Updated: Nov 30, 2020
We left Krakov early in the morning, boarded our bus and drove some 91 kms. to Chmielnik, our first stop en route to Warsaw.
The Zmideks of Chmielnik date back to 1796. Records show that our grandparents / great-grandparents, Hinde (Annie), Mirla (Mary), Gabryl (Gabriel) and Kalman (Colman) were born there.
Before WWII, there were 12,000 Jews in Chmielnik. Over the course of several months, the Germans transported Jews to concentration camps, mainly Treblinka, where they were exterminated. Only four Jews of the town survived the war.
Our first stop was the renovated synagogue. In the center was the bimah, an extraordinary structure made of glass and designed to allow the light from the strategically placed bulbs to shine through.
We walked around the room looking for evidence of our Zmideks in the photos and documents hanging on the wall. Later, we watched a film of Poles recounting their memories of the Jews who had lived among them before the Holocaust.
Then we walked to the Jewish cemetery, where a few headstones were still standing. But we focused mainly on the heap of broken headstones that formed a mound, closely resembling a shrine.
One of the highlights of the visit was meeting Piotr Krawczyk, a local historian, who wrote a book about the Jews of Chmielnik. He was motivated to do so after reading a book about the town and finding that the Jews had warranted only a single page. He recalled that after a fire had destroyed a number of houses, it was the Jews who helped rebuild the town.
Fast forward, November 2020: Our guide, Tomasz, produced a video about Chmielnik, describing some of the sites familiar to us from our visit to the town. One site we didn't visit was the mikve. In the video, Tomasz focuses on the history of this 150-year old structure and the excavations carried out there 10 years ago.