Opening ceremony of the Place of Remembrance in Dobra, Poland
Tuesday, 19 August 2008, at 1400 hours
Speech by Leon Weintraub, MD, PhD (Stockholm/Sweden)
(son of Nacha Bajrach, Dobra/Poland)
Tajre mishpoche, tajre
kinder un kinderskinder fun di jidn fun Dobra, tajre frajnd un tajre gest.
Es iz far mir a grojser kuwet az ich wel reden zu ajch on dem wichtygn tug.
Dear members of my family, dear descendants of the Jewish inhabitants of Dobra, honoured guests.
With this first sentence in Yiddish, my mother’s tongue, the ‘mameloshn', I would like to express how very honoured I am that I here, in this town and on this day, am able to present to you, together with the municipal authorities of Dobra, the Place of Remembrance created in the area of the newly recovered and restored Jewish cemetery.
In this town my mother, Nacha Bajrach, was born and spent her youth. This is where my whole family on my mother's side came from. This is where my grandfather Salomon Joel Bajrach and his father Abraham Hersz were born.
The fact that this ceremony takes place today, on the 19th of August, is of special significance to me and to my entire family. It is highly probable that on this very date my mother's life was mercilessly taken in Auschwitz. The day before, on August 18, we were 'evacuated' from our flat in the ghetto of Litzmannstadt (Lodz) and taken to the assembly place at the railway station of Radogoszcz. The next day we were driven into freight wagons and transported to Auschwitz.
The presence of a Jewish population in this area is already noted in Jan Laski's 'Liber Beneficjorum' of 1521 – as mentioned by Stanislaw Stasiak in his monograph, published in 1992 on the occasion of the six hundred year’s anniversary of the town of Dobra. According to this valuable source of information about the history of Dobra from Laski’s book it is evident that a Jewish community existed here, probably the first one in this part of the country. For a long time, it was one of the largest Jewish communities in the area and many surrounding communities (for example Turek) were governed by it. At that time, most Jews were engaged in trade, handicraft and inn-keeping. In the 19th century, Jews began to develop the textile- and oil industry, as well as saddlery and milling. In a table depicting the nationality structure of Dobra over the ages, it is shown that over time, Jews constituted more than 50% of the town’s population. Over hundreds of years, generally, Jews and Poles lived next to each other as good neighbours. The same was the case in most of such small towns – ‘Shtetl’ – in this country.
This is also how I remember every-day life in the small, nearby town of Warta. In the years 1937- 1939, when I was an eleven- to thirteen-year-old boy, I spent my summer vacations at the home of my aunt Hadasa Leczycka, my mother's sister. From this time, I have kept an image of a very modest yet quiet and honest way of life.
The Place of Remembrance has been created in honour of the Jewish population of this town and to commemorate the history of these people – especially those whose life ended tragically in Chelmno (Kulmhof) extermination camp. The murdering by Nazi occupants of these last Jewish inhabitants of Dobra in July 1942 ended their several hundred year-long presence in this town.
The idea to create a Place of Remembrance came to me for the first time during one of my visits to Dobra in the year of 2002.
I came to Dobra looking for information about my ancestors, as I had started to on work and to search for data for our family tree. The chairman of the registry office, Mr. Kazimierz Zasiadczyk, turned out to be very helpful in this undertaking. While I was doing my research I learned from him about the difficulties the local authorities of Dobra encounter with the Jewish community of Wroclaw concerning the property of the former Jewish community of Dobra, especially the property of the synagogue square [see photo below], which at the time of the debate served as a market place. While I talked with the local authorities of Dobra and the then Mayor of the city, Ms. Marianna Ochócka, the common idea emerged to create a Place of Remembrance to commemorate the history of the former Jewish residents of Dobra. At a family gathering in Tel Aviv, I presented the idea to my relatives, who authorised me, in the name of the Bajrach family descendants, to take steps to realise the project.
After tedious and sometimes very difficult negotiations with the former board of the Jewish Community in Wroclaw, I purchased, in the name of my family the plots of land numbered 1508 and 1509, which originally belonged to the Jewish Community of Dobra. During those negotiations the legal advice and moral support of my granddaughter Rebeka and her husband Szymon Filek was very much needed and appreciated by me.
Thanks to being a Polish citizen, to knowing the Polish language and thanks to the great help from the Dobra Town Council, I managed to carry out the transaction without any major difficulties.
Next, we agreed with Ms Ochócka that I would grant the right of use of the synagogue square to the town of Dobra, for an indefinite period of time. On the ground of the previous Jewish cemetery area, we would together create a Place of Remembrance in honour of the former Jewish residents of Dobra. The entire period of consultations, negotiations, and conversations was characterised by an atmosphere of mutual respect. I was very happy to experience the honest good-will of cooperation with everybody involved. My wish is to create, hopefully, a permanent mark of the many centuries of Jewish life in this town.
The good intentions and sincere wishes to bring the project to a successful end were also demonstrated by the positive attitude of the new Mayor of Dobra, Mr. Andrzej Piatkowski and his deputy, Jacek Gajewski, who with great energy and enthusiasm joined our work in building the Place of Remembrance.
The Town Council, under the mayor's leadership, fully completed the agreed obligations: to clean up and to level out the cemetery plot, to sow grass and – after the cemetery borders were determined by the representative of the Rabbinical Cemetery Committee – to build the brick part of the fence. The cost of the metal spans of the fence was born by us.
At last it was finally possible to build the Place of Remembrance itself!
Lech Król, the designer of the Memorial, is a person very dear to me, whom I have known since his birth.
The task of building the Place of Remembrance was undertaken by the local construction company Janbud, led by Mr Jan Koralewski.
We commissioned the preparation of the tables with the inscription in four languages – Polish, Yiddish, English and Hebrew – to Dariusz Dekiert and Zbigniew Janeczek from Lodz. The content of the inscription was in agreement with the Town Council. The metal-part of the fence was created by Krzysztof Janas from Turek.
Many people, my closest family, relatives and a number of descendants of the Jewish inhabitants of Dobra, as well as two German institutions in Stockholm, actively supported the project. Thanks to their financial support, it was possible to cover the costs for buying the former property of the Jewish Community of Dobra from the Jewish Community in Wroclaw. As work on building the Place of Remembrance progressed, expenditures for the continuation of the project grew.
So far, our attempts to obtain financial support from some Jewish organisations have failed.
With certain bitterness as well as with sadness, I have to stress that, while the whole administrative process connected with realising the project, including obtaining permits from different authorities, took place in a friendly and non-bureaucratic atmosphere, the same cannot be said about my experiences with contacts with certain Jewish organisations.
For example, when I announced that we are willing to take care of the former rather neglected Jewish cemetery in Dobra, the former board of the Jewish Community in Wroclaw increased the price of the real estate by 5,000 dollars.
Another example is the incomprehensible attitude of the Union of Jewish Communities in Poland. In July last year, a request for the financial support of the project was submitted to the board of the above mentioned organisation. Despite several letters and repeated inquiries on the matter, we have until now not received any response.
Since I did not hear from them I decided, along with the Town and Municipality Council of Dobra, to complete the building of the Place of Remembrance at my own expense.
In June, the Town Council carried out its agreed obligation to transfer to the Jewish cemetery area the ‘matsevot’ – the tombstones from the area of the Cerbst villa. During the war, after evicting the inhabitants, the German mayor used the tombstones from the Jewish cemetery to cover the sidewalk along one wall of this house. The tombstones are now transferred and put back on to the former Jewish cemetery area.
This is the background and history of the project to create the Place of Remembrance on the site of the Jewish cemetery in Dobra.
I have repeatedly been asked about my motivation, about the reasons behind this project. I have usually replied that:
this Place of Remembrance is intended to substitute for graves, since we have no graves of our families, who perished in the Holocaust between 1939-1945;
this Place of Remembrance symbolises the many centuries of presence of Jewish population in this area, and so it makes futile the attempts of Nazi occupants to erase all trace of their presence;
this Place of Remembrance, created by the common effort of descendants of the Jewish inhabitants of this town along with the town authorities, illustrates and is an example of good will and respect of the Polish society towards its former neighbours, who met such a tragic fate.
Since in today's Poland there is, unfortunately, again some negative debate about Polish-Jewish relations, I hope that the positive undertaking of this project will set a good example and will also spread beyond the town borders of Dobra.
I would like to end my story about the creation of the Place of Remembrance by extending my thanks to:
my family, for their patience and understanding;