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[Page 343]

The Katowice Memorial's
Cornerstone Laying Ceremony

Josef Chrust

Edited by Sandra Krisch

After an exchange of letters between the organization and Katowice's municipality, the local authorities allowed the building of a monument “in memory of the Jewish citizens who were murdered by the Nazi occupier”. The cornerstone ceremony was set for April 28, 1988, and an invitation, signed by the city's mayor, Jerzy Swierad, was sent to Israel. Two board members were sent to participate – Mrs. Yehudit Meir, who was the first person to contact Katowice's municipality with the idea, and Mrs. Cila Katriel, president of the organization. According to the plan, the monument was shaped from a large granite rock, colored grey and pink, with a lamp set on its top. The monument was set on a pedestal with room for flowers and a stand for an eternal flame. The location was on Mickewicza Street, exactly where the community's great synagogue stood, before the Nazis burned it. The council decided to engrave this fact on the monument in both Hebrew and Polish.

No remains were left of the synagogue, which was built in 1900. The Germans burned it down right after they invaded the city, and they destroyed it completely. A 5-storey building was erected next to the synagogue in 1937, in which the community's committee and Betar offices were located, as well as Bet Yaakov Girls' school and a boys' cheder, a kosher abattoir, a shul and a mikvah. This building is still standing, and is now used by a clinic and a number of commercial offices.

The ceremony was highly exciting, especially when the memorial scroll, signed by the mayor and by Mrs. Katriel, was placed in a box within the monument's foundations. The Polish hosts did their best to give the Israeli guests a warm welcome. The local daily newspaper reported the ceremony at length, and quoted Mrs. Katriel's speech, which was as follows:

“On behalf of Yehudit Meir and myself, as well as all of our organization's members, I bring you the kindest greetings. We, who were born in Katowice, stand here today as a symbol of the Jewish people's eternal circle of life in its resurrected country, the land of Israel. Katowice is the setting of our prettiest memories, until the tragic incidents of September 1939. Our families met the same fate as all Jewish families did. The Hitlerian beast conducted its plan of eradication with persistence. Hitler's cruel hand infected the ground of Poland and turned it into Europe's largest Jewish cemetery. I am the only survivor out of my entire family. My personal history is but an example of the history of the Jewish people.

Memorializing this place will be this little cornerstone, engraved with lines that will tell future generations how a synagogue stood on this spot, and how fire was put to it by the Nazi bullies. This monument will remind people of the Jews who once lived here and of their contribution to this city's development. We believe that Poland's future generations will learn that Jews, who have given the world the Bible – the Old Testament, in which it says “Love your neighbor as yourself” – were also killed in this city.

[Page 344]

kat344a.jpg
Cornerstone laying ceremony
Yehuda Meir z”l is standing in the center

 

kat344b.jpg
Cila Katriel, representative of the Katowice Émigrés speaking.
City Mayor Swierad is standing opposite her.

 

kat344c.jpg
Following the cornerstone laying ceremony,
The two representatives from Israel:
Cila Katriel and Yehudit Meir z”l

 

[Page 345]

The Jews and the Polish people share a destiny: we lived here together before the war. The Jews made great contributions to Poland's culture and economy. During the occupation, we were destined to die together as well. We hope that this monument will be a standing warning: May humans never set such a destiny for one another again.

We wish to thank the municipality of Katowice, and especially its mayor. We also thank the city's Jewish Society for Culture and the Jewish community for their support and generous financial aid to this project.”

 

The Jews of Katowice Today

As one of the few Polish cities in which there still lives a small Jewish community, there is a “Jewish Society for Culture” in Katowice. Although the society has 300 registered members, only about 50 of them regularly participate in its meetings. There is also a kosher kitchen in the city, which is funded by the Joint, to which elderly citizens can come in order to eat kosher meals and meet friends.

The city council of Katowice brought to our attention the need for restoration works at the Jewish cemetery in town. This cemetery was established in 1868-9 and is still in use. There are some 1418 tombstones in it, many of which are ancient and of historical importance. The place is generally neglected, and the authorities intend to renovate the burial society's building and turn it into a museum of Katowice's Jewry.

Katowice's community is unique in the number of historical records which survived the war years: complete annals of the community's bulletin, which was published twice a month and reflected all aspects of Jewish life in Katowice, were discovered after the war. Five of them were found by Mrs. Cila Katriel in the Schlonsk Library, microfilmed, and brought to Israel (From the years 1932 to 1936). These documents were essential to the research done prior to the publication of this book.

 

kat345.jpg
The memorial scroll that was buried under the cornerstone of the memorial

 


The Memorial Scroll

The organization for Katowice-born Jews in Israel and the citizens of the city of Katowice, in honor of the memory of the Jewish citizens who were murdered by the Nazi occupier, hereby establish this monument, where on September 8,1939 a Jewish synagogue was set on fire, as a symbol for future generations, so that the tragic days of occupation may never return, and as a pledge for peace to strengthen the bonds of friendship between all countries.

In the name of the citizens of Katowice - Mayor Jerzy Swierad

And in the name of the organization of Katowice-born Jews in Israel.

Cila Katriel, Chairwoman, Katowice, April 28, 1988

 

[Page 346]

A Day In My Life – A Closure

Cila Katriel

Edited by Sandra Krisch

kat347.jpg
The cornerstone laying ceremony of the memorial in Katowice, on the 28th of April 1988
Cila Katriel, Chairwoman of the Society for memorializing Katowice Jewry,
is signing the scroll for the cornerstone, following that of the mayor, Jerzy Swierad

 

The 28th of April, 1988.
In these symbolic moments, as I stand at the location
of our once magnificent synagogue,
a hall of holiness that was burned down to ashes,
my entire history flashes before my eyes: Fathers rush to prayer, Holidays and celebrations. Children and their parents brought together.
I went to school here, chased butterflies here and played around…

Our prayer books once stood here. I watched them being torn down and stepped on.
I was standing at the city square when that blast of explosion banged against my ears
and turned our temple into ashes.
German killer hands destroyed, erased any trace of it.
And yet, here I stand today – in order to remember,
in order to honor and never forget the fact that our people, the Jewish people, have survived.

Israel Lives!

 

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