The post below is signed by Emmanuel Cortey, Deputy Director of Yahad- In Unum, who is accompanying the research trip to Poland (Jun. 16th – Jul. 2nd).
Translation from French: Yelena Moskovich
Saturday, June 28th, 2014
At Lesko, we interview Franciszek. He receives us on a flowering balcony; we hear children playing in the garden a bit further away. He watches with amusement as the team tries to set up in this narrow space. Minutes after the equiptment and people are in place, the camera starts rolling. The interview has begun.
In the beginning of the war, Lesko was a border town. The San river separated the Soviet army from the German. The situation shifted in June of 1941, with the invasion of the Nazis into the Soviet Union. Franciszek, who was 13 years old at the time, witnesses the first persecutions of the Jews. Yellow stars, violence inflicted at random in the street. They were almost 3000, a third of the city’s population. Franciszek lived then not far from the Jewish cemetery. It is there where he witnessed several mass shootings close to a ditch that the Jews were forced to dig themselves. He speaks without hesitation, precisely indicating what he saw: children, terrified, hiding near the cemetery. A young girl who had managed to escape was caught again in the end and shot with the others, a small child killed in the arms of his mother…
After his interview, he accompanies us to locate the mass grave. The cemetery, surrounded by a concrete fence, towers over the road. The gates open to a steep stone stairway. We see that here the headstones are looked after. We walk between a couple of old, large oak-trees. Franciszek stops and indicates a closing separating the cemetery from a parking lot below. The was once a time when the cemetery expanded further, now that is the mass anonymous grave.
Earlier in the day, we met Jósef, born in 1931. He spoke to us about the ghettos of Kroscienko and of Ustrzyki Dolne, and other shootings which he had witnessed. He then led us to the location of the former ghetto of Ukstrzyki Dolne. Today, it is a small square lined with restaurants and a playground for children. Rehearsal for a folk festival can be heard on the other side of the road while Jósef signals to us with wide gestures the limits of the ghetto.
The parking lot near the cemetery where Franciszek led us, this peaceful square and its distant folk music… How does one leave these places without feeling the painful discrepancy between the banality of these places today and the violence of the past to which the witnesses’ words attest?
Back at the hotel, I share my impressions of this first day with Renata, one of the translators, for whom this is the second research trip with Yahad. I am happy to hear her present her work as a ongoing learning experience, not only historical but also human. I couldn’t have better described what I myself felt. Every day this feeling resonates within me, but on this night, it echos a bit stronger still.