Report #7 about Roberta Books and Marysia Galbraith’s trip to meet Polish partners in preparation for the ADJCP‘s memorial visit to central Poland. Roberta was the main author of this report.
Kłodawa, September 10
Roberta tells a story: For a long time, she couldn’t locate the town of her Buks ancestors, until finally someone told her that the place she called Pshaytsh is known as Przedecz in Poland. The town’s Yiddish name had been passed down in her family.
Marysia and Roberta started our tour of Przedecz on September 7th, 250 km away in Bytom. We visited Halina Ziecik, who for years has collected archival records and personal stories about the Przedecz Jewish community. Roberta met Halinka on her first trip to Poland in 2019. When Halinka was a child, she spent many happy summers visiting her grandmother in Przedecz. Her strong interest in the history of Przedecz Jews began when the priest of the local Catholic church asked her to write a history of the church to commemorate its 100th anniversary. Through her research, she discovered that Jews had been housed in the church for three days without food, water, or proper sanitation before being transported to the death camp in Chełmno.
The priest was horrified when Halinka told him about this. His reaction was: They defiled the church! Halinka was shocked by his disregard for the suffering of the Jewish captives. She tried to explain to him that they were forced into this horrible situation, but the priest was unrelenting in his disgust at the desecration of the church. That prompted Halinka to interview anyone she could find in Przedecz about Jews and Jewish life in the town.
An eyewitness report of those three days can be found in the Przedecz Yizkor Book, written by a teenager who had been home on leave from a work camp. After being confined in the church with her family, she was allowed to return to the work camp.
We asked Halinka if she could share her extensive collection of information with us. She showed us some photos and some of her notes, saying she just needs to organize it all so she can publish it. Here are some photos that show historical buildings and the current appearance of their locations:
Halinka put us in touch with Halina Mądrzejewska, a Przedecz resident and retired employee at the civil records office. On September 10, Marysia, Yosef and Roberta met Halina outside her home in Przedecz.
We stopped at the nearby site where Roberta’s father and grandfather had lived, although a newer masonry home had been built on the site. Her grandfather’s brother, his wife and child had lived there and continued to operate a butcher shop where meat and live animals were sold, until being sent to the Chełmno death camp. Roberta said that on her first trip, she went into the store on the property that she imagined was where her grandfather had his shop. She bought a red hat, even though she never wore it.
Are people living in these towns occupying plundered property, Roberta pondered? On one hand, it’s normal. The buildings stood empty, most of the owners dead. Who else was going to live there? Life went on in these places, even though Jewish life did not. Yes, it’s understandable, but it’s also discomfiting.
On the outskirts of town, we visited the Jewish cemetery, unfenced flat terrain with large trees and grass underneath. Small, rotting fruits lay on the sparse grass under several massive pear trees near the road. A plaque mounted on a boulder sits near the road. The Polish inscription says:
Site is legally protected
Respect this place of rest for the dead
The plaque in the Kłodawa cemetery has exactly the same inscription. This stone is different because an added English-language plaque remembers Buks family ancestors.
The plaque had been put there in 1993 by cousins of Roberta with the help of the historian/archaeologist working at the Chełmno Memorial Museum. Jack and Josef Buks had spent the war years in Russia and returned to live in Poland (but not in Przedecz) after the war. Both brothers later emigrated to and died in the US.
The actual footprint of the cemetery is larger than the current plot. Michael Schudrich, the Chief Rabbi of Poland, sent Roberta a map. It shows that the garages beside the neighboring apartments are built on cemetery land. Also, at the back end, a rectangular bump-out is incorporated into an agricultural field. According to Schudrich, the Przedecz cemetery is now owned by the Jewish community of Wroclaw. Unfortunately, the Jewish community got back most but not all of the entire cemetery, and the garages were built illegally.
If we want a fence to be built around the cemetery, we should first see about including all land within the legal boundaries, and removing the garages. According to Schudrich, in the case where we can build a fence only around part of the cemetery, we should build a proper fence/wall along the historic boundaries and a different looking marker along “the non-historical boundaries.”
Roberta’s cousin Michuel Przdecki (later changed to Pizer) from Kłodawa, who also survived the war years by escaping to Russia, had told Roberta stories about making sure that his deliveries to Przedecz were late in the day, so that he could go swimming in the lake. He said that it took him half a day to make the trip from Kłodawa by horse and buggy. The lake is large, wrapping around two sides of the town. Halina said that the lake used to be much deeper, but it has been drying out over the years.
We also visited the Catholic church and the medieval tower that are the most significant landmarks in Przedecz. On a previous visit, Roberta had gone to the top of the tower and visited the inside of the church. In those days, there had been a small museum in town, but Halina said the museum no longer existed.
Ellen Morris said:
To understand what happened in Skiernowiece, note the garages in this article were built on top of a cemetery illegally.
Now imagine a beautiful paved driveway, well constructed garage, expensive gate to access property (accessible only by permission of elderly resident), a 1960’s bungalow, a beautiful landscaped backyard with fruit trees and a Rabbi’s OHEL. All built on top of the cemetery where our mutual great great grandfather and his various wives are buried.
Chaim Yosef Piwko was successful. Maybe he heard Jabotinsky speak throughout Poland or in Łódź and knew the writing was on the wall. Our mutual great great grandfather Chaim Yosef Piwko paid for various children to move away from Poland to Israel, USA & Canada. Possibly also to Switzerland. Unsure of the latter. He had the foresight so succeeding generations could live their lives.
This is why the extended Piwko family must go and experience what happened to the eldest cemetery.
The elderly man who illegally resides here with his family, told me if the Jews want this property back, they will have to pay my asking price! I told The Chief Rabbi of Poland face to face and it is in writing to him as well.
Proud of your work Marysia.