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The Polish Priest Who Revived the Legacy of a Lost Jewish Community

As he was growing up in Chocz, a small town in Poland, Leszek Szkudlarek was completely unaware that Jews had once lived in that town — much less been a significant part of its history from the mid- to late 18th century until 1942. Now the priest of the Roman Catholic Parish in Paczków, Poland, Leszek decided to research the history of his hometown and write a book about it. After discovering that the history of the Jewish community of Chocz and its great contribution to local history was erased after most of its members perished in the Holocaust, he decided to dedicate his book to commemorating them and telling their stories.

Leszek Szkudlarek

Leszek Szkudlarek

He dug through archives and collected testimonies and materials from residents of the town — including a man who found valuable books and documentation belonging to former Jewish residents while renovating his home. However, Leszek received one photo from his primary school history teacher Zdzislawa Flisin’ska that became the central anchor of his research:

The photo Leszek received, taken in 1935, enhanced, repaired, and colorized by MyHeritage

The photo Leszek received, taken in 1935, enhanced, repaired, and colorized by MyHeritage

The photo Leszek received, taken in 1935, enhanced, repaired, and colorized by MyHeritage

Leszek was told that the picture, a school yearbook photo from 1935, which included many Jewish children, “was taken by the Jew Lewin.”

Tracing the photographer’s descendants

He began working to identify each individual in the photo to help trace all the members of the former Jewish community of Chocz. Meanwhile, since the name Lewin came up at different stages of the research, he tried to also trace any descendants of the family and hopefully find more visual documentation taken by the photographer named David Lewin.

Last November, Leszek searched for David Lewin on MyHeritage and found a family tree managed by Sharon Stern, 62, from Florida. He sent her a message, and she soon became a key figure in his research.

Sharon Stern

Sharon Stern

Sharon’s grandmother, Tauba Lee Edelsburg, was David’s sister and was born in Chocz as well. Sharon was able to provide photographs of the family and more details about David’s life. David immigrated to Argentina before World War II and passed away in 1982, but he had two children who are still alive: a son in Israel and a daughter in Argentina. They helped Leszek further, and also discovered many unknown details about their Jewish family history from the Catholic priest: “For example, I had only recently learned that my grandmother had an older sister, who was shot and killed probably by the Polish police while on her way to a communist rally,” says Sharon. “Based on his research, Leszek was able to provide me with her name and birthdate. She was only 16 when she got killed.”

Leszek invited Sharon to be a special guest at his book launch event in early March. She was the first family member to visit Chocz since the war. Leszek met her at the airport and took her to see some important sites and meet some of the people who have been working to preserve the memory of the town’s Jewish community.

Walking the streets her ancestors walked

Leszek hosted her for five days, providing accommodations and dinners at his parents’ home in Chocz, and accompanying her on several trips, including to Chelmo where Sharon’s paternal great-grandmother is buried.

A memorial site at Kozminek, in memory of the Jewish community that perished in the Holocaust, stablished on the initiative of the town's (non-Jewish) residents Andrzej (second from left) and Donata Paruszewski (second from right)

A memorial site at Kozminek, in memory of the Jewish community that perished in the Holocaust, stablished on the initiative of the town’s (non-Jewish) residents Andrzej (second from left) and Donata Paruszewski (second from right)

“It was really incredible to see,” she says. [My grandmother’s] home would have overlooked the market square. I saw where my great-uncle lived. I saw where the Jews from Chocz were rounded up into a ghetto in what was then a new fire station… I don’t know how to describe walking along the same streets I know my grandmother would have walked along, and my great-grandmother, and other family members.”

Sharon says the town hasn’t changed that much over the centuries: “I have a Chocz’s map from 1294 to 2014, that shows that the town did not change a bit throughout those years,” she laughs.

Sharon next to the book event poster with photos by David Lewin and of the Lewin family

Sharon next to the book event poster with photos by David Lewin and of the Lewin family

Sharon speaks at Leszek’s book launch

Sharon speaks at Leszek’s book launch

Sharon points to a photo of her grandmother’s family from Leszek’s book

Sharon points to a photo of her grandmother’s family from Leszek’s book

Left to right: Zdzislawa, Leszek’s history teacher who provided the photo; Sharon; and Leszek

Left to right: Zdzislawa, Leszek’s history teacher who provided the 1935 photo; Sharon; and Leszek

“It really restores your faith in people,” says Sharon, “hearing how people who have no connection to Judaism are reaching out and trying to do something positive, and trying to remember all the people that were here. As Leszek said at his speech during the event, this is an important reminder that people have more in common than not.”

Many thanks to Sharon and Leszek for sharing their incredible story with us. If you’ve also made an amazing discovery via MyHeritage, we’d love to hear about it. Please share it with us via this form or email us at stories@myheritage.com.

The post The Polish Priest Who Revived the Legacy of a Lost Jewish Community appeared first on MyHeritage Blog.

Source: My Heritage

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