In June 1999 my family and I went to visit the little shtetl in the
heart of Poland where my grandparents had lived. The name - Kazimierz
Dolny, not far from Lublin.
My grandparents' old house was still standing and the people living
there gave us a great welcome. They had been trying to find out about
my grandparents and, to their joy, we turned up out of the blue. They
were endeavouring to restore the house as it was seventy years ago.
They even called it "Regina", the name that my grandfather gave the
house in 1893 after my grandmother. It was quite an emotional moment
for me to see the rooms I knew as a child, to walk around the garden
and to visit the neighbours, now the third generation from the ones
with whom I used to play.
Our host took us to the Jewish cemetery, which dates from the 19th
century and replaced a very much older one, the location of which is
now unknown. A 14th century Polish king, Kazimierz the Great - after
whom the town was named - had a Jewish mistress called Esther. He even
built her a castle and it was said that there was an underground
passage linking his castle with hers. She persuaded the king to invite
west European Jews who were anxious to escape those crusaders who -
unable to afford to go all the way to Palestine or unwilling to risk
their lives doing so - played havoc with their local unarmed Jews. So
when king Kazimierz invited them to Poland, there was no stopping them.
Whilst the Germans had removed most of the gravestones from the
cemetery and used them to repair pavements, a number had been scattered
around the countryside. Some graves remained untouched. In 1985 an
architect by the name of Tadeusz Augustynek built a memorial from those
gravestones to commemorate the Jews of Kazimierz who died in the
holocaust. The cemetery, which could be a fertile ground for
genealogical research, is well maintained in keeping with the
objectives of its designer.
Before the war the population of Kazimierz was sixty per cent Jewish. Today there are no Jews left.