Our day proved to be
an emotional roller coaster. First we went to
the town hall which houses offices for records, the
library, and anything municipal you might want.
The library was out of frontier America. The
number of books probably would not equal those found
in most grade schools; it was tiny! It did,
however, have three computers. When asked about
material about the Jews of Skępe, the librarian
told us there was nothing on Jews. While she
doubted there was anything, she did promise to
look. That was the first indication that it
seemed like no one wanted to acknowledge the idea that
Jews had once been there… that my family was once part
of the community. It felt like someone hit me in
the stomach, leaving a sick and empty feeling.
We then tried the records. Jews. There is
nothing here. Knowing the names are not
enough. They are not kept alphabetically.
If we know the exact day, month and year, then maybe
they can help us. But an interesting thing
happened. It is here that Mike gave Żaneta the
moniker, Steamroller. As we went to each door she
asked Sławek and us to wait outside. She would
go in and even when she returned empty handed she had
a look of determination that she was not going to give
up. It finally ended when we re-visited the
library, and the librarian (no doubt not wanting to
disappoint Żaneta) found two pages in a book.
Looking at the book, the first name that jumped out at
us was Avraham Cudkiewicz! Then the picture of
the Rabbi. Then Gutman (my relatives) and Goldman...
and other names that we recognized from our research
for the Kehilalinks. Żaneta wanted a copy made for us,
asked for the address of the author of book, and our
day (AND ENTIRE TRIP CHANGED).
We walked over to the home of the author, Zyta
Wegner. She is known as the unofficial historian
of the Jews of Skępe. She and her husband
Bernard were very excited to meet us and had a warm
welcome complete with homemade cookies and a nice hot
cup of tea! Zyta was born and raised in Skępe
and still lives at 3 Sierpecka. She remembered
when Naomi Podrygal returned to Skępe after the
war. She was one of the lucky ones to have
survived Auschwitz and came to her mother's
house. Naomi was their next door neighbor and
could not believe her parents and 9 siblings were all
murdered. That experience transformed Zyta's
interest and appreciation for her family's Jewish
neighbors which continues even today. We
cried as she recounted the story.
As it turns out, Zyta has a
sister, who at 91 years of age, living in Bydgoszcz,
with a memory like a steel trap, knew many members of
our family. Within 15 minutes of our visit we
were on the phone with her. We all agreed to be
in touch again!
We were representatives of the 5th family to visit the
Wegners over the years. Bernard whole- heartedly
supports his wife's efforts. In fact, they
shared some instances where he also worked on behalf
of the former Jewish neighbors. As we sat
sharing stories, he shocked us all when we asked about
a farmer named Pruskiewicz from a very small nearby
village named Bogzaplac.
My cousin Faye had described how this farmer had saved
her and her mother's life late in the war. Faye
could only remember that his name sounded like
Puskewicz. Mike promised he would try to hunt
any records down about this man. (He had been
unsuccessful until we were getting ready to come to
Poland.) One day looking over a zoomed-in version of a
map of Skępe, he noticed a builder in town by the name
of Pruskiewicz. It was so close that he felt it
was more than a coincidence and when we talked to our
translator about jobs we wanted him to do, calling
this Pruskiewicz was one of them. So when the
name Pruskiewicz was mentioned and we started to tell
the story Faye shared, Bernard took over and told the
same story as Faye and more!! Who would have
We all agreed to meet again the next day at the Wegner
home for a last visit in my grandmother’s town.
Pan Wegner, knowing that we would never be able to
find the Jewish Cemetery, led us to the site. He
was right. Even if we were somehow
able to navigate to the location, there would have
been no way to even know we were there. It was a
heartbreaking visit. While the cemetery was
destroyed during the war, and the headstones were
taken by Skępe Poles, there was nothing to indicate
that there was once a cemetery on this ground.
In fact, Sławek told us that young Poles had no idea
and used the area for camping. How could they have
known? There was not a sign, a stone, a twig or
rock to even indicate that this was once sanctified
space. That this was the place that my great
grandparents, my aunts and uncles and my cousins are
buried. The only remnant left of what was once 7
acres of the Jewish Cemetery was the foundation for a
very small building. We have since learned that this
was an ohel for the burial of an important person, as
We said Kaddish, placed 4 stones - 2 from each of us,
a stone from all members of the Zamoskiewicz and
Gutman families - for all the relatives buried in the
unmarked graves on these two ridges of a hill.
heartbreaking visit to the Jewish Cemetery
Not a sign, not a stone, a twig or a rock
remains to show that this is sacred ground.
The oldest part of the cemetery
Path along the lake by the cemetery
|We were told that we would never
find the cemetery without help.
Now we can understand why.
Steps made from the headstones in the Jewish
cemetery were once used to connect this house
and the lake.
Bernard Wegner, we were able to find the
Jewish Cemetery in Skępe. He not only
brought us to the site, but explained about
the different parts... how when the oldest
part was filled, they moved over to the next
hill. He pointed out how the home on
the hill used the headstones from the Jewish
cemetery for steps between the house and the
lake. They were recently removed....
to who knows where.
As we returned from the home with the
"steps," he reminded me that my ancestors
(grandmother, great grandparents, aunts,
uncles and cousins) walked along the same
path. They could have also gotten fish
from the lake for their food