The Journey (Part 6)
The day began in Zamosc, a beautiful Renaissance town in southeastern Poland. We walked the entire Old Town, visited the magnificent Cathedral, the Bastian, and of course, the one remaining synagogue.
Prior to the German invasion, Jews made up 43.7% of Zamosc's population. This high percentage was not unusual in this part of the country. There were many shtetls in this area, small villages and towns populated with observant Jews.
Zamosc's synagogue has been restored. The interior is lovely with hand painted frescos, just a beautiful building. Unfortunately, there are no people to use the building; just tourists viewing what once was.
As an aside, we visited a great many Catholic churches and Cathedrals which are impressive physical structures and contain remarkable works of art. Having served on synagogue boards responsible for overseeing congregational finances, I am always amazed by the Church's ability to build and maintain these countless facilities.
Another characteristic I noticed is the tone one observes in a church as compared to that of a synagogue. Before services begin - and even during services - a synagogue crowd is gregarious, noisy and full of life. On the other hand, before Mass starts, the worshippers here appear quiet and contemplative. It's different enough that it caught my attention.
Since today was in essence a free day, we chose to make a side trip to see the Memorial at Belzec. It was extremely moving.
Belzec doesn't have the public recognition of other camps like Auschwitz. Belzec was one thing only: a death camp that managed to murder about 500,000 Jews (others including Gypsies, Catholics, and dissenters were also victims) in just 10 months. According to the exhibits at the state museum, only two victims ever escaped.
When we questioned the Memorial Museum staff about the reasons the camp closed after such a short time, he suggested two possible answers:
. 1) The mass graves were full, even when the bodies were burned. There simply was no more room for the dead. Think about that statement and you’ll understand why we felt Belzec was so depressing.
. 2) There was talk of a typhus epidemic within the camp. Even the docents were unable to verify this statement.
. In any case, the remaining prisoners were taken to Sobibor and the camp destroyed. The Memorial grounds contain the mass graves of those who perished on what can only be referred to as holy ground.
We then began heading for Krakow but managed to stop for a moment in the small town of Cieszanow where the skeleton of a brick shul remains. Not only is it not marked, it is barely standing. Half the wooden roof is gone. There is no signage, yet when we stopped to ask two young girls where it was, they immediately pointed us in the proper direction. So many small towns with empty buildings. An entire culture and way of life no more.
Filed under: Travel