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“This world no longer exists. This world was torn out by the roots.”

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A circle of broken tombstones can be seen on the hill where the new Jewish cemetery in Nidzica, Poland is located. (Photo: Justyna Michniuk)

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Nidzica (formerly also German Neidenburg) is a small and rather quiet town in today’s Poland. It is the capital of Nidzica county in the region known as Masuria.

The city is located in the historical region of East Prussia, about 50 kilometers south of Allenstein (Olsztyn) and 140 kilometers south of Koenigsberg (Russian: Kaliningrad) and today has around 14,000 inhabitants. Since Nidzica was near the border to the Polish-ruled Mazovia, it was the target of Polish-Lithuanian attacks on several occasions and was sometimes in German, sometimes in Polish hands. The city has belonged to Poland since 1945. It’s hard to find a good restaurant or a nice cafeteria here these days.

Unfortunately, there are no reliable sources that could tell us exactly when the first Jews came to Nidzica to settle here. What is known: Since the 1860’s there has been a Jewish presence. In the early 1900s, you could meet Jewish merchants here who were selling their goods at annual fairs. When East Prussia was occupied by Napoleon’s troops in 1806, the Jews were also mentioned as residents of the city. In 1812, ten Jewish families are said to have lived here. At the end of the 19th century, 240 Jewish citizens lived in Nidzica, which made up 6% of the population. The city chronicle reports that in 1890 the city had 4,221 inhabitants, 3,506 of whom were Protestant, 561 Catholics and 154 Jews.

When the German Empire lost the First World War, the residents, together with the entire Neidenburg district, were called upon to decide between belonging to East Prussia or Poland by means of a referendum in the Olsztyn voting area. On July 11, 1920, 3,156 residents voted to remain in East Prussia and 17 to join Poland. Due to the miserable food supply, the anti-Semitic mood increased by leaps and bounds in the search for culprits in the German Reich, and hatred of Jews flared up again in society and politics. As early as 1923, Jewish shops in Nidzica were looted.

The situation of the Jews deteriorated further after 1933. After the National Socialists won the elections, leaflets were distributed in Nidzica calling on the Masurians to boycott all Jewish shops. During the “Reichspogromnacht” – Kristallnacht – on November 9, 1938, the synagogue was destroyed and two Jewish residents were murdered. Instead of the synagogue, the city built the “Grenzlandmuseum”. After these events, most of the Jews left the city and emigrated. In May 1939 only 23 Jews lived in the city.

Behind the Church of St. Bolesława Lament, in the neighboring street, Nowomiejska Street, the new Jewish cemetery is located. The cemetery was established after 1850 and was in use until the mid-1930’s. The Catholic church is large and well-kept. Behind the church you can see a small hill.

In winter it is used as a snow slope by children, in summer they play on the playground next to it. The new Jewish cemetery used to be located here on the hill. What the Nazis did not manage, ´the

others devastated: directly after the 2nd World War and a short time ago.

A circle of broken tombstones can be seen on the hill where the cemetery is located. Someone has probably made himself comfortable here and made seating, a table and a safe fireplace out of broken Mazewot. A Mazewa (plural Matewot, also Matzevah, Matzewa in Hebrew) is a tombstone or memorial marker.

Next to it are empty beer bottles. In the small, 0.36 hectare cemetery, all of the Mazewot were probably smashed. The former resting place for the deceased is now nothing, just a meadow with scattered stones on which there are inscriptions in German and Hebrew.

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A few streets further, on Spokojna Str. (Quiet Str.) Is the old Jewish cemetery, hard to find these days. The area is located behind new single-family houses and is completely overgrown. The area of ​​the cemetery is only 0.16 hectares. The cemetery is also located on a hill and begins exactly where the over-tended garden of one of the residential buildings ends. Broken tombstones hide in the tall grass. There are 10 unbroken tombstones here. Unfortunately the inscriptions on 9 stones have been destroyed – on purpose, it’s easy to see. Someone scratched the letters with a stone or piece of metal until they were illegible.

But there is a real treasure in this cemetery: a single Mazewa who has survived both bad and good times unharmed. The Mazewa has a German inscription on one side and a Hebrew inscription on the other. It ends with a triangle and is decorated with a simple floral ornament.

The inscription in German reads: Our beloved husband and father Julius Stein was buried here. Born March 30, 1806, died Jan 20 1868. His ashes rest gently. Unfortunately, there is no precise information about Julius Stein in any of available city chronicles.

The grave of Julius Stein in the old Jewish cemetery in Nidzica, Poland. Miraculously, his Mazewa is still legible. (Photo: Justyna Michniuk)

Nidzica is a sad place today. A place where everyone looks to the future and wants to forget the past.

One is probably afraid that the relatives of former Jewish residents will come back and claim back the houses that have not been renovated since 1938.

Here the words of Mordechaj Canin seem relevant even today: “I thought that I would never be horrified again after seeing a destroyed Jewish town. After all, how often can a person’s blood freeze in their veins? But when I visited the next empty and devastated town, I had exactly the same feeling that the world is going to end and that I no longer have the strength to look at this harrowing, this endless void that emerged after the fall of the old Jewish world ”.

The quotations come from the book by Mordechaj Canin, Przez ruiny i zgliszcza. Podróż po stu zgładzonych gminach żydowskich w Polsce (English: Through ruins and fire sites. A journey through a hundred destroyed Jewish communities in Poland), Warsaw 2018.

Justyna Michniuk is an experienced journalist, originally from Poland. She was previously published in the Polish Jewish magazine MIDRASZ, and is now writing for the German/Israeli Website hagalil.com and for anyone asking for ‘Jewish topics’.

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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

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