Wodzislaw – We were honored to work alongside a group of students from Kansas City, Missouri. Together the team cleaned, sorted, and organized several hundred matzevot fragments. These will be used in the future to build a memorial lapidarium in the cemetery. We also cleaned and painted the fence that went around the cemetery.
This group of students were so fun to be with all week! There were many stories and laughter shared during the work.
Krzepcie – Early June took us to Krzepice, Poland. This was our 5th project in this beautiful cemetery and we were happy to be back to continue the work. Much of the focus was on removing big trees from the grounds that were putting the wrought iron matzevah at risk for damage.
We were once again joined by a wonderful group of local students and volunteers. It was a joy to get to know them and to work alongside of them during the week. We were able to achieve so much more clearing thanks to their help. At the end of the week, we brainstormed with some of the volunteers about work we can do in Krzepice in the future. We’re looking forward to our continued relationship with the great people of Krzepice!
Nasielsk – We were honored to work alongside 12 descendants of Nasielsk. All of them had parents or grandparents who were either born or raised in Nasielsk. This was the second year that The Matzevah Foundation has worked with some of them to help clear the cemetery.
There are no matzevah left in this cemetery. It is believed that the Nazis removed all of them during the war to pave the runway at a nearby airport. That did not diminish the importance of our work! The team cleared the majority of the left side of the cemetery. The land is now much more visible to the community which is important to help bring awareness to the cemetery. As people go by the area, our desire is that they will stop to think about the once vibrant Jewish community that is part of their town’s history.
Przerosl – The Matzevah Foundation joined a group of volunteers, all who had family who lived in Przerosl, Poland. The team spent a rainy week clearing a good sized section of the cemetery.
There were several unique aspects of this project. The first was the diverse group of volunteers. They came from South Africa, Israel, Zimbabwe, and the US. It was a very fun team! There was also a special connection made to a local historian. He became a strong advocate for the project within the community and he strives to preserve the Jewish heritage of Przerosl.
Kevin Little, Treasurer of The Matzevah Foundation, shares a special memory from the week: “The most meaningful part for me came at the end of the week. Bernie, a volunteer who is a cantor, read the prayer for the dead at the cemetery. It was very moving and meaningful and powerful. It speaks to the power of what we do in how we connect people of the present to their past.”
Piaski and Wawolnica – Several members of the The Matzevah Foundation joined volunteers from the US and Poland and Straffordshire University students in the Lublin region for several projects.
The first project the team undertook was in the Jewish cemeteries in Piaski which turned out to be very complex. There are two cemeteries in the city. The old cemetery has burials estimated from the late 16th century until the late 1800’s. More recently it was used as a marketplace and there are no matzevah remaining. It is estimated that a mass grave of 1,000 Jews who were murdered in 1942 is also on the site.
The newer Jewish cemetery in Piaski has burials estimated from the late 1800’s until the last known burial in 1943. Also located here is a suspected mass grave of over 3,000 Jews. The property is very overgrown with no signage and few matzevah.
The TMF team was joined by two other groups for the week of work. Friends from Staffordshire University in England led by Dr. Caroline Sturdy-Colls (forensic archeologist and genocide investigation), Kevin Colls (professional archeologist), and Mick Britton (a technical skills specialist) came to survey the cemeteries. A volunteer group from Studnia Pamięci in Lublin provided immense assistance ranging from logistics, housing, and hands on work in the cemeteries.
The last part of the project took place at the top of a steep hill in Wąwolnica in the Jewish cemetery. In March 1942, the Nazis murdered all the Jewish men in the city and the women had to carry the bodies up the hill and bury them in a grave in the cemetery. Except for an area where a monument was placed in 1993 commemorating those murdered, the cemetery has been neglected. The team of volunteers struggled to clear the thick overgrowth that covered this steep hill to have access to the suspected mass grave site. However, this was not possible due to very thick growth of intertwined trees that could not be removed even with a chainsaw and bush hog. With the hard work by the volunteers (hauling equipment up and down the steep hill), most of the cemetery area, particularly around matzevot, was cleared and exposed to beautiful sunlight for the first time in many years.
Oswiecim – We were warmly greeted back to Oswiecim for our 5th project. A great deal of work was accomplished in the Oswiecim Jewish cemetery thanks to volunteers from a local scout group and MSDM / International Youth Meeting Center. Routine maintenance of the grounds including cutting of grass, brush, and small trees helped to keep the area clean and open.
Oswiecim has become very dear to our hearts at TMF. With each year we return, we meet more of the people in the community who are taking small and important steps to preserving the rich Jewish heritage of their town. We are grateful for the way they continue to welcome us in their community and homes. We look forward to returning next year!
Commemoration Project with Fundacja Zapomanie – Steven Reece, President of TMF, and Bruce Mussey, TMF Advisory Board, joined our partners at Fundacja Zapomanie for a 2 week project that took them all over Poland. They visited sites of known but unmarked mass graves and placed a matzevot on the site. All of these locations had been researched through archives, local testimonies, and / or ground penetrating radar.
The graves were in one of four areas: In cemeteries, in labor or death camps, in forests, or in hiding places. Many of the places were hard to reach but the small team were determined to reach each place in order to help remember the lives of those buried there.
We would like to thank our friends at Fundacja Zapomanie for asking us to be a part of this special project.