When our two oldest children were in 12th grade, they had the unique opportunity to go to Poland with their school and to see various concentration camps, such as Auschwitz and Maidanek. They were hoping that during their visit to Poland, they would have a chance to go to Ostrolenka, the village that my parents came from and which the Krymkiewicz family had lived in from around at least the early 1800’s (as far as we know). It is located about 100 km north of Warsaw.
Yesterday, my wife and I had the opportunity to go to, and to speak, among other things, about Messiah Yeshua in different places in Poland, including Ostrolenka (now Ostroleka). The first Krymkiewicz (now Kramer) family member to return in 80 years. The city changed a lot during this time. It was founded in the 14th century and over the next few centuries, it thrived. By the early 1900’s, the Jewish community there was the third largest in the Lomza region and had a high degree of economic and cultural achievement. In 1939, the Jewish population of the village grew to 5,000 out of a total population of 12,000.
In mid-August, 1939, my parents were able to leave Poland and made their way to America. Two weeks later, the Nazis invaded Poland and by the end of Succot, 1939, Ostrolenka was occupied by the Germans. Jews were attacked physically. Their property was taken and the Jewish community was given only three days to leave the village and cross into the area occupied by Soviet Russia. During this time of expulsion, the Jewish half of the city’s population was killed, or scattered to different areas around Ostrolenka, or sent to concentration camps. The destinations of most of them are unknown. The details of those who were shot by death squads in the streets or in forests, or who died in forced marches, or who were immediately sent to the gas chambers, were not written down. Only the testimonies of some of those who survived the war are able to put a few of the pieces together. Today, there is no Jewish presence there.
The Nazis sought to eliminate the Jews of Ostrolenka (the entire Jewish community was destroyed). The German soldiers destroyed the sizeable Jewish cemetery. Locals removed pieces of the gravestones for their personal use – insult was added to injury. The cemetery was paved and some shallow foundations were erected on the site, the construction of which appeared not to damage the underground tombs. Between the Nazis and the locals, there was an effort to eliminate a portion of the history of Ostrolenka. Years later, a memorial monument, dedicated to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust from Ostrolenka, was set up close to the place where the cemetery once existed. A school and parking area was built over most of the place where the very large Jewish cemetery of Ostrolenka once used to be.
Three of my grandparents were buried there and generations of my family who preceded them. Not one of their gravestones remains. A portion of my family’s history has been wiped out, as if it never existed.
The latest news of yesterday, 23 September, 2019, regarding the cemetery land that was destroyed, but still not built upon, indicates that tractors are digging in the cemetery to clear land for the preparation of a main sewer line. In the process, the excavation of the land is uncovering human bones from destroyed graves. It has been reported in a Hebrew site that these works are part of a project being funded by the EU. The quiet of the grave and the repose of the dead should not lightly to be disturbed. There is a sanctity to the remains of those who have gone before, who have laid the foundations of a multitude of societies, not the least of which was the Jewish community in Ostrolenka. Today, a tiny memorial remains, a part of which is made up of pieces of different gravestones, none of which are identifiable. The remains of Jewish people who helped to found, build and enable Ostrolenka to flourish over hundreds of years, along with all Jewish life in the city, literally disappeared almost overnight.
We were taken to Ostrolenka by our hosts, a Polish evangelical husband and wife, who have a genuine love for Israel and for the Jewish people. After I recited Kaddish (a prayer of praise to God, customarily recited by Jewish people after the death of relatives) in Aramaic in the place where the Jewish cemetery once stood, the son of that couple, who wanted to come with us, read the Kaddish in Polish. We all shed many tears over the loss caused by demonic hatred. Ostrolenka, indeed, all of Poland, needs to repent and ask forgiveness from God for its actions towards the Jewish people. Yes, there were righteous gentiles, who will reap the blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant. And some of them were our hosts, who said “Am Yisrael Chai. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob has called and blessed the Jewish people and He will regather them and restore them for His glory.”
Bless, be blessed and be a blessing,