students were ready to tell about each of them, and at the end of the evening a collage entitled “They lived in Brzesko” was created. These stands can still be viewed in the hall of the Municipal Culture Center in Brzesko.
Members of our Association shared about Shabbat, Rosh Hashanah, Chanuka and Purim and offered dishes typical of this Holy Days.
The evening of Jewish culture ended with the concert of “Jarmuła band”. Jewish melodies once again could be heard in Brzesko, and the audience sang along with the artists.
The Marches of Remembrance and evenings of Jewish culture have already become an annual tradition in Brzesko. Memory is the measure of our humanity. I trust that due to our commitment to this cause, not only the souls of the murdered Brzesko Jews regain freedom. Forgotten history tends to repeat itself. Looking back, we reflect on the nature of evil, we try to understand how this evil could take over entire nations. We commemorate the victims, restore their dignity, but we also look towards the future, hoping that we and our children will have enough wisdom to make good choices.
In conclusion, I would like to thank all the people and institutions, without whose support it would be absolutely impossible to organize these events. Only together we can make a difference. My special gratitude goes to Brzesko City Council for financial support of renovation of Henoch Klapholz matzeva; to the Municipal Culture Center and the city library of Brzesko; to Okocim Brewery and descendants of Brzesko Jews for generous financial support of our work and to the authors of the photos in this article: Mrs Paulina Miś-Wewióra, Mr Konrad Wójcik and Mr Krzysztof Wasyłek.
© Anna Brzyska, 2021