Report #15 about Roberta Books and Marysia Galbraith’s trip to meet Polish partners in preparation for the ADJCP‘s memorial visit to central Poland.
Kowal and Lubień Kujawski, September 15
Longin Graczyk, the director of the Ari Ari Foundation, promised to meet us in Kowal at 1 PM for a meeting with the mayor and others involved in Jewish heritage work. From there, he said we could meet some activists in Lubień Kujawski and still make it to Chodecz in time for our scheduled 5 PM meeting with heritage association members there. Roberta and I were understandably skeptical everything could be accomplished within such a narrow timeframe. But true to his word, Longin shepherded us through the afternoon and made sure that we did everything as planned. Longin and Justyna Marcinkowska, another activist with the Ari Ari Foundation, met us outside city hall and accompanied us up to the second-floor office of Mayor Eugeniusz Gołembiewski. The room overflowed with people eager to share their knowledge of local history.
Several conversations ensued at once, providing a flood of information about past heritage projects as well as future plans. Notably, Edyta Dorsz had brought vital records books dating from between the world wars. The town retains these records until they are 100 years old, and then they will be sent to the National Archive. Tears came to Mayor Gołembiewski’s eyes as he explained that the books document the life transitions of the Jewish community that was wiped out during World War II. He said studying history is one thing but holding a physical trace of that community in your hands is another. The book contains the names of 1300 Jewish residents. He feels their loss viscerally. He asked, what would their city have been like if not for the war? Probably, it would have been a much more vital place with 30,000 residents instead of their current 2000.
Kowal resident Tomasz Kulicki shared his family story, explaining how his Jewish father survived the war. Roberta and I were also led into a neighboring office to view photographs of recent commemorative activities.
The mayor affirmed his commitment to recognizing the Jewish history of Kowal and his willingness to greet descendants during the memorial trip. He asked for any photographs or historical information that our members may have and be willing to share. This is something he has asked of others, and been promised, but no one has ever followed through with resources. Does anyone have photographs or historical information about Kowal’s Jewish residents? Please let me know!
We could have talked for much longer, but Longin cut the conversation short, reminding everyone of our tight schedule.
Longin guided us to the Jewish cemetery, a grassy field on the outskirts of town. Residential houses sit across the street and to the right is the fenced yard of a building supply company. Since there is no fence or marker to indicate the cemetery boundaries, Longin pointed them out to us. The cemetery begins somewhere in the middle of the field, extends beyond a brush-covered mound at the far end of the field, and includes part of the terrain under the water treatment plant (see the blue roof ). Longin was told that for some reason the plant had to be built in this spot. He didn’t elaborate.
The Ari Ari Foundation plans to mount a commemorative marker since nothing indicates this field is a cemetery. The marker will be wooden, in the shape of a tall matzevah. He showed us a photograph on his phone of one already on display in another town.
We continued to Lubień Kujawski, to a dirt and gravel parking lot at the site of the Jewish cemetery. During the summer, swimmers park there and walk down a narrow dirt trail to the river.
The Ari Ari Foundation plans to mount a wooden memorial marker here, too. On December 13, they posted photographs of the marker on their Facebook page. It will be installed very soon.
Andrzej and Magdalena Dominowski, Lubień Kujawski residents who have collaborated with the Ari Ari Foundation on regional history projects, met us for a brief conversation on the edge of the cemetery/parking lot. They described some of the activities they have helped spearhead. Both are schoolteachers, and Andrzej has led historical walks that feature the town’s Jewish history. His next walk occurred several days after our visit, on September 26. Andrzej also sent the ADJCP materials about the Jewish community of Lubień Kujawski: the relevant section of Tomasz Kawski’s book Gminy Żydowskie Pogranicza Wielkopolski, Mazowsza, i Pomorza w latach 1918-1942 (Jewish Communities in the Wielkopolski, Mazowsza, and Pomorza Regions 1918-1942), and archival postwar questionnaires documenting material and personal losses during World War II.
We didn’t have time to learn more about the Jewish history of the town, but Virtual Sztetl provides a good outline. Jews first settled in Lubień in the 2nd half of the 18th century. They filled important positions in the local economy and in local government. Jewish community properties included a wooden synagogue, prayer houses, schools, rabbi’s apartment, and the partially fenced cemetery. At the beginning of the War, most of these properties were burned and the Jewish population was sent to work camps and ghettos. Only a few survivors returned briefly in 1946.