Archive for Radomsko

MACIEJ and IDA

Posted in Art and Culture, Beacon Press, Crooked Mirror, Family History, Human Rights, Life and What about It, Literature, Poland, reconciliation, Travel with tags , , , , , , , on June 4, 2014 by Louise Steinman

Maciej and Lulu

My dear friend Maciej Ziembinski, a pioneering journalist and editor (and a central figure in my book, The Crooked Mirror), recently passed away in Radomsko, in central Poland. Maciej was fiercely devoted to this little town, where my mother’s family lived for generations. When poet Adam Zagajewski wrote of those Poles imbued with “the ecstasy of the provinces,” he must have had Maciej in mind.

Before World War II, Jews made up approximately 40% of Radomsko’s population. Very few survived the war and most who did survive left the country. Under Communist rule, there was but one sanctioned narrative of the recent past— the patriotic war against the German Fascists. Discussion of the town’s vanished Jews, of local rescuers or those who betrayed—was taboo. Maciej’s father, who’d rescued a Jewish woman to whom he’d been secretly engaged, raised his son to have an open mind. Even as a young man, Maciej was determined that the history of Radomsko’s Jewish population must be told, too. He understood it was an essential part of the town’s story.

He carried on, he told me, “his own private war with town hall.” When Poland transitioned to democratic rule, he established Radomko’s first alternative weekly. Until then, newspapers were the mouthpiece of the state. He named his paper, most appropriately, Komu I czemi (For whom and what for?). As its editor, he wrote and published over sixty articles about Radomsko’s Jewish history. He oversaw the translation of the Radomsko Yizkor, the Jewish memorial book, from Yiddish to Polish and published it in his paper. He was a principled man. A scrapper, a gadfly.

Pawel Pawlikowski’s exquisite recent film “Ida,” set in b&w provincial Poland in the early sixties– gives you some idea what obstacles Maciej faced under Stalinist rule. (In an interview, Pawlikowski calls his film, “a crooked mirror… so whoever looks can take away different things.”) The film’s young protagonist is a wide-eyed novitiate, an orphan, living an austere life at a convent in the countryside. With her downcast eyes, this young woman is the model of obedience and humility. There is no indication she’s made any inquiries about her origins. Soon she’ll take her final vows. Before she does, however, her Mother Superior orders her to visit her aunt, who’s suddenly requested to see her.

It’s the first time this naïve young woman learns she has living relatives. Within moments of her arrival at her aunt’s flat in Lodz, there is more surprising news. Her dead parents were Jews. Her real name is Ida Lebenstejn. “You’re a Jewish nun,” her aunt informs her with a harsh laugh. Ida’s swift response: “I want to see their graves.” Another hard truth: there are no graves. Most likely her family’s bones are in a pit in the forest.

In Poland, there are hundreds, thousands of adults with stories like that of young Ida in Pawlikowski’s film. They were Jewish children whose frantic parents, during the Occupation, entrusted their precious sons and daughters to Catholic neighbors or clergy. Several of those crooked stories are in my book—one of them is about a survivor named Ania Poniemunska, born in Radomsko in 1937.

In 1941, before they fled to Russia, Ania’s parents left their four year-old daughter in the capable hands of her maternal grandmother, a local midwife. The grandmother escaped the ghetto with Ania, and found shelter with a Polish farmer and his wife. The headman of the village betrayed them. The Germans dispatched the Polish farmer to Auschwitz. They surrounded the village, rounded up all the hidden Jews, marched them to the forest, forced them to dig their own graves. Before she was shot, however, the grandmother handed young Ania into the arms of a farmer’s wife who pretended the child was her own. Of the twenty-three Jews hidden in the village, only Ania survived.

In 2009, when Ania came back to Radomsko with her son for the first time since she’d emigrated to Israel after the war, she was in great conflict. Could she bear to visit the site where her beloved grandmother was murdered? Ania quickly found her way to Maciej; after all, he knew more about the Jewish history of the area than anyone else around.

In Pawlikowski’s film, Ida and her aunt elect to go into the forest, to the place where the unspeakable happened. Ida points to the open pit and asks the man unearthing her family’s remains: “Why am I not here? Why did I survive… not the others?” She needs to know. Maciej advised Ania: “Go to the forest. It is important to your son. It is the big story of your life. It made you who you are.” Maciej understood that. Ania, like Ida, was strong enough to bear the truth. She needed to bear witness.
ania goldman i babcia grafika
[drawing of Ania Poniemunska with her grandmother Chava Borys, by Kasia Kabzinka]

Over the years, Maciej and I spent many afternoons in the Radomsko cemetery—in sun and snow—walking unruly rows of tilting stones. Maciej, between puffs of a harsh Polish cigarette, would tell me stories of the more recent burials– about the few Jews who survived the war and stayed. Over there, he’d say, “that’s the grave of my friend Borkowski; he had an affair with the wife of his friend Andomierski; but they all wanted to be buried near each other anyway.” Maciej was like the narrator in Our Town.

Maciej helped me find the grave of my great-grandmother, Golda Zylberman Wajskopf. That afternoon in the melancholy Radomsko cemetery was magical. Blue butterflies fluttered through yellow gorse. Golda was luckier than most of her relatives—she died fourteen years before the Nazis invaded Radomsko and turned life for all its inhabitants into hell on earth.

“Saviors of Atlantis” is how a Polish friend refers to those non-Jewish Poles who gathered up the shards of Jewish life and history in a post-war Poland, then a broken country living under the strangle-hold of Communism.

Maciej was one of those saviors. He was also a gifted storyteller, a great friend, a good—if sometimes troublesome– man to have in your town. I am among many who will miss him.
cemetery

Radomsko cemetery, painting by Natan Spigel, courtesy Natan Spigel Foundation

Photo of Maciej and LS in Radomsko cemetery by Tomasz Cebulski

Personae in “The Crooked Mirror”

Posted in Crooked Mirror, Family History, Poland, reconciliation with tags , , , , , , on December 15, 2013 by Louise Steinman

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As promised, here are some of the “characters” who people my memoir, The Crooked Mirror. First, here is my beloved Zen rabbi, Don Singer, at the Bearing Witness Retreat at Auschwitz-Birkenau sponsored by the Zen Peacemakers. Photo: Peter Cunningham.

Cheryl in Kolomay
Cheryl H., my companion and muse, a poet and gifted dreamer, in Ukraine in front of what we thought was the Grand Hotel– which had been in her family. We later did find the right building. Cheryl often asked difficult questions, like “Do They Miss Us?”

Poland Radomsko 2006 143
Tomasz (Tomek) Cebulski, my intrepid Polish guide over the years of writing the book. We’ve driven through pea-soup fog together, visited LeninWorld in Lithuania, attended seders in Warsaw and Lublin, and searched for (and found) my great-grandmother’s grave in Radomsko, Poland.

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Maciej Ziembinski, one of the “saviors of Atlantis,” an intrepid journalist in Radomsko, Poland. Maciej had the Radomsk Yizkor translated into Polish, and published it as a serial in his independent newspaper.

Radomsk yizkor book cover
The Radomsk Yizkor (Memorial Book of the Community of Radomsk), which plays a big role in The Crooked Mirror

Berek and family
Berek Ofman, a retired tailor and son of a dynasty of kosher butchers in Radomsko. Berek survived with his friend (and later his wife) Regina and her parents and one of her cousins in a bunker built into a house in Radomsko. This photo taken after the war, showing Berek and Regina and their two children Leo and Tova.

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Janka and Marian Bereska, Berek’s rescuers.

where he ran Marian
Marian Bereska, standing next to Tomek and his grandson Szymon, showing the site of the house with the bunker in Radomsko, winter 2010.

On the Road with “The Crooked Mirror”

Posted in Art and Culture, Crooked Mirror, Family History, Literature, Poland, reconciliation with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 8, 2013 by Louise Steinman

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After so many years of sitting alone in a room writing, reflecting… it’s fascinating to be out in the world with The Crooked Mirror. Who are its readers? Who was drawn to hear me talk about the book in Queens,NY, in San Francisco, in Los Angeles, Manhattan, Portland and Seattle? Some were old friends, appearing from various chapters of my life. Some were family– cousins with links to the story. Others saw an ad or heard a plug on the radio. Some came because they are intrigued, some because they were skeptical of the very premise: Polish-Jewish reconciliation.

At the Queens Jewish Library last month, there were many Jewish survivors of the camps in the crowded community room. One man rolled up his sleeve to show me the Auschwitz number tattooed on his arm, without comment. During my talk, these elders nodded their heads vigorously when I mentioned how, when Cheryl’s father came home after the war from the Soviet Union to his town of Kolomyja, where his neighbors shot at him. But they also listened attentively to stories of kindness, rescue, and the hard-won path towards reconciliation.

At USC, I gave a talk to students in the Masters in Professional Writing program. Two writing students– both working on memoirs about their African-American families– approached me afterwards, to say they’d taken inspiration from my tale. One of them owned to the dead-ends she’d encountered in the search for the history of her own family, from the time of slavery. “What do I do about all the gaps, the ragged edges?” she asked me sadly. Use them! I advised. Those holes in a family narrative are part of the story that has been obscured by time, emigration, and trauma.

At the NYU bookstore, I met Jack Malinowski, from Philadelphia, retired from 35 years with the American Friends Service Committee. Jack is the grandson of Poles– miners who emigrated from the Suwalki area of Poland in the late 1800’s. He grew up in a largely Polish Catholic community, near Shenandoah, Pa. “My parents were active in Polish American cultural activities,” he told me, “mostly on a Roman Catholic level. The synagogue in our town was near our house, but we mainly co-existed rather than mixed.” His father played a strong role helping DP’s after the war, and joined numerous Polish American voters leaving the Democratic party after Yalta (feeling betrayed by Roosevelt). In The Crooked Mirror, he said, “I found a rare and meaningful encounter.”

Tova Ofman is the daughter of Berek Ofman, a survivor from my family’s town of Radomsko, who is featured in the book. She flew in from Cleveland, bringing her two daughters so that they could hear a story that their grandfather had never told them. “I think he found it easier to tell his story to someone outside the family,” one of the lovely granddaughters thoughtfully observed.

I was delighted that my friend Sheku Mansaray could be in the audience at the New York Public Library. Sheku suffered through the atrocities of the civil war in Sierra Leone, losing both his parents and his arms to rebel soldiers. He sat beside storyteller Laura Simms, who wrote afterwards: “Sheku, like my son Ishmael, was a victim of a long civil war in Sierra Leone. Unlike Ishmael he did not become a soldier, but rather was scarred forever by a child soldier. A boy that he knew as a child from the next village. It was an amazing evening listening to tales of reconciliation after war, seated beside Sheku who is making some reconciliation within himself after the war.”

In many cities, people came up to me afterwards to tell me their family stories, to talk about their own searches to reconnect with history and lineage. In Portland, my friend Aron told me he was now going to search out the story of his grandmother Anne, who was one of the children on the Kindertransport. In San Francisco, I met Elizabeth Rynecki, who maintains a “virtual museum” and is producing a documentary film about her great-grandfather Moshe Rynecki, a renowned Warsaw painter (and a very fine one at that), who died in Majdanek. Moshe Rynecki’s son, George, Elizabeth’s grandfather, recovered over 100 of his father’s paintings, secreted away during the war. Elizabeth wrote this thoughtful response to The Crooked Mirror and posted it on her blog. I share it here.

Thanks to everyone who’s helped launch The Crooked Mirror out into the world. I also promise– in response to feedback– to post more pictures and a map in due time…

painting at top:
“Perla” by Moshe Rynecki, 1929.

Yizkor Bucher (The Glatstein Chronicles)

Posted in Crooked Mirror, Literature, Poetry, Poland with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 27, 2011 by Louise Steinman

[published in the Los Angeles Review of Books]

27th Jun 2011

Louise Steinman

Spring in Gościeradzu by Leon Wyczółkowski

Jacob Glatstein
The Glatstein Chronicles
Translated by Maier Deshell and Norbert Guterman
Edited by Ruth R. Wisse
Yale University Press, November 2010. 432 pp.

On my trip to Poland this past winter, I brought the perfect book as my traveling companion. The Glatstein Chronicles was written in 1934, after the author, celebrated American Yiddish poet Jacob Glatstein, was summoned home from New York to his dying mother’s bedside in Lublin, Poland. Recently retranslated, edited, and published in English by Yale University Press, the poet’s travel narrative is both first-rate reportage and a fever dream of Europe on the brink of disaster.

Glatstein (named “Yash” as the book’s narrator) travels back to the Old Country by trans-Atlantic steamer. “The ship seemed to be carrying me back to my childhood,” he writes, “as though we were sailing back in time.” His is a half-forgotten, mythical childhood, where, “in the center of the synagogue, the fearful shadow of a hanging lamp swayed back and forth, like a body dangling from a rope.” These sometimes ominous, sometimes joyous memories are both interruption and counterpoint to Yash’s encounters with an international cast of characters as he crosses the ocean and travels across Europe by train.

As I picked at bland fare on the Lufthansa flight from Los Angeles to Munich, I savored Glatstein’s Eastern European culinary metaphors: a man “chooses his words as if he were sorting chickpeas, and rejecting the inferior ones,” a head is propped on a man’s neck “like a cabbage,” and a pair of eyes are “cloudy like herring milt.”

One of the ship’s passengers lauds Yash for being such a great listener. “You have golden ears,” he says. “Your ears are worth a million dollars.” I resolved to follow his example. The pale young man with spiky dark hair next to me had asked me to wake him up when dinner was served. After nudging him awake at dinnertime, I listened to his tale and learned he was traveling to Sofia, Bulgaria, to the bedside of his sick mother. A journey of return. I was returning as well — if it’s possible to return to a place where one has never lived. I was returning to the little town of Radomsko, Poland, where my grandparents were born. After six visits, I’m practically an honorary citizen of this homely but heimish town in the hinterlands between Częstochowa and Łódź.

On the second or third morning of his ocean crossing, Yash learns of alarming news from the ship’s paper. Hitler has purged his paramilitary force and murdered its leader, Ernst Röhm, along with at least 60 of his associates. It is the Night of Long Knives. Yash’s buoyant mood is shattered. He goes in search of fellow Jews, certain they will understand what Hitler’s grab for power bodes for their brethren.

The first passenger he buttonholes “stops in his tracks like a stunned rooster.” It’s not the news, however, that alarms him: “‘How did you know I was Jewish?’ he asked, as if some misfortune had befallen him.” The stunned rooster then admits that he is indeed Jewish, but “not one of those common Polish Jews. I’m Dutch.” Yash also embarrasses the single Jew among four stalwart young Bolsheviks traveling home to the workers’ motherland, by blurting out the compliment “Yevreyskaya golova, a Jewish head!” As the others smile in discomfort, his new comrade apologizes for Yash’s use of an expression “that was a relic from tsarist days.”

Why have we never heard of Jacob Glatstein, a modernist whose prose is as mordantly humorous as Philip Roth, as eerie as Kafka, as weighty as Bellow? The answer is obvious: Glatstein wrote in Yiddish, and as Ruth Wisse, the editor of this volume, reminds us, “to a writer, language is fate.” Though he published more than six hundred essays in the New York socialist-Zionist weekly Yiddisher Kempfer and won the most prestigious prize for Yiddish literature (for this very work), the fate of Glatstein’s oeuvre was inextricably bound to the dire fate of the speakers of his language.

Over the last several years of research for my own book about Poland’s Jewish past (and present), I’ve been increasingly impressed by the profound consequences of that severed link to the vital language of Glatstein’s poetry and prose, to the language in which my grandparents conversed, joked, and read. I grew up knowing nothing about the Polish town my mother’s family came from, imagining it as some kind of Dogpatch. Before my first trip there, I Googled its name and came up with a 600-page memory book, the Radomsk Yizkor. I was astonished.

The memorial books (yizkor bukher) were all written in the wake of the Shoah, and few of them were translated from the original Yiddish and Hebrew. This is one of the main reasons why descendants of Polish Jews — who, like me, aren’t versed in those languages — have been cut off from our ancestral past, our Polish-Jewish cultural patrimony. Translations from Yiddish to English now make it possible to reconnect with a lost history, both personal and literary. The Radomsk Yizkor offered tantalizing fragments of stories, which I have been fleshing out by using archival research and interviewing Jewish survivors and Polish rescuers.

Now I can at least imagine a prewar evening at the famous meeting hall of the Warsaw Literary Union at Tłomackie 13, where, on any given afternoon, I might have seen the aesthete Yosef Heftman eating marinated herring, the essayist J.M. Neuman drinking tea with challah, or the poet Y. Segalowitch sitting in a corner with a “literary supplement” (as the young women who attached themselves to the writers were called).

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LISTEN to Jacob Glatstein reading his poem, “Goodnight, World” (thank you Kostek Gebert for pointing me here…)

Evidence

Posted in Crooked Mirror, Poland with tags , , , , , , , on January 8, 2011 by Louise Steinman

Evidence.  Means ‘sign’ or ‘proof’. ‘Statements of witnesses.’

Last fall I heard a thought-provoking talk– sponsored by the Casden Institute at USC — by Daniel Mendelsohn, author of THE LOST: Searching for Six of Six Million.  Mendelsohn spoke about the “problem of the witness” and as well, “the problem of the historian.”    How are those who give testimony about traumatic events affected by their own conscious or unconscious agenda? The testimony in the Yizkor (memory) books, written after the war, are charged by the ragged emotions of the times. One would think the “historian” would be far more objective than the witness. But Mendelsohn revealed how the historian can be tainted by his or her own way of seeing the world.

Mendelsohn finally discovered where his great-uncle and his daughter had hidden in their family’s town during the war; he’d actually possessed the crucial clue for the five years of his search. However,  he’d misinterpreted a single word all that time. His grandfather spoke of their relatives hiding in a castle. But his grandfather had a Yiddish accent and the word he used was the Yiddish word kesle, a box. A hole in the ground. A bunker.  Mendelsohn believed some fairytale about the faraway family hiding in a castle. The truth was much grimmer.

I thought of this recently when studying the photo of the house on Rolna Street, the last known address of my relatives in Radomsko.  I found this address for my great-aunt Fayge Konardska Wilhelm and her husband Fayvel Wilhelm  on a 1939 registration list compiled by the Germans. When I first encountered the house several years ago, my companion noted her surprise at “how big and pretty” it was. I too was surprised; but I  liked the idea that my relatives lived in such a big and pretty house.

I saw what I wanted to see. I wanted to believe that the house on Rolna Street was where my lost relatives lived a “normal” life: waking up in the morning to go to work, putting the teakettle on the stove, thinking about a picnic on the banks of the river, or a trip across town to visit aged parents.

Then, on a writing retreat, I sat down to draw the house on Rolna Street from the photograph, feeling its contours  through my pencil. Those two big columns in the front were downright sepulchral. That’s what tipped me off. This was not the house they actually lived in.

House on Rolna, sketch

The Polish occupants of this house were forced to move out when the Germans established the Radomsko ghetto.  This house on Rolna was the terrifying limbo where  Fayvel and Fayge were incarcerated  with other families before deportation to hell.

There was another address in Radomsko for the Wilhelms, which my cousin Laura discovered in her mother’s 1935 day book. I’d misplaced it and since it was sent snail mail, it wasn’t in my computer.I took a copy of that handwritten address with me to Radomsko last month, but to my chagrin, nobody there could dicipher the address, even longtime residents.

……….

A few weeks ago, in Warsaw, I visited the Muzeum Tekniki at the Palace of Culture, the gargantuan gaudy Soviet high-rise that was Stalin’s unwanted“gift” to the people of Poland. There were rooms of old telephones, washing machines, old uniforms of miners– all untouched since the 70’s  What particularly intrigued me was the forensics exhibit.

My favorite tableau was this mysterious investigator in the space suit, examining the scene of the crime, frozen forever in the  act of collecting evidence.  Did what he thought he was going to find influence what he actually saw, and how he saw it?  Yes… beyond a reasonable doubt.

Forensics Display, Muzeum Tekniki, Warsaw

What We Carry in a Name

Posted in Poland with tags , , , , on December 27, 2010 by Louise Steinman

What does one carry in a name? The custom, among Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jews, to name a child after a deceased family member is meant to keep the name and the memory of that person alive. It is supposed to forge a bond between the soul of the named and the soul of the namesake. It’s also a way of reminding us that we come from an inhabited past.

My brother Larry, my cousins Louis and Linda and I are all named after my mother’s father, Layzor (Louis) Weiskopf.  Louis was a carpenter by trade (his hometown NowoRadomsk was known for fine furniture, the Thonet-Mundus Factory made bentwood chairs for export). In evoking the memory the town, landsmen often recall the piney scent of lumber mills, and carpenters’ shops.

Louis Weiskopf, the son of a rebbe, was a devout, good-humored Jew who davened (prayed) every morning in the traditional tefillin. Uncle Al told me that Louis’ reputation with his landsmen was based on his being ashtarker, a “strong man.” Louis volunteered to wrestle with the strong man when the circus came to Nowo Radomsk. I imagined my grandfather stepping into the ring to face his opponent—perhaps even the famous Ironman —  in a crowded canvas tent while his friends cheered.

provincial circus, Poland, 1920's?

In New York, Louis sold newspapers under the El and occasionally ran numbers for the gangsters “who schmeered him” according to my Uncle Al Weiskopf (who is one hundred and two years old and remembers a helluva lot.)

Louis, his wife Sure (Sarah) Konarska Weiskopf, and her widowed sister Ruchla (Rose) and Rose’s young daughter Rivke emigrated to the United States in 1906 aboard the Furnessia, a Scottish freighter.  They were young and hopeful.  Here is a photo of them with their firstborn.

Louis and Sarah Weiskopf with their firstborn, Simon, NYC c.1908

Not until I was in my late twenties did my mother confess there was second, unofficial source for my naming. I was then living in New York City,  in search of the next chapter to my life.  My mother– a combustible package of energy and passion and feeling and warmth– came to visit, to offer support and to fill my bare larder with provisions that chill winter.  One afternoon we went together to the Metropolitan Museum. As we strolled the galleries, she told me that—growing up in the tenements—she liked to think of the Met as her own private palace. She confided that she also named me for a sculpture of a young girl she admired on those long-ago visits to the museum.

There was no such sculpture on display, but a museum curator was able to find in the museum’s archives a  photo of this mystery girl, the work of a late 19th century American woman sculptor named Evelyn Beatrice Longman. (Later known for sculpting Lincoln’s hands for the Lincoln memorial and the “Genius of Electricity” nude for the AT&T headquarters in Manhattan.)

I was delighted to be the namesake of this unblemished marble, this white—no doubt Gentile– American girl with her half-smile, snub nose, and upswept hair. It was easier to relate to her than the Polish Jewish grandfather I’d never met, the man whose weary, knobby face I’d seen in a few black-and-white photos. New world innocence was so much more appealing than Old World weariness. Here is the young marble sculpture Louise who caught my mother’s eye so many years before I was born.

"Louise" by Evelyn Beatrice Longman

 

It would take many  more years until I visited the town of my grandfather’s birth, walked the banks of the little Radomka River where the circus set up its canvas tents when it came to town. It would take more years until I gained an appreciation for Louis’ sacrifices, his devotion to family, his willingness to take risks (a watermelon farm in Bay Minette, Alabama!) even if they didn’t pan out.

Louis died on my mother’s birthday in 1945, while my father was away at war in the Philippines. She wrote to him about her father’s death: Oh! He was a stubborn man! He even died a stubborn death. He was a simple man—he asked and received very little in life. How he loved children. How he adored his grandchildren. Until the very last, he prayed for your homecoming. He did so want to see you again.  I’ll always remember the relationship between my father and mother. Theirs was a love of years—a love of toil and constant struggle…”

Here are my grandparents, Louis and Sarah Weiskopf, not long before my grandfather Louis died. I raise a toast to them as 2010 draws to a close. Thank you Louis and Sarah, for crossing the Atlantic on the Furnessia, for your love of toil and constant struggle, and for my gifted mother Anne whom we all miss terribly.

Louis Weiskopf and Sarah Konarska Weiskopf Brooklyn, 1944

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The house on Rolna

Posted in Poland with tags , , , on December 19, 2010 by Louise Steinman

Back in Los Angeles in the wake of my return from Poland, I discover a strategy for jetlag. Late at night, sleep elusive, I fly to Radomsko via Google Earth, sipping tea as the glowing globe rotates on its axis and the image on my screen zooms in on the little town between Czestochowa and Lodz.

With a click of the mouse I am standing in front of the abandoned Thonet-Mundus factory, the forlorn train station, the Zamaszek Hotel where I listened to a rescuer tell me his story. Another click and I am standing in front of the house on Rolna Street, the last known address in the Radomsko ghetto for my great-aunt, Fayga Konarska Wilhelm, and her husband.

It took several visits to Radomsko over the years until I finally found someone—an old woman– at home on Rolna Street. It was in the spring of 2008. She was weeding in her garden behind the house. There was a dilapidated greenhouse and an old appletree in her yard. When my friends gently questioned her in Polish, she gestured with her weeding claw, like a bewildered bird. Her grandfather built the house, during the war it was requisitioned by the Germans, her family forced to move. Several Jewish families were billeted here. She didn’t know their names.

I glanced inside an open side door to the house. Slanted light struck the small kitchen table covered with a plastic plaid tablecloth and mottled the bare wood floor. A sink stacked with dishes was in shadow.

Rain falling in Los Angeles,  soaking our garden, the apple and orange trees behind our house in Silver Lake.  I fall asleep in the winter dark afternoon, dreaming of Poland.

The house on Rolna Street

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