“For us, this is a sort of triumph. Reclaiming my grandfather’s honor. A kind of victory over evil,” says Yaron Avidan, one of 18 Israelis and descendants of the Jews of the town of Końskie in southern Poland, who visited the town.
In 1939, the town was home to about 6,500 Jews, comprising about 60% of its total population at the time. Almost all of them perished at the hands of the Nazi Germans in the Treblinka extermination camp.
After the war, only about 400 Jews remained from Końskie’s Jewish community. Some returned to the town, but they were expelled under threats by their Polish neighbors. Yaron Avidan’s grandfather, Sandor Eisenberg, was one of them. He wanted to take a Judaica item from his parents’ house, but his neighbor threatened to sic dogs on him.
The town’s Jewry fled and never returned. “They didn’t want to hear about Poland or the Polish,” Avidan recounts.
In Israel, the descendants of Końskie’s Jews maintained their community. They established an association, purchased a synagogue in southern Tel Aviv and established a community center that hosts family events around holidays, joint memorial events and more. They even made an effort to be buried next to one another and to buy from stores owned by those who lived in the town.
The visit’s purpose was to learn about the town’s history and to meet with its educators to explore how the town’s Jewish memory could be taught. “We didn’t come to point fingers, but rather from genuine goodwill,” explains Avidan. “We even asked if there’s a religious figure who would agree to hold a memorial ceremony. Jews were a central part of this town.”
Members of the community visited Końskie together for the first time, where about 20,000 people live today. Deputy Mayor Krzysztof Jasinski and the city’s councilors warmly welcomed them, and the local media documented the visit.
For the first time in the town’s history, a joint memorial ceremony was held, attended by the town’s priest, city representatives and descendants of the Jewish community in the place where the ghetto once stood. Prayers were to commemorate the victims recited in Polish and Hebrew.