Thursday, October 18, 2007

More About The Graves In Sochaczew


Many of you have expressed considerable interest about my interest in Sochaczew (see previous blog here) and my recent visit to the cemetery there. This week, I discovered a fascinating footnote in a sefer called ‘Mareh HaDeshe’, which talks about the rediscovery of the gravesite a number of years ago. Mareh HaDeshe is a biographical work about the two Rebbes of Sochaczew, written by the son of the Shem MiShmuel, who only died in 2000. The book is little known and hard to find (I would never have discovered it had I not overheard someone talking about it on a bus in Israel a couple of years ago. Even then, I couldn’t get it in Israel or in Europe; eventually, a friend found a copy in a sefarim warehouse in New Jersey). It’s a shame that I didn’t discover the footnote before I travelled to Sochaczew, but it’s in the section of the book dealing with the Avney Nezer, which I haven’t yet read. Here is the text in translation (mine):

From Mareh HaDeshe; Rabbi Aharon Yisroel Bornstein, Jerusalem, 5764, privately published

In reference to the burial of the Avney Nezer (Rabbi Avraham Bornstein) in 1910, Rabbi Aharon Yisroel Bornstein writes (Mareh HaDeshe pg 201):

(Main text) They selected an empty area as a burial place opposite the gate (of the cemetery in Sochaczew). This place was chosen deliberately, in order to leave an empty space of four cubits on all sides, so that it would be immediately evident on entering the cemetery.

(Footnote 17) In the records of the Hevra Kaddisha, they wrote that no-one should be buried within four cubits of his grave. They built an ohel (small shrine) around it. Until the ohel was constructed, watches of Hassidim sat there on guard all the time.

Thanks to the unusually distinct place, after many years, they were successful in revealing the gravesite, following the Second World War, when the enemy had destroyed the Jewish cemetery and demolished the ohel, leaving no sign or memorial; they even poured earth over it and levelled the land.

During the Second World War, the Nazis and their assistants (may their names be erased) destroyed the Jewish cemetery and demolished the ohel, leaving behind no trace. They even set up tents and clubs for the troops in the area. In order to do this, they levelled the land and poured earth and building rubble on to it. And what the Nazis (may their names be erased) failed to do, local evil people completed: they cleared the area completely, and turned part of it into a football field for the pupils of a school built nearby; they even used it as a pasture ground for animals. Furthermore, they demolished the wall that surrounded the cemetery.

In later years, after Israel’s association with the Polish state thawed from frozen, Jews returned to visit Poland, as well as the remnants that were left from the Jews there. They saw the ruins and the awful destruction, and the idea arose to return and to re-establish and fence in the cemetery.

Planned by many Sochaczew Hassidim in Eretz Yisroel and in America, headed by a man of dear spirit, one of the well-wishers, our friend, the rabbi and hasid Rabbi Yehudah Vidavsky, and on behalf of the council of immigrants from Sochaczew to Eretz Yisroel, they pursued protracted negotiations with the local authorities to return the area of the cemetery to Jewish control. They removed the structures that the bad neighbours had erected around it and which encroached on its space. Through the generosity of well-wishers, in place of the old wall the area of the cemetery was surrounded with an iron fence and they locked the gate. However, they could not locate the place where the ohel had stood. They had the collected testimony of elderly gentiles, but each of them pointed to a different place. Even the aerial photographs taken by the Allies during the war were unsuccessful in revealing the place, because the tents that had been erected in the area concealed everything.

But Rabbi Yehudah Vidavsky did not give up nor rest, and with the help of men who remembered the place (among them the author of these lines), identified a place as a possible location, and began exploratory excavations – perhaps we would be successful in uncovering some remnants. We had before us two indictors as to the correct positioning: 1) the graves of our rabbis would be found in a place where the surrounding area is devoid of other graves, because they agreed and decided at the time (of the death of the Avney Nezer) not to bury another body within four cubits of him. 2) There would be two graves next to each other, as the Shem MiShmuel was buried later within the ohel adjacent to the grave of his father. Strengthened by the tireless Rabbi Yehudah, who was conducting the excavations almost with his bare hands, they were successful, with the help of God, to uncover planks that had been placed in the grave. They began to dig with great alacrity along the length of a plank and uncovered the whole area of the grave. When they continued leftwards, the place where the Shem MiShmuel’s grave should be found, they uncovered the whole area of the adjacent grave. In accordance with the two aforementioned indicators, they fixed the place of the ohel exactly.

One who starts a Mitzvah also merits completing it: with his active assistance and with the partnership of well-wishers in Eretz Yisroel and in the Diaspora, we built a new ohel, corresponding to the ohel that had been demolished. We fixed it as a place of prayer, seclusion and prostration upon the graves of the righteous, our rabbis from the House of Sochaczew, may their merit stand for us. May the merit of those who acted and those who helped them stand for all eternity.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am interessed by get a copy of the Mare hadeshe

Can you help me ?