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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
Israelis 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.