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Szczekociny: The fate of the birthplace of the Lentzner Family

Szczekociny Town Square.jpg

Town Square in Szczekociny

636 members of the Lenczner family once lived in the area around Szczekociny. Before the Holocaust, the town of Szczekociny had a population of about 5,600, 2532 of them were Jews. In 1942, according to German Nazi Wehrmacht Plans, 1500 persons, all Jewish residents of Szczekociny, were deported to the German concentration and death camp at Treblinka. About 10 percent of the Jewish residents survived the genocide.

Yossi Bornstein has done much research on the town of Szczekociny. During a visit to his father’s hometown of Szczekociny in August 2007, together with his 81-year-old Auschwitz survivor father, Izyk Mendel, and other family members, Yossi Bornstein was stunned to discover that the Jewish history of the village had been virtually eradicated.

The official history of the town, a 100-page book, makes no mention of its Jewish residents. Four siblings, whose late father had converted to Christianity, are the only remains of the town’s once-flourishing Jewish life.

The synagogue, once one of the most magnificent in Poland, was in the process of being converted into a shopping center. Most shocking was to discover the fate of the town’s two Jewish cemeteries. A meat processing plant was built on the site of the first graveyard that the Bornsteins visited. Although it was still partially enclosed by the original cemetery wall, no monument or marker indicated that the site was the final resting place of generations of Szczekociny’s Jews. The second cemetery housed part of the town’s central bus station, a private home, and, most egregiously, public toilets.

“It’s like bringing a pig into the Holy of Holies,” said Bornstein, a resident of Rosh Ha’ayin and CEO of Shizim, Ltd, a healthcare and biotechnology company.

His remonstrations to the town’s mayor, Wieslaw Greyner, proved fruitless. The latter told Bornstein that the land had been sold and was privately owned, and he was powerless to do anything. Nonetheless, he promised a plot of land on which to construct a memorial to the village’s Jewish residents.

The Bornsteins were determined to find the vanished gravestones. With the help of a local resident, and thanks to the zlotys (Polish currency) offered by the family, many of the grave markers, some of them intact, were located in townspeople’s backyards. While standing on a stone path in one of the yards, Yossi noticed that the stones were oddly shaped. He requested a shovel and began to dig and discovered Hebrew writing, perfectly preserved, on the underside.

In a surrealistic scenario, he began loading the gravestones onto the family’s rented minivan, shoving suitcases aside to make room for the only surviving relics of hundreds of years of Jewish life in the town. Suddenly he was approached by a young woman, who told him to come to her house, located adjacent to the cemetery. There they found a huge pile, maybe five meters long and two meters high, of gravestones, broken into building blocks. Shortly thereafter, they were told that there were pieces of monuments in houses all over the town and that many of the pathways, sidewalks, walls, and buildings were constructed with sections of gravestones.

Before leaving Szczekociny, the Bornsteins appointed two families as their agents to try to locate and collect gravestone and fragments. Caches are continually being discovered throughout the village.

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