Krakow – A neglected Jewish cemetery in southeastern Poland got a much-needed clean-up last week when a dozen non-Jewish Polish villagers banded together to clear debris and rubbish that had accumulated at the site in recent years.
The burial ground is located in the village of Sokolow Malopolski, which lies some 24 kilometers north of Rzeszow. It dates back to the 18th century and was in use until the local Jewish community was destroyed by the Nazis in World War II.
The initiative was organized by a local civic group, the Sokolow Region Lovers Society, and was carried out in cooperation with the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland, which is responsible for safeguarding thousands of Jewish cultural, historical and religious sites throughout the country.
Foundation head Monika Krawczyk said she appreciated the care shown by the Sokolow volunteers, as well as the kindness of their gesture."We encourage local Polish groups and individuals to become involved in cemetery conservation as a way of preserving the past and strengthening ties between Poles and Jews for the future," Krawczyk told The Jerusalem Post. "And it is heartwarming to see how these non-Jewish villagers took time off from their daily lives to uphold the dignity of a Jewish cemetery."
But she bemoaned the lack of cooperation from Sokolow Malopolski's municipal authorities, who have repeatedly resisted efforts to forge better relations.
In an incident two years ago, local officials told representatives of Krawczyk's foundation that they "would not cooperate with Jews" and "do not want our children to learn about Jewish culture".
Krawczyk also expressed regret that world Jewry is not doing more to take care of Poland's Jewish sites.
"There are over 1200 neglected Jewish cemeteries throughout Poland," Krawczyk said, adding that, "with little or no interest coming from Jewish communities abroad to maintain them, we are increasingly forced to rely on the goodwill of local Poles to care for these precious parts of our heritage."
She noted that the foundation is looking to raise funds to refurbish the cemetery and erect a memorial to the town's Jewish community, but has had difficulty doing so.
Jews first settled in Sokolow Malopolski more than 300 years ago. At the end of the 19th century, a Jew served as mayor of the town, which was also home to prominent rabbis such as Meilech Weichselbaum and the hassidic rebbe Aba Hippler.
On the eve of the Holocaust, Sokolow Malopolski was home to more than 1,350 Jews, most of whom were murdered by the Germans in the Belzec death camp.