Guest Blogger – Linda Elman Seattle group meets Eugenuisz and Alina Stys

Eugenuisz and Alina - from Linda Elman

Eugenuisz and Alina Stys.

DEAR READER:  Meet guest blogger – Linda Lawson Elman.  Linda is my cousin on my father’s side.  In June, she went to Poland with a trip organized by the Seattle Holocaust Center for Humanity and led by my friend and superhero, Joanna Millick. Linda wrote this as a Facebook post and I asked if I could reprint it as a guest blogger.  I have done some footnote annotations.

Welcome Linda to – soyouwanttowriteaholocaustbook!

 

June 27, 2017

Today, as expected was a long day. We left the hotel at 8 am for the long ride to Treblinka. This place of horror was set in beautiful surroundings. We found the same last year at Mauthausen and the Hartheim institute. Our guide was the Director of the museum, who kept emphasizing that he was only giving us scientific facts. While it was clear he understood English, he didn’t feel comfortable speaking it, leaving Joanna, our wonderful guide from Seattle to translate. We started with the museum, a short film, and then walked from the museum parking lot up to where the gas chambers had been located.

Started as a penal camp, Treblinka became a death camp.[1] Bodies were then burned on grills made of railroad tracks. set over a deep pit that contained the fire.[2] After the Treblinka Uprising in 1943, the camp was destroyed and wild flowers were strewn to conceal what had been there.[3]

The camp is now a memorial. Artistically designed, the site reflects what was there. Rail road ties are set along the area leading from the parking lot to the gas chambers. Large upright stones represent the barbed wire fence. The platform where the victims were unloaded is partway up the hill. From there they were herded through a narrow path lined with tree branches to the gas chambers, forced to undress quickly, and sent to their death. Just before you get to the site of where the gas chamber had been, there is a collection of tombstones with the names of all the Polish cities from which Jews had been killed. There is a large monument at the site of the gas chambers which looks like a huge tombstone. The top is carved and to me looked like struggle. The back has a menorah carved at the top. Behind the monument was a huge rectangular pit filled with jagged basalt to represent the crematoria. There were lots of additional tombstones set behind and off to the side of the monument. Some 800,000 people, mostly Jews, were killed at Treblinka.

From Treblinka we ride to the town of Stoczek to meet Eugenuisz and Alina Stys. Eugenuisz’s mother and aunt helped my cousin Karen Treiger’s mother and father-in-law, Sam and Esther Goldberg, survive during the war.  Eugenuisz was a child at the time and often carried food to Sam and Esther in a dog food bowl to disguise his mission. Our guide, Joanna Millick helped Karen find the family. Given some sketchy information and then some Polish letters between members of the Stys family and Esther, the internet, and international calling, Joanna tracked down Eugenuisz’s nephew Grzegorz Maleszewski, and the rest is history.

Grzegorz met us on the road and directed our bus to their home. We all sat in the living room and were able to ask Eugenuisz and Alina questions.  Eugenuisz did not consider himself a hero–that he attributed to his parents, but he was proud of what they had done. Given how close the houses are in this little cluster of homes, it is amazing that Sam and Esther’s location could be kept secret.  We are probably the last group the family will meet with since their neighbors are giving them grief because they think they are profiting from their story. Grzegorz too is proud of his uncle and grandparents. Karen is writing a book about their family story, and I join Eugenuisz, Grzegorz, Alicia, Joanna, and others in wanting to read it.

From there we went to Tykocin (not far from Bialystok). At one point Tykocin was a major center for Polish Jews. Located on a river which went all the way to Gdansk, it was a major trading center. In August 1941The Jews of Tykocin were ordered into the town center, marched (or driven if too young or infirm) to the woods, thrown into pits 5 meters deep, and systematically shot.

The beautiful synagogue is one of the few left standing anywhere in Poland.  The original has been restored, not reconstructed. The walls are covered with prayers carefully lettered so that you didn’t have to have a prayer book to pray. Our guide, Adam Radowski has clearly studied the history of the Jews in Tykocin, and written a small book with the story. The town is now a tourist attraction, and some. 80,000 visitors come to the synagogue each year. Although no Jews live there, they have a kosher butcher shop and restaurant to serve their many visitors. We walked to the cemetery which is a remnant of it once was. The remaining stones are buried in tall grass and weeds and worn down to be unreadable. No one has stepped up to take responsibility for it. From the cemetery we bussed out to the woods and walked through the gnats and mosquitoes to the mass graves. After time to reflect, we lit candles, recited Kaddish, and headed back to the bus.

After a return trip that included chips, pretzels, beer, Tatanka (Buffalo vodka and apple juice) our most nutritious dinner yet–okay, I skipped the beer–we got back to the hotel around 9. If we were tired, imagine how tired Joanna must be. She translated each of our guides today (along with taking care of everything else.)

This was just one day of our intense and educational trip with the Holocaust Center.  Thank you to all who made it possible.

Linda Lawson Elman (guest blogger — front row, first on left – wearing black; Grzegorz Maleszewski and Joanna Millick – on right side, back row – standing)

Linda Elman group

[1] The Treblinka penal camp was a labor camp.  It was in operation before the death camp and was in a different location.  The death camp began to be built in June of 1942 – it was intended from the beginning as a death camp.

[2] The burning of corpses at Treblinka did not occur until early in 1943 after Heinrich Himmler visited.  Before that (beginning in July 1942), the bodies were buried in huge pits.  Himmler ordered that all bodies be exhumed and burned and all future victims of the gas chambers be burned.

 

[3] The Treblinka uprising was in August of 1943.  The camp continued to function until November when it was destroyed.

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