It’s not a casual matter to preserve the Jewish cemetery and community history of a Polish town. It takes a village to do it or, in this case, the descendants of those who once lived there.
The small 17th-century Nowy Dwor community grew to some 4,000 Jewish before the Holocaust. Its cemetery had stood for more than three centuries before Nazi destruction. Today, its descendants wish to restore the site and build a memorial wall, along with a database of birth, marriage and death certificates (dating from 1800) to help people trace their roots.
The desecrated Jewish cemetery is the focus of a preservation and protection effort. Some 100 gravestones have been unearthed, including 12 recent discoveries.
The foundation – Nowy Dwor Jewish Memorial – established to accomplish this project is using the Internet and Facebook to make sure people know about it. View the website is here; and its Facebook Fan Page here. Those on Facebook are invited to become fans, and to upload pictures or video of the town.
Ze’ev Shaked, one of the foundation’s founders, has visited the archives to obtain birth, marriage and death records not indexed by JRI-Poland.
The project’s stages include (1) bringing soil to cover now-exposed scattered bones throughout the site; (2) building a fence around the cemetery and a gate (fundraising for the $40,000 cost is underway; (3) building a memorial wall at the cemetery’s entrance, with recovered headstones set in the wall. They also want to install a Scroll of Remembrance, listing as many names as possible, including those who were buried there and those who died in the camps.
How does a project like this become a reality?
In the case of Nowy Dwor, it all began in 1988, when survivor Icek Wluka and his son David (Sharon, Massachusetts), visited the town where the family had lived since the mid-1800s. They found two cemeteries side by side. The Christian cemetery was well-kept; the Jewish cemetery had been desecrated and destroyed after the Jews were transported from the ghetto to the death camps.
The graves had been opened and plundered of their concrete caskets and headstones (matzevot); bones were scattered, leaving little to no evidence of what happened to the generations of souls that had been laid to rest there. Squatters had begun to build houses on the edge of the property that they claimed, “Belonged to no one.” People excavated the hillside of the property for sand and gravel.
In 2000, Yosef Kieliszek, (born in Nowy Dwor in 1935) visited. His grandfather, Yankel Kieliszek, was David Wluka’s grandfather’s partner in a blacksmith shop. Yosef began talking to his brother Ze’ev Shaked (San Antonio, Texas) and felt compelled to do something.
In 2009, Yosef met with David Wluka and shared their family stories. In June 2009, Yosef, Ze’ev, their sister Tamara Kieliszek and cousin Ichak Chlebowitz (also from a town family) met in Nowy Dwor and saw nothing had changed since David’s visit 20 years ago.
We all decided “Enough is enough!” We have to correct the situation not only for our ancestor’s sake and dignity, but also as a reminder to the new generations about the tragedy of Nowy Dwor Jews.
Tamara and Ichak – determined to prevent more desecration, – met with the mayor and Polish Jewish community leaders in Warsaw. The town agreed that security measures would be implemented and help to physically secure the site.
Squatters are being removed. The Warsaw community offered to provide materials from the new Holocaust Memorial’s construction to help restore what has been excavated.
In August 2009, 12 undamaged headstones were discovered as utility upgrades were carried out in an adjacent street. Carefully removed, all but one were saved and stored safely for the project.
Ze’ev and Yosef received access to the pre-Holocaust public records, finding birth, death, and marriage certificates. Many have been copied and translated, but many more are yet to be retrieved. In a few weeks, Ze’ev will again visit to ensure progress continues, search the archives, meet with city officials and the Warsaw Polish Jewish Community.
They need the help of Tracing the Tribe readers to accomplish these plans.
Are you a relative of someone with Nowy Dwor roots or do you have any connection to the town? Contact the foundation with any letters, photographs or personal histories to complete the community picture. Many people have already contacted the foundation, which has already located records of some of the families in the city archives. If you know of other families with the same roots, share this effort with them.
Importantly, the foundation – a 501(C)3 organization -needs your financial support. To contribute, visit NowyDworJewishMemorial.com, click on “Donations and Contributions.” For more information, find contact emails on the site.