Finding my grandmother in the Lodz Cemetery #poland

Joan Abramson <joan@...>

My husband and I just returned >from a trip to Poland. Lodz was the most
productive part of the trip and I have to thank JRI-Poland and the Lodz Area
Research Group for enabling the research that made this possible.

Together with my cousin, who lives in Warsaw, we traveled to Zarki, where my
cousin and I can both trace family roots to the late 18th Century and
beyond; to Czestochowa, where our families moved in the mid-19th Century;
and to Lodz, where they began to put down roots in the late 19th and early
20th Centuries. Together, we were able to locate many of the apartment
buildings where our family members had lived before World War Two, the
remnants of some of the buildings where they were crammed together in the
Lodz Ghetto during the Holocaust, the moving memorial at Radegast, where
many were sent off to the death camps and where, we are sure, the names of
many family members are located somewhere among the thousands of names in
the meticulous lists that were kept of those who were transported to the
death camps.

Most moving of all was the time we spent walking through the Bracka Street
Lodz Cemetery with cemetery manager Yankel Mitelman. We had sent Mr.
Mitelman lists of family members we believed could be found in the cemetery.
He warned us, at the start of our visit, that it might not be possible to
find every grave site we sought. Even if the cemetery found records of the
the section numbers where our ancestors were buried, the records did not
always allow for finding an exact plot. And even if we were able to find a
plot, he warned, it would not always be marked -- there has been too much
vandalism and neglect over the years. The cemetery, though it is run and
protected by the small Jewish community that remains in Lodz, is too large
and too underfunded to maintain its grounds or do much to restore or update
its record keeping.

Nevertheless, we were able to find the graves of a number of family members
as we tramped through the dense weeds in the older sections of the cemetery.
We even managed to find the site where one of my aunts had been buried in
1936, though it took us over rutted ground strewn with rocks and pieces of
headstones and though thick underbrush that towered over our heads and
obscured the pathway and its obstacles.

Most moving of all, I was able to locate the grave of my grandmother in the
ghetto field. After years of searching, I had finally located and obtained
a copy of my grandmother's death certificate. She died of "unknown causes"
just six months after the Nazis began forcing the Jews of Lodz into the
ghetto. Her grave site was unmarked -- the German rulers of the ghetto did
not allow headstones, just small metal or concrete markers, and most of
those long ago sank beneath the earth. But recently the Israeli Defense
Force undertook the task of surveying and marking the ghetto field, where
more than 45,000 Jews who died in Lodz are buried in individual, closely
crowded graves: In the main room of the cemetery funeral home we found a
huge pile of numbered markers the Israeli's were storing, soon to be placed
on specific plots.

Standing near where my grandmother's headstone should be and gazing out
across that vast ghetto field was an important moment and one filled with
emotion. The moment brought a measure of closure for me and for my family
-- after years of searching my father died never knowing when or where his
mother had perished. And it brought, anew, a visceral sense of the horror
of the Holocaust.

Joan Abramson

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