|Marilyn Monroe in Plotsk|
|Wisla River, boat, and granary|
|looking up at drinking teenagers|
I tried to imagine Mollie and Sadie here 100 years ago chattering in Yiddish, but I could only picture them as teenagers in grandma dresses and grandma faces, so I turned my attention to the river shores and continued my descent down the bluff to the bank. It was still light, so I walked around a bit and then climbed back up Tumskie Hill, stepping over the teenagers and swatting my way through the flies.
Up on top, I walked through the cluster of beautiful red bricked medieval buildings surrounded by lushly blooming chestnut trees.
|another Wisla vista|
|Castle and Benedictine cathedral and abbey|
Turns out that not far away from the castle and Benedictine cathedral, the Jews set up shop in Plotsk in 1237. Alas, had we only invested our community funds into solid stone fortresses and synagogues higher than the trees, they’d remember us better today! Medieval Jews arrived in Plotsk because alongside the river it was a great spot for trade, and the Polish nobles and certainly, too, the Benedictine monks (though perhaps they would not admit it) invited in the Jewish merchants who supplied them with the goods and gossip from Paris, honey and furs from the forests, and grains from the peasants. But Jewish homes in this wet and seasonally varied region simply did not leave traces, and gravestones, too, eventually eroded into blank rocky extrusions or sink into the moist ground. We know of Jewish life in these regions because of official documents and Jewish writings, and these don’t make much of an impression when there are no visible, external remains. Jews may appear in the popular legends of the majority population, such as the tales of Esther the Jewess–beloved by King Casimir–or various Jewish rogues, but the real contribution of Jews to the region’s civilization will simply be forgotten unless there are living, vocal Jews present who assert their place in public memory.
|Michael at the cemetery gate|
I saw the more recent Jewish part of the city the next day when I was treated to a personal tour by Plotsk resident Michael Levi, whom I’d met last year when I attended Reform synagogue Beit Warszawa in Warsaw. He showed me the 19th-20th century main drag called Jerusalem Street (Ulica Jerozilimskie), which led right into the town square. Was it the Poles or the Jews themselves who identified the Jews as Middle Eastern people? On Jerusalem Street today are the buildings that used to be Jewish shops and residences, a synagogue (now an empty hulk, on its way to transformation when the money appears), religious and less religious Jewish schools now standing empty or used for other purposes, and a plaque on what used to be the community rabbi’s home smack in the middle of things.
|fragile balcony sukka|
|Jody on Jerusalem Street|
He didn’t like that name, apparently, because an official notice on his 1874 death certificate indicated that the family name should be designated Srebo, meaning silver; either he worked in silver or simply wanted a grander sounding name. His son Nuta (Nathan, in Hebrew) Srebo was a furrier. That means that he would buy pelts, sew them into outfits, and sell them in the town. Nuta left Plotsk in 1910, joining his brother in Brooklyn, and the next year Nuta’s wife Rachel and their six children sailed from Antwerp to join him, and when they arrived they changed their name to Silver. Mollie, 16, was the oldest, and Sadie, just 8, was the fourth. They lived in New York, where Mollie did piece work sewing fur collars onto coats and jackets. She married a Rumanian Jew named Harry (Aharon, in Hebrew) Cohen and together they had three children. She named one of them after her mother’s deceased father Meyer. That was my dad, nicknamed Mike, who later changed his surname to Myers.
My grandma’s grandparents died in Plotsk, but there’s no way to see their graves. The Nazis invaded Plotsk in September 1939 and in January herded the approximately 10,000 Jews into a ghetto within the town. The Nazis did all sorts of heinous acts that cowed the population into submission, like rounding up random Jews and Poles and shooting them in the town square, an event memorialized in a monument in the town center.
|Memorial built after the war in town center|
A few thousand of the Poles were sent to concentration camps. The Nazis used the Plotsk Jewish cemeteries for bombing practice. The fragments were found and stored, though some of them have been plastered within a wall in one cemetery by the leaders of the 300 survivors who returned to Plotsk after the war. It is rather sad to see, covered with graffiti, and Michael said it is a teen hangout.
|Plotsk cemetery wall|
|Estera Restaurant from the inside|
Michael then whisked me away to Plonsk, the birthplace of David Ben Gurion. This small town was kilometers away from Plotsk, but its Jews looked to the larger and older community for leadership. They were sent there by the Nazis and met the same fate, and the Plonsk cemetery, too, was destroyed by bombs. By car the town was about 20 minutes away through gorgeous wooded areas and fields of bright green and yellow.
|memorial to David Ben Gurion|
|street signs in Plonsk town center|
A delegation from there visits Plonsk every year and, from all indications, is warmly greeted by the natives.
|friendship tree from Ramat HaNegev|
|DBG apartment under this restaurant|
I could barely keep my eyes open in Michael’s warm and comfortable car as he drove us back to Plotsk. I’d drop off from time to time, then open my eyes to the now sunny Polish countryside, the fields dazzling in yellow flowered splendor. We stopped in order to examine them closely, and we promised to write each other when we learned the identity of the plant.
Now I know: it is Brassica napus Linnaeus, known as rapeseed, rape, oilseed rape, and in this form, canola. It is a flowering member of the plant family of mustards and cabbages. The flowers fall off and the seeds can be crushed for what you all know as canola oil.
Michael dropped me off at my hotel and I took a nap in my own private Starzynski palace.