We visited the dead in Stoczek. The dead don’t lie.
Stoczek is the Shtetl where Esther was born and the place from which Sam was taken to the Death Camp Treblinka. There are enough ghosts here to compete with Hogwarts.
Grzegorz Maleszewski took us to Stoczek. Our first stop was the vacant lot that once was the Kwiatek soda factory. Just to the right of the empty lot stood a pre-war home. This, we were told, was a typical house. I imagine 74 years ago it looked better, but still…
Then we visited the Christian dead. At the cemetery we paid our respects to Helena and Aleksander Stys, Wladyslawa and Stanislaw Stys, Edward Stys, Elzbieta and Waclaw Maleszewski (Grzegorz’s parents) and others who knew Esther and Sam and were involved in their lives and survival. I was humbled. Would I have had the courage to help when so many others did not. I hope so, but I am blessed to never have been put to this test.
The Stoczek Christian cemetery is beautifully kept and well-manicured. Colorful flowers adorn the graves. The tombstones are clean and the writing clear. The small red brick chapel in the center stands cheery and solid, with a steeple reaching up to the heaven. The Christian dead told us that they were honored and respected and have been well cared for. Their ghosts are at peace.
Then we visited the Jewish dead. This was an altogether different experience. The Stoczek Jewish cemetery is no more. No tombstones, no flowers, no chapel. It is overgrown with weeds and littered with garbage. Under the earth – in this place – are the Jews of Stoczek who died before September, 1939, who had the zechus (merit) to be properly buried.
During and after the war, Poles took Jewish tombstones for building material – to build walls or streets. A number of years ago, the town finally gathered the small number of broken and faded tombstones that remained and placed them next to the cemetery where they had erected a memorial to the murdered Jews.
Jan Stys, a man full of life at 87, an eyewitness, told us how he was an 11-year old school boy, sitting in his classroom looking out the window. The window looked out over the Jewish cemetery. Jan watched that August day of 1942, as the Nazis shot and killed his Jewish neighbors. He understood that this war was not nice.
Who knows why some were murdered here and others taken to Treblinka. Perhaps it was the old and disabled who would have had trouble making the trek to the gas chambers. Perhaps it was Nazi sport. No way to know.
The Jewish dead told us that they have been dishonored and abused. Their ghosts are not at peace. They are eternally crying for themselves and for their murdered children and grandchildren.
תנצב”ה -May their souls be bound up in the bond of eternal life.