Journey In Search Of My Roots

Journey In Search Of My Roots
By Howard Nightingale

October 2, 2001


Arrived in Warsaw at 7:30 am. Met my cousin at the airport who had arrived one day earlier. Drove by taxi to Warszawa Hotel. Changed and went to Shul (Synagogue). First day of Sukkot. Had lunch in Sukkah. My one cousin who I traveled with had an Aliyah and my cousin who had arrived earlier read the Haftarah. Returned to hotel and slept the balance of the day.

October 3, 2001

Went to Shul and was given an Aliyah. Had lunch in the Sukkah. Met Stefan Swiatek who hid my older cousin and who remembered my late mother. He described her as very beautiful and that I looked like her.

I interviewed Stefan Swiatek. He had actively taken part in the hiding of Jews in Gac. He hid my older cousin during the war. Stefan Swiatek's interview centered around my late mother, my younger cousins' parents and his sister and my older cousin. Stefan described how the town saved more Jews from other towns than had originally been living in the town. He described how one man, Adamchuk, attempted to proposition my mother by threatening to turn her in to the local Polish police. She in turn threatened to notify whomever captured her that Adamchuk was hiding her. Originally, she was brought to Gac by a member of the Polish underground, Bronik Pacula (this was done at the request of my younger cousin’s father-her uncle) and she was placed in Adamchuk’s barn without his knowledge. When he discovered her he then propositioned her as her price for his silence. When Stefan found out, Bronik Pacula's father and Sebastian Swiatek, (Stefan's brother) beat Adamchuk and threatened him with his life if he said anything. My late mother was then moved to the Pacula barn and stable. Stefan also recounted how, during the marriage of one of the Pacula sons, she came to the wedding party at night and everyone thought that she was Stefan Swiatek’s sister. Stefan's uncle wrote a book in Polish about what went on in Gac during the war, both my late mother and my older cousin are mentioned in the book. Gac was also a way station for diplomatic couriers working with the Polish underground in the region.

Met an elderly man from Gora Calveria (Gerer). Asked him why he had stayed after the war. He could not give me a specific answer. His daughter had married a non Jew and his granddaughter knew she was Jewish. I know his cousin from Toronto. Many people came to the Sukkah to bench Lulav and Esrog. Saw an elderly man with his daughter, son in law and granddaughter. The Shaliach from the Shul, who is Israeli, spoke with them at length. The elderly man was from Poland originally and had moved to Israel after the war. He had brought his family to see where he had come from. After Shul went to the old part of Warsaw (rebuilt after the war as it stood 300 years ago) and once again met the same family in an open air cafe in the middle of the main square. The Shaliach began speaking with them in Hebrew. My knowledge of conversational Hebrew is minimal but the daughter mentioned in Hebrew that the next day they were going to Klobuck. Once I heard the name of the Town I questioned them in Yiddish. It turns out that the grandmother came from Klobuck and had the same last name as my paternal grandmother from the same town. The elderly man knows my paternal uncle in Israel and helped my paternal aunt immigrate to Israel after the war. There is a very good chance that his late wife and my paternal grandmother are related as they have the same last name and are from the same town. Further, that this man knows my paternal uncle also from the same town is incredible. We took pictures, and exchanged addresses.

The elderly man was in the same concentration camp as my paternal uncle and father and he told me of my paternal uncle's kindness while in the camps.

After that meeting sampled local Polish cuisine. My late mother's was much better.

October 4, 2001

Met Stefan Swiatek and my older cousin. Stefan actually hid my older cousin and since then my older cousin returns to Poland regularly to spend time with Stefan and his wife, Regina. Regina is Jewish from Odessa but does not practice. Stefan is Roman Catholic.

We went to the Gensher Cemetery. Incredibly large cemetery with the most unusual headstones. Stefan is a member of the Righteous of the World. He helped save many Jews during the war and he showed us what the Nazis did to the Cemetery. We visited the graves of the man who invented Esperanto and Janusz Korczak among others. 

October 5, 2001

Went to Shul. Given honour of Shlishi. Had breakfast in the Sukkah. Went to the Jewish Historical Institute and met with Yael Reisner. He spent almost four hours with us and pulled documents including my maternal great great aunt's bank account information and my paternal uncle's declaration after the war about his wartime experience. Yael is also a regular Shul goer and our presence in the Shul on a daily basis helped considerably.

Went to Shul for Kabbalat Shabbat and ate in the Sukkah.

October 6, 2001

Went to shul and was given Hagba. Met German student in the shul with a German Siddur (Prayer Book). Spoke with him in German and found out that he was not a convert but a Christian. He was a student at the nearby University of Warsaw. He said that he had joined a reformed Shul in Germany as a way of "wiedergutmachung". Making things better. As an Atonement for his country’s past. Had lunch in the Sukkah. Went to Stefan Swiatek's home and videotaped him about my mother, my cousin's parents and sister and my older cousin in hiding in Gac, Poland.

October 7, 2001

Went to Stadium Flea Market. Went by foot to visit Warsaw Ghetto.

October 8, 2001

Left Warsaw by hired taxi and went to Majdanek. Tremendously moving. It was the way it was left, but cleaned up. No guides just follow the path and read the signs. Israeli students there with Israeli flag. Said Kaddish beside the ovens, as requested by my next-door neighbour who lost her paternal grandparents there. Huge partially covered cement bowl with all of the ashes. Open to the wind. Even putting pen to paper strikes the same chord.

Went to Ozarow north of Sandomierz where my father-in-law's family comes from. They were rededicating the cemetery there.

Went to Przeworsk where the last surviving brother of the family who hid my late mother lives. He is 82. His wife recognized me immediately from the pictures my late mother had sent her. She had kept them all. She showed me the letters my late mother had written and I remember her writing. She told me that my late mother started every letter with "Dear Saviours". I videotaped the interview. My late mother had assisted this family in any way possible as without them I would not be here. I offered the same continued assistance.

Stayed in local motel that night. Very clean and modern.

October 9, 2001

Went to Gac where my late mother was taken from Zagorze to be in hiding with this family. Stefan Swiatek's late brother was the head of the Polish resistance for the area and his widow still remembered my late mother. I interviewed her. She remembered my maternal great great aunt and great uncle and their daughter who they helped hide. She remembered my older cousin who she helped hide. When we left she asked me to light a Yahrzeit candle on the anniversary of my mother's passing for her. Next to her house is the house and barn and stable where my mother was hiding in. The corn fields as my late mother had described, where she hid at times, were there just as they were 59 years ago, in 1942.

Went to Kańczuga to look for my great maternal uncle's home. My older cousin could not find it as the area had been built up substantially since he was there last. Found the two shuls. One was an office building and one was a strip mall. While almost 40% of the town was Jewish before the war, nothing Jewish exists.

Set out to find cemetery in Siedleczka. By serendipity we stopped a lady on the street and asked her. She said she lived next to it and she would show us if we gave her a lift to her house. The cemetery is off of the main road and is not visible from the road. It is about a two minute ride from Kańczuga. If not for this lady we would not have found the cemetery. You must navigate up an old muddy hilly road to a farmer's home. There we asked the farmer's wife and she took us on foot to the place. The cemetery is completely overgrown with poison ivy, bushes and trees. It is less than one acre in size (I estimate) and is inaccessible except at the outer edges. There are piles of headstones and some standing. My cousin said prior to 1939 it was a cemetery for Gac, Bialoboki, Manasterz, Zagorze, Kańczuga, Markowa, Jawornik Polski, Zabratowka, Chmielnik. After 1939 the Jews were no longer allowed to erect Matzevot (tombstones). My cousin said that last time he was there, the mud road had been paved with the Matzevot. The farmer's wife advised that someone had received permission to pull out the Matzevot and pile them back in the cemetery, hence the mud road. The farmer ploughs on all three sides of the cemetery. The farmer's wife showed us the mass grave at the base of the hill where the cemetery is located. There is an overgrown stone marker indicating that the remaining Jews of Kańczuga had been rounded up and marched out here and shot in 1942.

The farmer's wife said that some one should reclaim the cemetery. This is what my family, with the assistance of others hope to do, like the Ozarow reclamation.

We said Kaddish at the cemetery and left.

Went to Zagorze and saw my late mother's school which now is a private home. Also saw where my late mother’s home stood. It was then a fire hall and now a private home again. Saw the small farm across the street that my late mother used to talk about.

Went to Lancut, Bialaboki and Zabratowka. The shul in Lancut was locked. Later, we were told that the key was at the Graf Potawksi palace. Left for Cracow. Came in time for davening (praying). All of us were honoured with a Hakafot. There are magnificent old synagogues in Cracow. Only the REMU is still functioning. For Simchat Torah there were 17 men, of which we were three. We were invited back to the Rabbi's for dinner.

Originally there were 70,000 Jews before the war. Now there are only 176 practicing Jews.

Stayed in motel outside of Cracow.

October 10, 2001

Went to Auschwitz. Very commercialized. Went to Birkenau. Like Majdanek it was left the way it was found. Very disturbing. Like a landscape of mourning.

Returned to Warsaw. Had traveled 1700 km in 3 days.

October 11, 2001

Met Adam Szubski, pre eminent Polish artist. Had tea and cake at his home. He had done a mask of my older cousin to be placed on permanent exhibit in the museum. I persuaded him to let me purchase it, as I wanted something of my older cousin.

Went Yiddish Theater and saw Jewish theme play in Polish, "Satan and Ararat". My older cousin translated.

October 12, 2001

Went to say goodbye to Stefan and Regina. Took public bus to Gerer to see Gerer Rebbe's grave. Had to hop the fence. The gentleman we met at the shul had the key and this is the way he made a living, showing Jewish tourists the cemetery. However, we did not know this until after.

Returned to Warsaw by bus and then took the metro.

Went to shul for Kabbalat Shabbat. Invited to dine with the Rabbi in the Suckkah.

October 13, 2001

Packed and left at 11:00 am.


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