Warsaw: Leiman to Datner

Detail from grave of Szymon Datner, Okopowa Jewish Cemetery, Warsaw, Poland.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018 (continued): This is the second installment describing our visit to the Okopowa Jewish Cemetery in Warsaw. In this installment, we visit the grave of the distinguished Polish-Jewish historian Szymon Datner and trace the connection from Jakob Leiman to Szymon Datner.

During our stay in Kraków, Beth and I had visited the grave of Beth’s great-great-uncle, Jakob Leiman. Jakob died April 22, 1913, and is buried in Kraków’s New Jewish Cemetery. He had a daughter, Augusta Leiman Samueli, who survived the Holocaust and died at age 63, June 13, 1946. Augusta had a daughter name Róża, Jakob Leiman’s granddaughter and Beth’s mother’s second cousin. Róża married Szymon Datner. Róża and Szymon had two daughters, Miriam and Lillit. At the time of the German invasion of Poland in 1939, the Datners were living in Białystok, the largest city in northeastern Poland.

In 1939, Germany and Russia invaded Poland: Germany on September 1; Russia on September 27. In a secret protocol to the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact the two countries signed in August 1939, they had agreed how to carve up Poland between themselves. Białystok came under Soviet control. However, in June 1941, Germany turned on its ally and attacked the Soviet Union. The Germans quickly overran Białystok. In late July 1941, they set up a ghetto in Białystok and Szymon, Róża, and their two daughters were forced to move into the ghetto.

In the ghetto, Szymon worked with the underground to smuggle Jews out of the ghetto. Tragically, his own wife Róża and their two daughters, Miriam and Lillit, did not survive the ghetto’s liquidation. After the war, Datner served as a witness in trials of war criminals. It was he who put up the Holocaust Memorial plaque on Jakob Leiman’s grave in Kraków.¹

Holocaust plaque on Jakob Leiman’s grave in Kraków with names of Róża, Miriam, and Lillit Datner.

Datner was a distinguished Jewish Historian, who headed the Warsaw Jewish community for many years after the war. As a historian, the focus of his work was to document the war crimes and atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis in eastern Poland and to keep alive the memory of Jewish life as lived in Poland before the war.

Szymon Datner died in 1989. The year before he died, he published a book in Warsaw titled Z mądrości Talmudu (“From the Wisdom of the Talmud”). His second wife lives in Warsaw.

May the memories of Szymon and Róża Datner and their two daughters, Miriam and Lillit be a blessing.

Grave of Szymon Datner, Okopowa Jewish Cemetery, Warsaw.

Next time Singer, Ansky, Dinezon, and Peretz.

¹Email from Professor Shnayer Leiman to Beth Ben-Avraham dated October 21, 2018.

Photos © Beth Ben-Avraham, 2018.

Author: Gershon Ben-Avraham

Gershon Ben-Avraham is an American-Israeli writer. He lives in Beersheba, Israel, on the edge of the Negev Desert. He and his wife share their lives with a gentle blue-merle long-haired collie. Ben-Avraham earned an MA in Philosophy (Aesthetics) from Temple University. His short story, “Yoineh Bodek,” (Image) received “Special Mention” in the Pushcart Prize XLlV: Best of the Small Presses 2020 Edition. Kelsay Books published his chapbook “God’s Memory” in 2021. חב"ד‎

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