Thursday, October 18, 2018: Today Beth and I, armed with a map and notes from Beth’s cousin, Rabbi Shnayer Leiman, will visit several towns and cemeteries east of Kraków. Rabbi Leiman recommended that we contact a man named Mariusz in Warsaw to arrange a driver for our trip. We did. Wojtek, the young, polite, knowledgeable, driver, shows up promptly outside our hotel at 7 a.m. After introductions, we get in the car and are off. We’ve packed a lunch. The weather is perfect.
We are in the area from which Beth’s mother’s ancestors come: Leiman on the father’s side and Lacher on the mother’s side. Our focus, though not exclusively, is on the Leiman side of the family. By the end of the day, we will have visited eight towns.
Tarnów—> Pilzno—> Dąbie—> Dobrynin—> Rzochów—> Mielec—> Ropczyce—> Rzeszów
As we drive into the city, Wojtek tells us that Tarnów is the most religious city in Poland. Later, I look it up. Boy, was he right. According to Wikipedia, in addition to Roman Catholics, which would be expected, there are several other Christian denominations in the city, including Baptists, Free Brothers, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Methodists, Pentecostals, Seventh-day Adventists, and members of the Evangelical Movement, “The Lord is my Banner.” What’s missing are Jews. The devastating fact for Beth and me to deal with is that before WWII, almost half of the town’s inhabitants were Jewish. Today, few Jews live in Tarnów.
Our first stop is the Jewish cemetery, founded in 1583. Leimans lived in Tarnów. The cemetery is large, and there is no grave index available. There may be Leimans buried here, but it is too overwhelming to look. Later, when we meet Adam Bartosz, President of the Komitet Opieki nad Zabytkami Kultury Żydowskiej w Tarnowie [Committee for the Care of Jewish Cultural Monuments in Tarnów], we learn that there is a list being created that will be accessible online within the year.
We drive from the cemetery to the town’s center. We park and walk to the remains of the Old Synagogue. I am overcome with grief when I see it. All that is left standing after the Nazi’s destruction of this old synagogue is its Bimah. The Bimah and the space around it are now a well-maintained public space. There are placards around the square with historical information and photos of what the area was like when Beth’s relatives most likely lived there.
We walk from the remains of the Old Synagogue to what was the former mikveh, built in the Moorish style in 1904. All that remains is the facade.
On our way back to the car one of those serendipitous events that sometimes occur when traveling happens to us. We chance upon “The Nosh.” We step inside. Sotto voce, I offer a quick prayer that “The Nosh” is kosher, and wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles, it is! The cafe is new and under the supervision of Rabbi Michael Schudrich, the Chief Rabbi of Poland.¹ The owner, Gerald Vineberg, is from the States, but his wife’s aunt lived in Tarnów before the Shoah. It is he who introduces us later to Adam Bartosz. We order three cappuccinos. Looking at me, Mr. Vineberg says, “The milk is Cholov Yisroel.” Keeping from dancing is hard. I also order a large piece of apple pie.
On the way to the car, we stop and take a photo of gates that, when closed, form the shape of a menorah. We leave Tarnów and head to Pilzno.
¹In April 2010, Rabbi Schudrich declined an invitation to fly with a Polish delegation to Russia to commemorate Katyn massacre. The plane crashed in Russia, killing all 96 people on board, including the President of Poland, Lech Kaczynski. Rabbi Schudrich had turned down the invitation because the flight was scheduled for April 10, 2010, a Saturday and would have caused him to violate the Jewish Sabbath.
Photo of Bimah, Tarnów, Poland © 2018 Beth Ben-Avraham.