The Matzevah Foundation completed its ninth year of projects in Poland this summer. Our work took us from one corner of the country to the other, meeting a lot of new friends and reconnecting with old ones along the way. Below is a brief recap of each of our projects.
Behind each project are countless supporters of our work. You have given us encouragement as we’ve traveled and conducted each task. Some of you even joined us this year in Poland! And even more of you made financial donations to The Matzevah Foundation. Each of these gifts aided us in a variety of ways this summer. We could not do our work without you.
This was our second summer to work with our friend and partner Alon Goldman with The World Society of Częstochowa Jews and Their Descendants and with the Christian Foundation Adullam (Fundacja Adullam) of Czestochowa. TMF President Steven Reece and Board Member Przemek Panasuik helped to head up the week’s work. We were also happy to welcome two volunteers with TMF, Rachael Romero and Yolanda Czyzewski Bragues. They were a great addition to our team. The goal of the work was to clean and clear identified sections of this large cemetery and to continue to strengthen relationships with organizations and volunteers in Częstochowa. We’re happy to say that both goals were met!
The biggest challenge of the week? A record heat wave hit Eastern Europe and made for very hot conditions to work in. This did not hinder the more than 200 local school students who came out each day to join in the work. Everyone took frequent water and rest breaks while achieving a great level of clearing. We were so grateful for their dedication despite the heat!
In mid June, The Matzevah Foundation returned to Krzepice. While this is a cemetery we have worked in for several years, this visit was extra special. This year, we had the privilege of working with a group of students with the Future Scholars Fellowship Program and JewishGen. The team of eight students and two leaders were a wonderful addition to our work this week.
TMF President Steven Reece, Board Member Przemek Panasuik, and volunteer Rachael Romero met up with the scholars group in Krakow at the beginning of the week. Together they toured important sights around the city that reflect the rich Jewish heritage Krakow has. The group also visited the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum.
The work in the Krzepice Jewish cemetery began on Monday. The team welcomed several local high school students who were eager to join in the work once again this year. We have to say, the city of Krzepice has the most faithful volunteers each year! After touring the cemetery and learning a bit of the history and viewing the beautiful cast iron matzevah, the team set off to work. Overgrowth of grass, trees, and bushes were cut down and hauled away. Dead trees and limbs were removed to prevent possible damage to the cemetery. And finally, trash was picked up from around the area. By the end of the week, the cemetery was looking beautiful!
TMF ended June in the small town of Krośniewice where President Steven Reece joined descendant, Joel Rosenkranz, whose father fled the community before the liquidation of the ghetto in 1942. This cemetery is under the care of the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland (FODZ).
It was the second year that TMF worked with Joel and FODZ in this special endeavor to clean and care for the Jewish cemetery in his ancestral hometown. Joel and Steven cleared about 25% of the grounds and determined to work with the government of the local community to clean the remainder of the cemetery in the near future.
The Matzevah Foundation returned to Poland in early August. We had a large team from TMF arrive in Oświęcim on August 9. The group was made up of Steven Reece and Board Members Elaine Brown, Kevin Little, Rachel McRae, Przemek Panasuik and Joann Siegienski. Also making the trip were three additional volunteers from the US: Ruth Hillis and Jackson Short of Tennessee and Lisa Wiater from New Jersey.
Oświęcim is a town and cemetery that is very dear to our organization. We are blessed to have strong relationships with the Auschwitz Jewish Center, The International Youth Meeting Center in Oświęcim, and several local friends.
Our goal for the week was to do a thorough cleaning of the Jewish cemetery that is located in town. Thanks to our yearly projects here and the occasional volunteer group that comes during the year, we did not have the usual heavy work that we see in other areas. Our team focused on clearing some really tall grass and nettle with weed eaters that covered a majority of the area. A handful of the ladies focused much of the week at the front of the cemetery by trimming a long hedge row, pulling grass and weeds out of the extensive stone path, and scrubbing many matzevah to remove moss and dirt. Their work really helps to give visitors to the cemetery a beautiful and peaceful first impression.
A highlight of the week was spending time at the Auschwitz Jewish Center (AJC) and the Cafe Bergson that is located next door. We were able to catch up with our friend Tomek Kuncewicz, who is the director of the AJC and a long time friend of TMF. He updated us on plans for their 20th anniversary in 2020. Tomek also shared with us the details of a new memorial park that they will be building this fall on the site of the Great Synagogue that was once in Oświęcim . This will be a beautiful and peaceful spot within the city where people can enjoy the space and learn about the large house of worship that was the heart of the Jewish community before the Nazis burned it down. You can learn more about their plans here.
August concluded with a team in far northeast Poland, in the small town of Przerośl. President Steven Reece met part of the team of volunteers in Warsaw and together they headed to the work site for the week. They joined Hatte Blejer and a group of Przerośl descendants, who worked with local friends, volunteers and the local government in the Przerośl Jewish cemetery. This was our third summer to be here working in Przerośl.
Having the chance to work alongside a group of descendants as we help them care for the Jewish cemetery in their ancestral hometowns is one of TMF’s favorite aspects of our work. Steven had the privilege to work with Hatte Blejer and her son Mike, Tandy Ford and Kimberly Ford, Jean-Francios Abramatic, Ben and Elia Stern, and Agata Liszewska. And, what a fun group they were!
Everyone worked hard to cut and drag many, many, branches, trees, and tall overgrowth from the cemetery. There are not a lot of matzevot remaining in this cemetery but the group worked with care to make sure all were cleaned and visible for people to see and reflect on.
The project was unique this year as Hatte and her group worked to discover previously hidden matzevot and recovered vital genealogical information during the week of work.
2019 was another successful year for The Matzevah Foundation! Thank you to all who participated, donated, and encouraged us.
Now… on to planning for 2020!