Thursday, October 18, 2018 (continued): We leave Tarnów. Our destination is the Jewish cemetery in Pilzno. The highway passes through fertile farmland that reminds me of Amish farms in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. About half an hour out of Tarnów, we leave the highway and turn into a country road which will take us to where the cemetery is located. Wojtek drives slowly. We pass the cemetery unawares.
Tarnów—> Pilzno—>Dąbie—> Dobrynin—> Rzochów—> Mielec—> Ropczyce—> Rzeszów.
Looking behind us, I see that we have passed the cemetery and call out to Wojtek. He backs up and turns into a long driveway. Some homes sit on one side, the graveyard on the other. Dogs in the yards of the houses start barking. They keep it up the entire time that Beth and I explore the cemetery. We never see the dog’s owners.
The cemetery is enclosed by a fence. Entry is through an unlocked iron gate between two brick columns. A Star of David is attached to the fence to the left of the entrance. Inside, there are not many visible gravestones. Of the ones that we can see and read, we find none bearing the name Leiman. Many headstones are lying down, hidden by dense vegetation.
From time to time, as we walk through the cemetery, I stop and look at the surrounding countryside. I don’t know why, but for some reason, this place deeply moves me. I wonder what it was like, what it was like to live here as a Jew a hundred years ago, two hundred years ago, in a remote area like this one. I’m not sure I could have stayed the course, would have had the strength. It had to have been difficult. In Israel, I find myself upset sometimes over even minor inconveniences: I have to go someplace else to pick up myrtle leaves or willow branches, for example, or the store is out of what I want until next week.
As we head back to the car, I walk behind Beth, her head covered, her camera slung over her neck. I look at her. How strong she is. Waiting for her in the car are the notes from her cousin Shnayer, a map with names of towns circled. And I think, I would probably have been all right if I’d had a person like this one with me. God is merciful.
Back in the car, we head north, to Dąbie.
Dąbie, pronounced something like dom-be-uh, is a popular place name in Poland. Wikipedia lists twenty-six Polish sites with the name, including a district of Kraków and a lake in Szczecin in the delta of the Odra river. The Dąbie we want is in the Lesser Poland Voivodeship.¹
We are in Dąbie because of Shimon Leiman (1855-1926), Beth’s great-grandfather, her mother’s father’s father. He was the seventh of nine children born to Moshe Yehudah Leiman (1820-1876) and his wife, Sarah (d. 1894). Family records describe Shimon as a pious and learned Chasid. He worked in the lumber business and lived in various places in southern Poland. Dąbie is one of the places he lived.
It is a small village. There is no Jewish cemetery. We park on the side of the road and walk to a nearby house. Wojtek speaks to the owner for us. We learn that the house is well over one hundred years old, old enough to have been here when Shimon, who didn’t leave for America until 1920, was here. We ask for permission to take a picture of the house. The woman agrees. As Beth prepares to take the photo, the woman steps back into the darkness of her home. She reemerges only when Beth finishes. We thank her and return to the car.
Next stop, Dobrynin.
¹Think of a voivodeship as a province, like Alberta or Ontario in Canada, for example. In 2017, Poland had sixteen voivodeships.
Photograph of Jewish Cemetery, Pilzno, Poland © 2018 Beth Ben-Avraham.