Thursday, October 18, 2018 (continued): In the early 1980s, I worked near a bookshop in Philadelphia. I spent many of my lunch hours and too much of my money in the bookshop. One day, I purchased a book of photographs, A Vanished World, by the Russian-American photographer, Roman Vishniac. I had some time left before I had to return to work, so I walked to Rittenhouse Square, took a seat on a park bench, and opened the book. Since this first viewing of Vishniac’s photographs of a people and way of life teetering on the brink of destruction, my world has never been the same.
Tarnów—> Pilzno—>Dąbie—> Dobrynin—> Rzochów—> Mielec—> Ropczyce—> Rzeszów.
Dobrynin is a small, rural village south of Mielec. It is one of the places where Shimon Leiman, Beth’s great-grandfather, lived before coming to the United States in 1920. He is the reason that we are here. But in Dobrynin, as was the case in Dąbie, and will also be true in Rzochów, there appears to be nothing Jewish remaining.
On the dedication page of his book, A Vanished World, Vishniac writes, concerning the life of Central and Eastern European Jews before the Holocaust: “It is a vanished but not vanquished world.” Vanished, but not vanquished.
How am I to understand this? Is it really true that nothing Jewish remains in Dobrynin? So it seems. But clearly, something of Dobrynin, something Dobryninsh, one might say, remains in Jewish memory. Today, October 18, 2018, I am in Dobrynin with Beth, the great-granddaughter of Shimon Leiman. Why? Because, although Shimon’s world may have vanished, as Vishniac says, that world is undoubtedly not vanquished, as he also says. For Shimon’s Poland, his Dobrynin, at this moment, is alive in Beth’s memory.
A couple of years ago, Beth and I were touring northern Israel. One of the places we wanted to visit was a shofar factory. Beth had entered the address of the factory into her GPS. At one point the GPS confidently proclaimed, “You have reached your destination.” We looked around us and started laughing. We were in a farm field near a cow milking barn.
Today, Wojtek is using a GPS to locate Rzochów, Richov in Yiddish, which is where Samuel (Yehoshua) Leiman, 1882-1934, Beth’s mother’s father, may have been born. I say “may have been born” because there is some family discussion concerning Samuel’s birthplace. Was it Dzików or Rzochów?
Of the two choices, to me at least, Rzochów appears to have the better claim. Today, Rzochów is a suburb of Mielec, one of the places we know in which Samuel lived. Dzików is further north of Mielec. Shnayer Leiman believes that it is more likely Shimon was born in Rzochów than Dzików.
The GPS takes our driver slightly off the path and insists that the area we are in is Rzochów. The area consists only of fields and meadows. [See the picture of Beth and me, above.] Beautiful, I think, but it’s hard to conceive of someone being born here. As it turns out, we are quite near Rzochów; it’s on the other side of the highway. Since 1985. Rzochów has been a suburb of Mielec. But we learn something. If Beth’s grandfather Leiman was born in this area, it’s easy to see why her mother Sheila loved Vermont so much.
In Rzochów, Beth takes pictures of several old houses that could have been here when Samuel was young. She photographs the town square, the main road through the town, and a dirt road that leads out of the village from the corner of the town square. The dirt road reminds Beth of Vermont. There is a placard in the town square that gives a history of Rzochów (in Polish).
In the car. Up next, Mielec.
Photograph of Beth and Gershon Ben-Avraham by Vojtek.