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October 15, 2001
The ceremony was preceded by a Guided Tour - for anybody interested, please see the historical files
(We have to warn you that some external links might have become invalid with time)
Phase 1 of the project soon expanded to include professional filming of a documentary of the OCRP. The documentary would be offered to Holocaust museums, shown to visitors, especially youth groups, and placed on the internet. We believe it also will provide valuable resource information for the news media, historians and those wanting to restore their ancestral cemeteries. A crew was hired in Poland to film the cemetery before and after, interview the mayor, the priest, Rabbi Schudrich, Andrzej Omasta and many others. Additional filming was done in Buffalo, NY and in Toronto, Canada to document the stories of Ozarowers and their descendants. The documentary should be ready some time next year.
On Oct. 14, the day before our visit to Ozarow, our international tour group assembled together, many for the first time, for dinner at the Kahal. The Kahal is located next to the Warsaw Synagogue. OCRP coordinators who had never met one another before embraced at last in the joy of the moment, that so much had been accomplished in such a short time. There we also met the mayor of Ozarow, Marcin Majcher, Rabbi Michael Schudrich, Monica Krajewska an expert and author on Jewish cemeteries in Poland, and Juliusz Wendlandt, a government official who twenty years earlier had the foresight to arrange that the Ozarow cemetery be listed as a historical site, an act that likely greatly helped in its subsequent preservation.
October 15th was a very special and emotional day for all of us. Together with a bus load of 25 Ozarowers and their descendants, including Rabbi Tanchum Becker (the Ozarower Rebbe, living in Israel), and Colonel Rabbi David Zalis, a US military chaplain in full military dress, we traveled from Warsaw to Ozarow, about a three hour drive. We were expecting to meet the mayor along with other members of local and town government, the priest, representatives from the US and Canadian embassies, contractors and some townspeople, perhaps about a dozen or two dozen people. As we approached Ozarow at noon on this warm and sunny day, we were greeted outside the cemetery gates by over 500 people! At a microphone, we were welcomed by the mayor, and the priest, Father Stanislaw Szczerek. Letters were read from the President of Poland, Aleksander Kwasniewski and the Israeli Ambassador, Shevach Weiss. John Armstrong of the US Embassy in Warsaw greeted everyone and he read a letter of congratulations on the success of the project from Warren Miller, Chairman of the US Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad. Judy McLennan, wife and representing the Canadian Ambassador, gave greetings and congratulations on behalf of the Canadian government. Rabbi Becker and Father Szczerek shook hands and each spoke about the importance of this occasion.
There were no signs of antisemitism. Indeed we felt an atmosphere of mutual respect, reconciliation, and friendship. (There were no evident displays of antisemitism during the eight day tour we took of Jewish Historical Sites in Poland. And the group of rabbis who left our group part way to do there own tour, likewise found no antisemitism. Certainly this exists as it does everywhere that Jews live and travel. We suppose that the years since the war has left a younger generation of Poles of much greater tolerance. Pope John Paul's urging of Poles for reconciliation and forgiveness for the fostering of antisemitism in the past may have also helped.)
The gates were opened after the speeches and we entered followed by the crowd. The gates bear the new metal plaque in five languages, with the engraved inscription:
As we reassembled in front of the commemorative monument at the edge of the mass grave, people from the town placed bouquets of flowers at the monument, standing on the edge of the mass grave. Father Szczerek and Rabbi Becker read the moving lament of the 79th Psalm in Polish and in Hebrew respectively, referring to the aftermath of the destruction of the First Temple and the many Jews slaughtered with no one to bury them.
The inscription on the monument in Hebrew and English reads:
In Sacred memory of the Jewish martyrs of Ozarow and surrounding communities who sanctified the Holy Name of The Almighty in life and in death, and who tragically perished in the flames of the Holocaust. May their hallowed lives be for all generations to come a beacon of light, strength and inspiration.
During inspection of the wonderful work on the cemetery, which was done with great care and creativity by the local workers and construction crew, several of us were met by townspeople. They had stories to tell of the prewar years, and the terrible atrocities committed by the Nazis and their henchmen in Ozarow during the war. They showed lists of Jewish friends they had known or went to school with, wondering if any were still alive. And there were stories of Jews hidden by the townspeople, who converted to save their lives. We also learned of a Righteous Pole, Mr. Jan Jasinski who had personally hidden a Jew, at the risk of the lives of him and his family. There were many children present too, who happily crowded around Moishe Gold later as he distributed Canadian flag pins.
During our visit to Ozarow, we met the quarry owner, Henryk Dabrowski. He told us his father spoke Yiddish and knew Hebrew, and before the war carved many monuments in Hebrew. Very meaningfully, each of our tour group received a valuable souvenir: a hand crafted silver mezuzah created by the talented Andrzej Omasta, embellished with beautifully carved stone from that very same quarry. Andrzej Omasta, had not only become an expert on Jewish cemetery restoration in Poland but a designer of exquisitely beautiful mezuzot. He had done neither just five months earlier!
We left Ozarow satisfied that we had accomplished our major objectives and in so doing, we did much more than we could have imagined…including an important step towards reconciliation between peoples. We were leaving behind a lasting memorial to the heritage of our ancestors and their way of life in that small shtetl. We had restored as best we could this place of remembrance and for teaching future generations.
For additional information please contact:
Dr. Norman L. Weinberg,
tel.:716-688-5272; fax: 716-636-6093; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org