Finding Traces of the Jewish Past
Occassionally, reminders of the Holocaust and of its victims surface in the area around Zolynia. During the occupation, Jews were usually buried where they were shot. In March 1994, a street reconstruction project uncovered human remains in Lezajsk. With research, analysis and interviews, some remains have been identified or narrowed down. For example, four members of the Rimler family of Zolynia were buried at Giedlarowa, six miles (10 km) northeast of Zolynia, on the road to Lezajsk.
During the occupation, thousands of headstones (or matzevos) from local Jewish cemeteries, including the one in Zolynia, were uprooted and used to pave or fortify town squares, roads and paths in the area. For years after the war, headstones were occassionally found during repair projects, having been used as a hard-core layer beneath the road surface. Some headstones may still be there.
In December 1959, Beruch Sapir (sometimes spelled Safir) returned to his hometown of Lezajsk after years in a Soviet gulag, a labor prison. He was the only known Jewish resident of all the towns in the vicinity. At that time, there were still Jewish headstones in the Lezajsk square, face up, and he spotted one which he immediately recognized as that of Rebbe Elimelech, one of the most famous rabbis in Hasidic Jewry. Sapir began a campaign that resulted in the costruction of a new ohel (a small prayer house over a grave) and restoration of the rebbe's gravesite, which had been dug up during the occupation by locals in search of rumored treasure.
Baruch Sapir remained in Lezajsk for years, walking the streets and back roads of local towns and villages, collecting books, papers, bibles, Torahs and other artifacts of the Jewish communities that were now gone. He purchased the items from farmers and villagers and collected them in boxes in his small one-room apartment. A local curiosity, Baruch Sapir was still alive in 1970, the last practicing Jew for many miles around Zolynia. What happened to Sapir and the collection he desperately wanted saved after his death is not known to current researchers. Perhaps the items are in the Jewish Museum now established in the restored synagogue at Lancut.
The Last Jew
John Plaszcynski was a church sexton, in charge of building maintenance, when he died in Kolbuszowa in 1998. Most of his fellow townspeople had no idea that at another time, before returning from the forests in 1944, he had been Jankel Plafker. He had converted, changed his name and married a Catholic woman. He was the last Jew in Kolbuszowa, about 23 miles (38 km) west of Zolynia, and possibly the last person of known Jewish descent living in a wide arc of towns and villages outside of Rzeszow.
Lancut and Lezajsk as Tourist Destinations
Podkarpackie Province and Lancut County have heavily promoted tourism. Lancut and Lezajsk, both a short drive from Zolynia along Route 877, have had major success drawing tourists and religious pilgrims to their towns.
Lancut's famous palace and the annual music festival are now major destinations for visitors. The restored Lancut synagogue and its Jewish Museum draw those interested in architecture and Jewish culture. One of the old Jewish cemeteries in Lancut is the resting place of Rabbit Naftali Tsvi Horovitz (the "Ropshitz Rebbe") and of Rabbi Aron Moshe Leifer of Zolynia and Lancut, and Hasidic Jews come to pray at the site.
Lezajsk's baroque church has always been a pilgrimage destination for Catholics. Now, the town is again a destination for Hasidic Jewish pilgramages. Hasidic Jews stream to the tomb (kever) of Rabbi Elimelech Lipman Weissblum on the anniversary of his death in 1787 (21 Adar on the Jewish calendar, usually falling in late February or early March). Hundreds of people fill nearby streets and cram into the ohel for special services. A tradition says that if one prays at the ohel (the structure built over the tomb), he receives teshuva sheleima or true repentance. Lezajsk now has a restored mikva (ritual bath) which Jews on pilgrimage can use for ritual purification.
What Happened to Count Alfred Potocki
By July 1944, with the Germans falling back fast, Count Alfred understandably concluded that being in the middle of hundreds of thousands of Soviet soldiers was no place for a fabulously wealthy nobleman. Just before the Germans evacuated Zolynia, the Count and his elderly mother slipped away to Vienna, and later to Switzerland, which was his primary residence until his death in 1957. He had been able to ship large amounts of valuable artwork and treasures from the palace before his exit.
Supposedly, servants placed a sign that said, "Polish National Museum" on the front gates, and the Soviet soldiers were ordered to leave the palace alone.
In January 1945, 5,560 acres of arable land on the Potocki estate was siezed by the Polish Committee of National Liberation (the PKWN) in Lublin and divided up among between 892 and 1,050 families (the number differed between news reports), as part of a land reform program. 20,000 acres of his forest land was taken over by the Polish state. It was estimated that the Count's primary estate included a total of 75,000 acres as of 1944.
Count Alfred's image was substantially rehabilitated in the years after the war, and he is no longer described as a collaborator in contemporary accounts. Some of details of his story have undergone revisions over the years. In different versions, he fled to Vienna or he fled to Liechtenstein. The treasures were loaded onto 30 trucks by German soldiers, or into 600 crates that filled 11 special railroad cars. Count Alfred himself writes in his 1957 memoir that when he saw that the German front was collapsing, he shipped 249 crates of valuables by train to Vienna in early May 1944 and then another 150 cases by truck in mid-June.
In any case, the Count married in Monaco in 1956 and died two years later. Alfred's nephew, Stanislas Potocki, son of Count Jerzy, the Ambassador to the United States prior to the war, is theoretically the 6th Ordynat of Lancut.
Gmina Zolynia and Former Jewish Residents
There has been no known direct contact between the First Zoliner Society in New York and the gmina government in Zolynia. Several former Jewish residents or their children have visited the town in the past several years. Small steps in establishing informal relations between the town authorities and Jewish emigrants have been taken in the exchange of messages, historical information and photographs between the editor of this web site and the editor of the official web site of Gmina Zolynia.
In 1992, Jozef Waldman, a resident of Duseldorf, Germany, received permission to fund the creation of a monument to his mother, Sabinie Waldman, at the location of Zolynia's former Jewish cemetery. For several years, there have been exchanges of messages and photographs between the editor of this web site and that of the official web site of Gmina Zolynia.
There has been one instance of contact between Zolynia-born emigrants in New York and the government of Poland. More detailed information is still being sought, but during the 1960s, the First Zoliner Society applied for restitution from the national government in Poland for the synagogue building that was destroyed during the German occupation and which, at that time, was owned by the Polish government in Warsaw. Although very few claims of this kind were successful, and Poland still does not have a comprehensive compensation law, the U.S. State Department helped negotiate a settlement. A payment of $10,000 or more was made to the First Zoliner Society, which passed most of the money to the community of Zholiners in Israel, some of whom were in need. The money was also used for basic improvements to Zoliner Cemetery plots in the New York area, which include graves of Holocaust survivors.
In 1997, the Polish Sejm (parliament) adopted the Law on the Relation of the State to Jewish Communities. The Union of Jewish Communities in Poland (based in Warsaw) and its Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland were granted the right to claim properties owned by pre-war Jewish communities until 2002. Since the early 1990s, pre-war Jewish properties had become the property of local governments, including Gmina Zolynia. It is not clear if a formal claim was filed for the former Jewish communal property in Zolynia, which included the Jewish cemetery, ritual bathhouse, kosher slaughterhouse and some other properties. However, the Gmina agreed to pay some $7,000 to the Union in lieu of the Kehilla Zolynia properties. The transaction was unknown outside of Poland.
In 2008, as part of its "Zolynia Convention" festival and reunion, the Gmina commissioned a brief paper (less than 2,000 words) about Jews in Zolynia and Galicia. The paper was presented during the weekend event. It was prepared by Andrzej Potocki, a local writer who has published several papers about Jews in Podkarpacie Province. This was a new level of recognition by the Gmina of the Jewish culture that was lost to the town over six decades ago.
The Lesson and the Meaning
If leaders, unable to deal with a crisis, convince a large majority that their problems have been imposed upon them by a small minority, bad things can happen. On the first page of this web site, it is suggested that 'perhaps there are important lessons to be learned from what happened in this one small town, and thousands like it throughout Europe." Perhaps that lesson has to do with what can happen when there is a crisis and leaders convince a popu
From Shtetl (1997), by acclaimed Polish-born writer Eva Hoffman:
Nothing can bring back what was lost; after the Holocaust, we are in an era of symbolic action…It is time for Poles and Jews to recover the memory of generosity and the generosity of memory, to take the risk of erring on the side of compassion. For ourselves, we need to stop splitting our own memories in half, and pushing away those parts which are too distressing for owning or acknowledgement. As for those who perished, the time may have come to let them rest in our full remembrance, and in peace.