It was 68 years ago to the day that the shtetl Góra Kalwaria lost all of its Jews. According to the Yad Vashem website, the Jews from Góra Kalwaria, or Gur as it was known then, were deported to the Warsaw Ghetto between February 25-26, 1941.
Three years ago, a good Polish friend, a historian and endearing story-teller, took my family and me to this holy site, where we met the “last Jew of Góra Kalwaria”.
I say holy, because it is regarded by both Jews and Christians alike as a place of pilgrimage.
What did I know about this little town about 50 kms from Warsaw? Nothing!
Góra Kalwaria means Calvary Hill. The Hebrew name is Ger, meaning “the place to dwell”. The Yiddish name is Gur. This little shtetl was the seat of the Hasidic Gur dynasty, founded by Isaac Meir Alter.
It was a glorious winter day with snow everywhere, and a radiant and rare blue sky as the canopy. Felix Karpman greeted us warmly, and was eager to show us the town of his birth, to which he returned after having escaped from Auschwitz twice as a 16-year old.
On the other side of this bleak Polish building there is a synagogue that looks abandoned, but in reality, it is literally rising up from the ashes of history.
I have had many Jewish friends and acquaintances tell me they would never come to Poland because, for them, the country is just a huge cemetery.
I cannot begin to justify a visit here, since I am not Jewish, and my relatives were not displaced or murdered in this part of the world. I cannot begin to fathom the horrors of such a family history.
Yet, I do wonder whether by refraining from visiting Poland because of this painful history they are not denying themselves the opportunity to reconnect with the history behind a wonderful and vibrant culture that had so much to give to this part of the world. That it was torn asunder… no question. But, sometimes, coming back to a painful past yields golden nuggets.
The reality that the 3000 Jews from Góra Kalwaria were dislodged and perished in Auschwitz and Treblinka is horrific and perverse. Yet, because of, or despite, this gruesome history, it is most moving to realize the resilience of its only lonely son, Felix Karpman, who keeps vigilance and tenderly cares for the cemetery long ago desecrated in infamy.
Today, the cemetery is visited by many who erect lonely monuments, like the one by Argentine Jews.
“En memoria de Nuestros Seres Queridos Muertos por la Barbarie Nazi durante el Holocausto”
Since visiting the town of Góra Kalwaria in Poland in 2006 I have wanted to memorialize the experience, because it made an indelible mark on me.
Much to my surprise, yesterday I discovered that it was 68 years ago to the day that the town had lost all of its Jews. According to the Yad Vashem website, the Jews from Góra Kalwaria, or Gur as it was known then, were deported to the Warsaw Ghetto between February 25-26, 1941.
May their souls rest in peace.
A requiem to the shtetl that is no more:
Gone now are those little towns where the shoemaker was a poet,
The watchmaker a philosopher, the barber a troubadour.
Gone now are those little towns where the wind joined
Biblical songs with Polish tunes and Slavic rue,
Where old Jews in orchards in the shade of cherry trees
Lamented for the holy walls of Jerusalem.
Gone now are those little towns, though the poetic mists,
The moons, winds, ponds, and stars above them
Have recorded in the blood of centuries the tragic tales,
The histories of the two saddest nations on earth.
Elegy for the Little Jewish Towns by Antoni Słonimski.
The last Jew walks away from the bullet-riddled old cemetery gate.
Monument in the cemetery to commemorate the Jews who perished at the hands of the Nazis.
Felix Karpman stands next to the synagogue’s oven where the Jewish bread used to be baked.