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[Pages 168-172]



After the Germans were driven out of the city, some of the surviving Jews returned to their homes. Within the territory of Siedlce County, there were barely about 200 in October 1944.1 Some of them entered into the structures of the newly organized Communist authorities, occupying prominent positions in the party apparatus and in the Public Security Service.2a They also tried to rebuild religious life. On 20 December 1944, the county administrator confirmed Aria Lejb Nejman in the position of rabbi in Siedlce. Nejman was a graduate of the rabbinical college in Brześć and the last rabbi in Siedlce. The Homeland Association of Siedlce Jews numbered 450 people throughout all of Poland. Aside from Siedlce, they lived in Legnica (73 people), Dzierżoniów, Łódź, Strzegom, Szczecin, Wałbrzych-Boguszów, Warsaw, Wrocław, and Ziembice. A committee existed at that time, with a management board consisting of Chaim Rajze, director; Jankiel (Jontel) Goldman, chairman; A. Frydman, secretary; Artur Kupfersztein, secretary; Symcha Lew, secretary; Perelman; S. Nusbaum, secretary; F. Morgensztern, secretary's aid; Ch. Kramarz, cook; and J. Wajnapel, custodian.3 The offices of the committee were first located at 5 Browarna Street and later at 41 Pułaski Street.

The majority of the surviving Jews, however, gradually left the city. The first such collective departure took place in March 1945 after clashes between liberation units and the functionaries of the new authorities intensified.b In Siedlce at that time a policeman of Jewish descent by the name of Orzeł was killed, and lieutenant Przenica, buried in the Jewish cemetery in Siedlce, was killed outside Kałuszyn.4

In 1946, at the initiative of and thanks to the insistence of Jontel Goldman, 90 bodies were exhumed and laid to rest in the cemetery. A memorial tablet was placed in this spot in three languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, and Polish. Its text is as follows: “Here rest the remains of Jews murdered and burned by the barbaric Nazis in Siedlce and its environs in the years 1942–1943 exhumed from the place of their extermination by the Jewish Committee on the fourth anniversary of the liquidation of the ghetto. We pay homage to their martyr's death. The Jewish community in Siedlce on 22.08.1946.” The monument has been vandalized, and the above text is no longer readable. The next action of this kind, encompassing all of Siedlce County, took place in 1948. At that time 37 bodies were exhumed from territories belonging to the Siedlce railroad: 18 people murdered in Krzymosze, 18 murdered in Opole, and the remains of Jakub Sosnowicz, murdered in 1943 and buried in Siedlce on Partyzantów Street.5

In 1945, the majority of Siedlce Jews went to Łódź and later left for Israel or other countries. In the 1950s, however, the Jewish community was organized enough to propose to the authorities a change in the name of Tylna Street to Szalom Asz Street, a Jewish writer who died in 1957. This is one of the oldest streets in the city, and it ran along the backs of inns, which formed the western frontage of the main market square. It was originally called Koźla Street, and that is what it was listed as in the inventory of Siedlce property from the eighteenth century. On a map of the city from 1820, it appears as Szeroka Street. Later, around the middle of the nineteenth century, it was called Tylna Street. This name remained until the twenty-year interwar period.6

Another street was given the name Bohaterów Getta Street. This is one of the oldest streets in the city. It originally bore the name Koński Rynek [Horse Square—trans.], then, until the postwar period, Stary Rynek [Old Market Square—trans.]. The decree giving the street its current name has not been preserved. During the German occupation, this street was part of the ghetto. Historic brick buildings are located on it from the nineteenth century (no. 2), from the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (nos. 5, 7, and 9), and from the beginning of the twentieth century (nos. 11 and 13).7

In 1950, Jontel Goldman, a Siedlce bricklayer, commenced efforts aimed at cleaning up the cemetery and the building of two monuments memorializing the annihilation of local Jews. One was placed in 1953 in the location of the first cemetery, where on 22 August 1942 the Germans began the action of deporting Jews to Treblinka. This monument was moved in 1982 in connection with the construction of the PKO [General Savings Bank—trans.] building. Currently it is located on Berek Joselewicz Street. The text on the panel reads [in Polish and Yiddish—ed.], “A place sanctified by the blood of 17,000 Jews, victims of Nazi genocide.” The second monument was to be placed in the cemetery on Szkolna Street. In connection with this project, gravestones, which the Nazis had used as curbstones, were removed from Siedlce streets in 1958 and placed in the cemetery. The year 1961 saw the creation of the Jewish Cemetery Inspectional Commission, which, after a thorough tour of the area, concluded the following:

1. The area of the cemetery must be put in order:

(a) paths need to laid out, graves need to be marked, graves need to be put in order by arranging gravestones, planting flowers, and so forth. Special memorial tablets need to be placed on 18 mass graves that are 5 meters and 10 meters long;
(b) a pyramidal monument needs to be formed out of 2,000 gravestone tablets;
(c) tablets need to be placed where people were shot to death against the cemetery wall (bullets can be seen imbedded in the cemetery wall). Cover them with glass and create inscriptions. In one place 29 women were shot to death (their names are known);
(d) secure the wall surrounding the Jewish Cemetery (the wall is crumbling);
(e) secure the entrance gate, which has moldered;
(f) in 1942, a transport of deportees from Radom were brought here (this tomb must be put in order);
(g) bushes, flowers, and so forth need to be planted on the territory of the cemetery.

At the same time, the commission stated that this cemetery, which is essentially not a cemetery but a place consecrated to the blood of innocently murdered citizens of Jewish nationality, must be put in order and secured.8

In order to effect the recommendations of the commission, the Siedlce Committee for the Protection of Jewish Cemeteries and Places of Execution in Siedlce, Mordy, Łosice, Sokołów Podlaski, and Węgrów was formed on 12 November 1962. The committee was composed of Jontel Goldman, chairman; Bronisława Szlezinger, vice-chair; Henryk Rajze, secretary; Goldfarb and Mieczysława Krawczyk, members. Witold Sobczyk drafted the initial design and cost estimate layout, and Rappaport designed the monument. This monument was to be a pyramid made of gravestone taken up from streets, and on it was to be the figure of Rachel crying over her children. The historical part of the design layout was executed by Jontel Goldman. This draft contains very valuable photographic material depicting everyday life in the Siedlce ghetto, as well as the moment when the ghetto was liquidated. Some of the photographs were taken from hiding. The project was never implemented since the city authorities came up with other plans that greatly diminished the size of the cemetery. Part of the terrain was planned for widening the road and building one-family homes. The Committee for the Protection of Jewish Cemeteries protested vehemently. There was even a dispute between the Siedlce Committee for Protection and the Main Management Board of the Social-Cultural Society of Jews in Poland [TSKŻ]. The society was accused of failing to give the cemetery adequate protection. In answer, the Main Management Board of the TSKŻ delegalized the Siedlce Committee for Protection. As a result of this dispute, no plan was executed.9 The consequence of these disagreements was that at the present time it is impossible to determine the place along the cemetery wall where the executions took place, and the names of the 29 women shot to death in this spot have been forgotten.c The tomb of the Radom Jews has also fallen into oblivion.

The last burial in this cemetery took place in 1962. The next plans for putting the cemetery in order arose. A detailed plan to develop the spacious City Center–West area in Siedlce was accepted in 1972. It provided for a two-meter widening of Spokojna Street in the direction of the cemetery. An area of 800 square meters was to be set aside for a lapidarium, while the rest was intended for multi-family housing. Construction, however, was not begun. Another attempt to put the cemetery in order was made in 1980. Another technical design was authored by Beata Michasiuk and prepared by the Union of the Jewish Faith. The project was not executed due to a lack of funds for this goal. In 1983, a new design was prepared, which in turn was not accepted by the Religious Union of the Jewish Faith. Then, in 1987, the Social Committee for Putting the Cemetery in Order was created. The next design, partially executed, was prepared by Engineer Ratajski. Within the framework of the undertaken tasks, the wall was fixed; a new, metal gate was made; the grounds were cleaned up, clearing out unnecessary forestation; and overturned tombstones were righted.10 The only curious thing is that, given the existence of so many designs, another one was prepared. In evaluating these actions, one can only conclude that more time was devoted to debating the designs of the cemetery than to working on putting it in order. In 1993, the cemetery was listed in the registry of historical landmarks. In recent years it has suffered significant damage.

The departure of Siedlce Jews from the city and the country took place after 1968. The Communist authorities of the time instituted an anti-Semitic campaign as a result of which over a dozen people left Siedlce, headed mostly for Israel.d

In the beginning of the 1990s, after democracy was restored in Poland, some young people discovered their Jewish roots. Their number is estimated at over a dozen. They belong to the Jewish Religious Council in Warsaw, and they treat their faith very personally.

In the first years of the twenty-first century, the Jewish Religious Council in Warsaw regained several developed lots in the city. These were the buildings of the Jewish hospital, the mikveh–bathhouse, and the butchers' prayer house. All the buildings were dismantled, and the lots were sold. Residential houses were built on all these lots. The fact that this area had a Jewish history spanning several centuries was not memorialized. The only place remaining in the possession of the Jewish Religious Council in Warsaw connected with the history of Siedlce Jews is the cemetery on Szkolna Street. Clean-up work was carried out on its territory in 2008 consisting of the removal of superfluous trees.

In 2000, the first organized group of Siedlce Jews living in various foreign countries came to Siedlce, headed by its chairman, Hercel Kave. They met with the then-mayor of the city, Mirosław Symanowicz. The next Siedlce homeland association from Israel arrived in 2006, headed by its chairman, Israel Zylberstein. They also met with Mayor Mirosław Symanowicz. Then a group of Israeli youths from Bat Yam came in 2007. They met with the mayor of the city, Wojciech Kudelski, and a group of Polish youths from the Saint Queen Jadwiga Second General Preparatory High School. The young people toured the city and paid tribute to the Jews murdered during World War II. This was how the symbolical return of Siedlce Jews to their city took place—now only in the emotional sphere. The next group of young Israelis came to Siedlce on 19 March 2009. They met with representatives of the city's authorities and the young people of the B. Prus First General Preparatory High School. The meeting took place in the Jewish cemetery, where tribute was paid to those who were murdered.

Editors' and Translator's Notes, Chapter 11

  1. This is true of the country's central organs but less so of the local situation in Siedlce. According to Wiesław Charczuk in "Najpierw popili sobie w urzędzie...” Zbrodnia ludobójstwa komunistycznego aparatu bezpieczeństwa na członkach opozycji antykomunistycznej w Siedlcach 12-13 kwietnia 1945 [„First They Had a Few Drinks at the Office . . .” The Crime Murder by the Communist Security Agency Perpetrated against the Anticommunist Opposition in Siedlce on 12–13 April 1945] (Siedlce, 2011), pp. 54-62, out of 98 functionaries of local security-services staff in 1945, 12 were of Jewish nationality, none of them in a commander or deputy commander position. Out of these 12, 3 people were previous residents who returned to town. One person, a prewar trade union and Communist activist, filled a managerial position that may be considered prominent. Return
  2. This statement by the author merits elaboration. The “liberation units” were mostly right-wing underground organizations that continued their fight for Polish liberation in mid-1945 by concentrating on the Soviet threat after the Nazis began to withdraw; they also targeted Jewish survivors, who were considered Soviet allies. These post–World War II clashes between the right and the left have their origins in pre–World War II perceptions.
    In the interwar period, there was a strong tendency, especially among modernizing (non-Orthodox) Jews, to conceive of liberation in terms of an international socialist revolution. This conception was strongest in the Bund. That said, the predominant sentiment in the Bund was anti-Leninist and, after the Bolshevik Revolution, anti-Soviet; an important minority, however, were pro-Lenin and pro-Soviet. In the early stages of the Russian Revolution, when its course and international stance were still up for grabs, there were hopes even among the moderate Jewish leftists that Soviet policy might be something they could agree with; however, with the rise of Stalin, these hopes were disappointed. After the 1920s, affiliation with the Bund declined; the main beneficiaries of this tendency were probably the Zionists.
    It was natural, under these circumstances, for the Polish right to be oblivious to the gradations among the Jewish left and to lump all Jewish leftists (including the Bund and the anti-Stalinists among them, and maybe even the Zionists) with the Communists. This lack of differentiation becomes apparent if one examines the types of organizations that were banned before the war because of the fear that they were likely to promote Communism (see chapter 9). To the extent that the Polish right influenced Polish state policy, the sense of alienation among Jews generally increased and both their leftist and their Zionist sympathies were reinforced, each of which were predicated on the notion of looking elsewhere for answers since acceptance by the Poles did not seem to be forthcoming. To the extent that Jews adopted this attitude, it in turn reinforced the Polish right's perception of them as an alien group within Poland.
    Against this background, the participation of a small minority of surviving Polish Jews in the Communist regime after World War II could naturally be perceived by the Polish right and a significant part of the Polish center as repeating the pattern of Jewish leftist deviation from the national consensus.
    The discourse in Poland has been very charged since the fall of Communism with regard to the relations of Polish society as a whole to Jews during the Holocaust and immediately after the war. A balanced view is very difficult to come by, and this book is not the place to enter into that heated discussion. The reader may wish to start by looking at Dr. A. J. Prazmowska's review of Jan Gross's Fear: Anti-Semitism in Poland after Auschwitz: An Essay in Historical Interpretation (http://www.history.ac.uk/reviews/review/627) for a sober presentation of the issues raised in Gross's controversial book. Return
  3. The list is presented in Editor's Note e in Chapter 10. Return
  4. Seven people can be identified, and a few more are estimated according to unofficial data. Return

Author's Notes, Chapter 11

  1. N. Lasman, Wspomnienia z Polski 1 sierpnia 1944–30 kwietnia 1957 (Warsaw, 1997), pp. 15, 51. Return
  2. John Sack, in his book Oko za oko (Gliwice, 1995), tries to answer the question of why this was the case. Return
  3. A. Skibińska, “Powroty ocalałych,” in Prowincja noc, p. 594. Return
  4. W. Grzymała, Wspomnienia (Białystok, 1982–1985), p. 62. Typescript made available to the author by Zbigniew Wąsowski; Sobczyk, Założenia projektowe na zagospodarowanie terenu cmentarza – pomnika męczeństwa Narodu Żydowskiego w Siedlcach (photographs with caption no. 22). Return
  5. Sobczyk, Założenia projektowe na zagospodarowanie terenu cmentarza – pomnika męczeństwas Narodu Żydowskiego w Siedlcach, pp. 24–29. Return
  6. Szalom Asz [Sholem Asch] (1880–1957)—Jewish writer, father of the American author Nathan Asch. Born 1 January 1880 in Kutno. He debuted with a short story on a biblical theme in Polish. His acquaintance with S[tanisław] Witkiewicz and S[tefan] Żeromski had a significant influence on the development of his talent; he also corresponded with [Eliza] Orzeszkowa, [Bolesław] Prus, [Władysław] Orkan, and [Andrzej] Niemojewski. [These were among the most notable Polish writers of the time.—trans.] He started writing exclusively in Yiddish early, gaining fame with his novel Shtetl (1904) and a volume of short stories. In 1914 he left for the United States, where he wrote the satirical novel Onkel Moses (1923) and a novel about Jewish immigrants, Ameryka (1926). He is also the author of a number of novels and short stories with historical and social themes: The Mother (1925), Motke the Thief (1925), the trilogy Before the Flood, as well as plays. After the Second World War, he wrote „Triumphant March,” an elegy dedicated to the exterminated Jews. He spent his last years in Israel. His works belong to the classics of Yiddish literature, and his plays contributed to the development of the Yiddish theater. A group of historic inns from the turn of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries is located on this street. Return
  7. U. Głowacka-Maksymiuk, Ulice Siedlec. Historia. Patroni. Zabytki (Siedlce, 1997). Return
  8. Minutes in the author's possession. Return
  9. Materials in the author's possession, provided by J. Goldman. Return
  10. Materials in the possession of the Department of Social Issues of the Provincial Office in Siedlce. Return


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