The memories of their 1942 Jewish neighbors who were executed in 1942 remained with them for many decades as the Polish witnesses to the German crime in Wojslawice. They recalled a meadow swollen with blood and a child crying out for water under a pile of bodies.
In the years to follow, people who witnessed the crime shared their knowledge and warned their children to avoid the area behind the Orthodox Church, where 60 Jews, including 20 children, were killed on October 1, 1993.
Marian Lackowski, a former police officer, said Marian Lackowski that she was there when her mother saw the execution in the small eastern Polish town.
Lackowski was born after the war and has worked for years to ensure that victims get a dignified funeral. He finally accomplished this mission Thursday when he joined Jewish and Christian clergy, the mayor and schoolchildren.
The group began at the town hall and walked down a hill towards the execution site. Only roosters, barking dogs, disturbed their silence. The church bells and a trumpet sounded at noon as they reached the execution site. A mix of Christian and Jewish prayers were recited, and mourners lit candles to place stones in the Jewish tradition at the new memorial that was erected above the bones. It reads, “May their souls share in eternal life.”
It is not unusual for Wojslawice to have a mass grave. The Germans held Jews in ghettoes during World War II and executed them in death camps like Treblinka and Belzec. They also shot them in the fields and forests close to their homes, leaving behind mass graves throughout Poland. Many of these have only been discovered in recent years.
In 1939, Germany invaded Poland. This was the start of the war. It lasted five years. Germans considered ethnic Poles racially inferior and sent them to concentration camps and labor camps, sometimes even execution on the streets. The Third Reich was close to achieving the goal of total destruction for Jews.
Ethnic Poles served as both the rescuers of Jews, and as the executioners’ aids during the occupation. This is a tragic history that was suppressed under communist rule, but it has been the subject for soul-searching ever since.
The nationalist government of Poland seeks to celebrate Polish heroism, and downplay Polish crimes — to such an extent that Israel has accused it of historical whitewashing.
Many Polish citizens are involved at the local level in the preservation of Jewish cemeteries and other works to preserve the memory of the nation’s forgotten Jews.
Agnieszka Nieradko was co-founder of a Warsaw-based foundation that aims to find unmarked graves and secure them. She said that the large number of unmarked graves began to emerge around a decade ago. Zbigniew Niezinski, a Protestant man who was inspired by his religious convictions to pay tribute the Polish Jews for making Poland a multi-cultural land in the centuries preceding the Holocaust, is the person she credits for their discovery.
Nizinski would often travel by bicycle and visit small towns to ask the residents where the Jewish cemetery was. Many times, the answer was: Was he referring to the prewar cemetery or the unmarked grave from the war? Nizinski would then inform the Rabbinical Commission for Jewish Cemeteries of Poland about his findings and create a foundation to dedicate the sites.
Aleksander Schwarz and Nieradko co-founded a foundation under the auspices the rabbinical committee in 2014. The foundation was established to preserve and find as many Holocaust graves. It is a race against the clock as eyewitnesses age and die.
Zapomniane is the foundation name. However, Nieradko realized that forgetting doesn’t capture the true truth about the unmarked graves.
“They are somewhere in the margins of local history, but they have never forgotten.” She said that they don’t find anything new about these people when we visit those locations. “Everybody knows about Jews who are buried in the forest, or Jews who are buried on the meadow. It is oral history that is passed from generation to generation.”
Nieradko and Rabbi Michael Schudrich (the American-born chief Rabbi of the country), frequently travel to communities to dedicate new memorials at these sites. Nieradko claims that over 50 mass graves have been marked, 70 of which have been protected with wooden markers, and she believes that there are many more.
Schudrich stated that ceremonies such as the one in Wojslawice on Thursday give Holocaust victims their well-deserved graves and provide closure for those who were there to witness the crimes.
A grave is now available for descendants and survivors of Jewish war crimes. Schudrich recalls how one survivor from Israel traveled to Poland to dedicate a memorial for her mother and siblings who were killed in the conflict.
He recalled that she just stood there and hugged the matzevah (gravestone) because she had never seen her mother again.
Ground penetrating radar is a method of surveying called light detection and range (or LIDAR) and wartime aerial photos taken by German army spy aircrafts to define the graveyards’ borders. Human memory is the most important thing.
She said, “If there is no one to guide you to the grave then all your fancy tools are pointless.”
Nieradko stated that the evidence of eyewitnesses is a major factor in the discovery of grave sites. Children and grandchildren often preserve their memories.
Exhumations are not permitted because Judaism believes that human remains must be sacred and should not be touched.
Following the ceremony at the graveside, mourners made their way to Wojslawice’s renovated synagogue. There, the mayor paid tribute the multiethnic nature and coexistence of Jews, Poles, and Ukrainians in the prewar town.
One man from Chelm, whose mother was Jewish, stood up at the events to thank the leaders for their tolerance. He also lamented that this is not always the case.
Lackowski, who worked for many years to honor the burial site’s memory, expressed satisfaction at the fact that the victims now have a proper monument.
He stated that he had collected evidence from eight witnesses, “who told terrible stories about the meadow flowing with blood, that a child cried for water from this pile (of corpses), that even after it was buried for a few more days, there were still arms and legs sticking out from this pile that were moving.” It was horrible.”
The ceremony was attended by few eyewitnesses who were often too weak to participate. Boleslaw Sitarz, a 94-year old, was unable to attend the commemorations at the synagogue. When he witnessed the Jews being gathered and taken to the Orthodox church, he was only 15 years old. He said, “Screaming and shouting and lamenting did nothing to help.” He said that dogs arrived at night to scatter the bodies after they had been shot down.
He was happy that a ceremony was held to honour them. He said, “These were our neighbours.”
Nieradko and her foundation say they limit their work to the places they want. Nieradko also discovered that massacres in which local residents were involved in the killings have occurred, and she has seen a decrease of willingness to cooperate with the foundation and have the spot memorialized.
She said, “We select sites where there’s hope for putting up a monument.” “The most difficult places we leave for better times.”