THE COMMEMORATION OF THE 70th ANNIVERSARY
OF THE EXPULSION OF THE JEWS OF ZGIERZ

October 18th – 22nd, 2009

Reported by attendee Mary V. Seeman (Toronto, Canada)

 

We went to Zgierz on October 18, 2009 for the 70th anniversary of the expulsion of Jews from the town. The week of commemoration was organized by Ms. Mazenna Gruszecka, who arranged for the Zgierz Yizkor Book to be translated into Polish by her daughter, Zuzanna Gruszecka O'Rourke. Ms. Gruszecka is also working on the restoration of wood houses still standing in what was, in the early 19th century, the only part of town where Jews were allowed to live. She with the help of her husband, daughter, Zuzanna, and friend, Joanna Kruczowska, provided our group of 16 with an enlightening week. She managed to obtain the co-operation of the mayor of Zgierz, the clergy, the local library, local interpreters, the Zgierz museum, and the Archives Centre. She also recruited a large number of bilingual student volunteers, who escorted us everywhere, translated for us, and generally made navigation through the city and its bureaucracy much, much easier than it would otherwise have been. Special thanks to Adam Jedruszczak and the two Martas.
 

Our group consisted of two Canadians (my son Marc and I), three Britishers, four Americans, five people from France, and two from Belgium. One of the group was born in Zgierz and only left in April 1940, at the age of ten. His former home, at the corner of the Stary Rynek (now renamed) still stands. Our family home in Zgierz, demolished during the War, is now the site of a McDonald’s.

Opening ceremonies, attended by a very large crowd of people from the town, were held on the grounds of the former Jewish cemetery on Barona Street. All the gravestones are long gone, but there is a new fenced-in area and a plaque. Mazenna has tried to compile a list of the dead on the town archive’s website [in Polish].

The mayor had a sumptuous reception for us at the Town Hall that evening, attended by large numbers of unidentified people.

The next day, there was a 4 hour walking tour of the old Jewish section of town and the wood houses, followed by lunch at the town’s only elegant restaurant, called Tabu. In the afternoon, we launched the hard cover version of Mazenna’s Polish translation of the Yizkor book and told the assorted audience in the Public Library our family stories. There was some controversy about how many of the old homes of Zgierz were actually owned by Jews before the War, one man claiming that only 5% of real estate tax payers had Jewish names.

That evening we were treated to a disturbing documentary about the treatment of maids in Lebanon ("Liban, Pays des Esclaves") and to “Angel of Ahlem” – a film about Vernon Tott, a US army man who devoted his life to identifying and touching base with the survivors of the Labour Camp. One of the survivors, Benjamin Sieradzki, came from Zgierz. (There is a Sieradzka street in Zgierz.)

Some of us went to Auschwitz the next day; the others went to the Archives Office to find traces of ancestors. I found the registration of my father’s birth (in Russian in 1899), my grandmother’s death (in Polish in 1938) and my grandfather’s death, December 27, 1939 (already in German).
 

A poster in Zgierz announcing the Commemoration of the 70th Anniversary
of the Expulsion of the Jews of Zgierz

[Photograph taken and provided by Helen Kauder.] 

The next day was spent in Lodz. Some of us toured the streets of the Lodz ghetto and went to the Jewish cemetery. My son and I went to two archives offices, taking pictures of the building on Piotrkowska Street in which I spent my early years, and going to the Manufaktura. The Manufaktura is a large mall located at the site of the old Poznanski factory. We bought books, went to the Modern Art Museum where there was an exhibit of Polish Jewish Art (14 pieces by my uncle, Marek Szwarc), and then ate in a Jewish restaurant in the mall.

Mary Seeman with son Marc at the Manufaktura, a large mall in Lodz
(located at the site of the old Poznanski factory)

[Photograph provided by Mary V. Seeman.]  
 

We got back to Zgierz for 5:30PM to attend the closing ceremonies at the old Jewish cemetery where a man surprised us with pictures of our family and letters (apparently his great aunt and my father’s cousin had had an intimate relationship). There was even a letter from my father in the bunch, amazing to see his handwriting again (he died in 1989). And, unbelievably, a woman came up to us to say she was a relative by marriage.

Separated by distance, and years, and a troubled history, we nevertheless felt warm and welcomed.

Mary V. Seeman
Toronto, Canada
October 2009
 

Click here for the official description of the Commemoration of the 70th Anniversary of the Expulsion of the Jews of Zgierz, written by Jaroslaw Peitrzak [in Polish], with accompanying photos.
 

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