|Serock, Poland. New Monument at Jewish Cemetery, just before completion. Photo courtesy of Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland|
Poland: Holocaust Memorial in Serock, Dedicated on August 27, 2014
(n.b. post revised and expanded 9/15/2014)
by Samuel D. Gruber
An unlikely partnership has produced a new Holocaust memorial at the once devastated Polish Jewish cemetery in Serock, located about 25 miles north of Warsaw. Begun by the desire of a thirteen-year-old Washington, DC girl, the project engaged a Polish Foundation, a United States Government Commission, and local authorities and residents.
For a Bat Mitzvah project, Hannah Champness decided to raise money to build a monument at the destroyed Jewish cemetery in Serock, the town where her grandmother Diana Albert (Doba Ita Drezner) was born and where she hid (with her brother) before landing in the Warsaw Ghetto, before eventually escaping and finding refuge with a Polish family. Later, Diana Albert came to America, the sole survivor of her family.
|Serock, Poland. U.S. Commission member Lee Seeman speaking at dedication of new monument at Jewish cemetery, Aug 27, 2014. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Commission for Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad|
Champness was able to enlist the assistance of the United State Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad, and especially Commission member Lee Seeman, of Great Neck, New York, who has been involved in several similar documentation and commemoration projects (I worked with Lee a decade ago documenting and marking the sites of labor camps in Estonia). Lee was already aware of the plight of the cemetery in the town (where her friend Congressman Gary Ackerman's family originated), so she decided to take on the project.
Over a period of several years Seeman and Champness raised money for the work by talking it up to almost everyone they knew, and the Commission helped solicit funds (by law, Commission sanctioned projects must be funded form private donations). The Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland (FODZ), which has restored many cemeteries and built several memorials such as the one in Radom, arranged and oversaw the building of the memorial on land donated and made accessible by PKO Bank Polski. The Bank was a willing and active partner in the work. Though a relatively small project - compared to a big synagogue restoration - the project was complex, and developed as a model collaborative effort with many key participants along the way.
The stele-style monument is located at the site of the town's Jewish cemetery of which the Nazi Germans destroyed most visible evidence. It incorporates matzevah fragments in what is now an time-honored cemetery-Holocaust memorial type (see construction photos here).
The multilingual inscription on the monument, reads in part:
This area comprises the Jewish Cemetery of Serock. Jews were buried here from the 18th century until 1939, when Nazi German forces ordered that all traces of the cemetery be obliterated. For many years, the gravestones on the wall were piled up on a nearby site. This memorial pays tribute to a once vibrant Jewish community and honours those citizens of Serock who were murdered in the Holocaust solely because they were Jewish.