Wednesday, May 28, 2008
Jewish Cemetery Spared from Destruction by Polish Farmers
Ze'ev Ben Yechiel
In the town of Siedlezcka in Galicia, Poland, a moving ceremony took place Monday marking the completion of the restoration of the local Jewish cemetery, which was established in 1850. The urgent need to restore the cemetery arose recently due to the incursion into the cemetery of local Polish farmers attempting to expand their farming area. The town of Siedlezcka is located in the district of Galicia, which is in the southeast of Poland near the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains. For many years the local Jewish cemetery served various Jewish communities in the area, such as Kanczuga, Gac, Bialoboki, Markowa, Manasterz, Zagorze, Chmielnik, Jawornik Polski, and Zabratówka. It is estimated that to date only 500 graves remain, with the last known burial having taken place in 1940.
Attending the ceremony, which took place at the ancient cemetery's entrance, were Michael Freund, Chairman of Shavei Israel, whose family originates from Kanczuga, and the Mayor of Kanczuga, Jacek Solek, who agreed to pave a new road to the cemetery at the town's expense.
The restoration works included a general cleaning of the cemetery, restoration of the gravesites and rebuilding the stone wall surrounding the cemetery.
In 1942 the Nazis rounded up over 1,000 Jews from Kanczuga, marched them to the grounds of the cemetery and murdered them before tossing their bodies into a mass grave on the site.
In his address at the ceremony, Freund said that he could no longer stand by passively and watch the ongoing neglect of the Jewish cemetery, so he decided to fund its restoration. “It was sad for me to see that a number of the gravestones collapsed or were broken and that the cemetery was overgrown by trees and bushes and essentially looked like a forest. It was also evident that many gravestones were taken from the cemetery over the years to pave local streets, or were looted by local persons.” Freund added that, “today when I look over the result of the restoration work, I am very hopeful that the cemetery is now safe from plunder and that it will continue to serve as a monument to the thousands of Jews who lived in this area before the Germans arrived and destroyed everything.”
The first recorded Jewish presence in Kanczuga dates back to 1638. According to the 1921 census, the Jewish population numbered 967 people, but by the start of World War II it had grown to over 1,000, and Jews made up more than 80% of the town's population. Among the Israelis that came from Kanczuga were former Knesset Member and Mapam party founder Meir Yaari and the late Binyamin Siegel – a former senior officer in the Israel Police.
The cemetery restoration work was financed in part by Freund and his family through the Warsaw-based Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland and the Siedleczka-Kanczuga Landsmanschaft headed by Howard Nightingale.