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Report #9 about Roberta Books and Marysia Galbraith’s trip to meet Polish partners in preparation for the ADJCP‘s memorial visit to central Poland.

Koło, September 11

Roberta, Yosef, and I met Koło museum employee Tomasz Nuszkiewicz at the Town Hall, and we walked across the street to the city’s museum of ceramics. Like Włocławek, Koło had factories specializing in faience, tin-glaze ware with painted designs, usually floral motifs. These factories were started by Jewish industrialists, who owned them until they were taken over by the German occupiers during World War II; after the war, they were nationalized by the Polish government.

We sat in an upstairs room at a table, where Tomasz had set out a copy of the Koło Yizkor Book for us, along with copies of a book of town postcards which he gave to each of us. The museum publishes a historical periodical that occasionally has articles about the town’s Jewish community. The room also has a Torah on display; it was found after the war and probably came from a neighboring town. Roberta suggested that based on its modest size, it might have belonged to someone wealthy enough to have a Torah at home.

We walked back past the Town Hall, which has a plaque mounted on its back wall inscribed in Hebrew, Polish, and Yiddish:

In the years 1939-1943 German occupiers murdered about 5000 Jews, citizens of the city of Koło. Honor their memory! The community and city council of Koło, September 1, 2009.

We continued another block to the former site of the synagogue, an overgrown lot with a pile of organic debris under some trees. The site is owned by the Jewish Community in Wrocław, but they don’t maintain it. Tomasz said maybe the city should clean it up, but they rarely do because it is not their property.

These issues of ownership are fundamental and challenging. How do you maintain property when the owners are absent? Who has the rights? Who has the responsibility? What is legally mandated and what is morally correct?

Location of the Koło synagogue, now an undeveloped, overgrown lot

A commemorative monument sits behind a fence in a square filled with trees, walkways, and grass across the street from the synagogue site. A plaque on a tall boulder reads (in Hebrew, Polish, and Yiddish):

Next to this place stood two synagogues built in 1860. The Nazis destroyed the larger synagogue and turned the smaller one into a resettlement point. 

Inscribed in metal along the base, it reads:

In the years 1939-1943, Nazis resettled about 7500 Jews from Koło and the surrounding area to camps of torment and murder. Honor their eternal memory.

The buildings all around the square used to be owned and occupied by the Jewish population. Without clear ownership after the war, the city took over their management and rented them to people in need of social assistance. The same thing happened to Jewish property in Włocławek and other cities throughout Poland.

Monument recognizing the site of the former synagogue in Koło

We continued by car to the Jewish cemetery, which is on the other side of the river on a hilltop behind the community center. A fence surrounds the cemetery, which can be accessed through an unlocked gate. The front section is covered with with trees and grass, and the cemetery extends across a grassy field. The city maintains this site because they own it. They keep the grass cut. Under the trees, a brick wall adorned with a Star of David pattern serves as a monument, with a plaque saying “The cemetery was destroyed by Nazis 1940-1943 and the Koło municipality 1945-1968; Koło June 24, 1993.”

Three matzevot, the only ones that have been recovered, lie on the ground in front of the wall. 

Monument in the Koło Jewish community. One of the remaining matzevot lies in the grass in front of it.

As we left, Yosef commented that of all the towns we have visited so far, Koło has probably done the most to protect their Jewish cemetery. It has a fence all around it, a commemorative memorial, and benefits from regular maintenance.