Old necropolis

Since the second half of the 18th century Bialystok (at present in northeastern Poland, then Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth) got a multicultural town inhabited by Poles, Jews, Russians, Belarusians, Tatars and Germans as well. First Germans appeared here as officials of Prussian Government. As a result of Poland’s partitions (after the third partition which was held in 1795) Bialystok was taken over by Prussia. In the first half of the 19th century Germans appeared here in most cases as owners and highly qualified workers of textile factories. It was the time Bialystok when was even called – “Manchester of the North”.

German culture was thriving. As a natural consequence of that settlement evangelical church and cemetery were established. The pictures which are published below depict German cemetery which was set up in the second half of the 19th century in ditrict town called “Wygoda”.

After the Second World War, during the communist regime, on the part of the cemetary were built block of flats and was created park.

Mausoleum and quarter of German soldiers who fell during the First World War.

Some Germans living in Bialystok became assimilated into Polish culture, mainly in the interwar period. German traces still exist in the form of surnames of Bialystok’s inhabitants. On the part of the left former evangelical cemetary was created lapidarium. Unfortunately, the huge part of necropoly was destroyed irreversibly, as I mentioned above, during the communist times.

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Farewell to the relics of old cosmpolitan town?

Old Bialystok, bearing witness to its rich multicultural past, is more and more yielding room to rapid and slightly chaotic growth and modernization. It is a great pity that it is happening at the expense of old wooden and picturesque houses with twofold roofs, fabulous gardens, 19th century brick rent buildings and old, narrow and cobblestones streets. I do not mind growth and modernization. Bialystok (town in northeastern Poland) especially needs a modern arcihtecture, numerous innovative investments, new roads, airport, but municipality should thoroughly think over the vision of the town. Local officials ought to define the real identity of the town referring to its multicultural history. It is easy to build the town without the spirit, where there are no ideas uniting its inhabitants. In fact, no connection exists between Bialystok from the times before the World War II and contemporary Bialystok.

I heard a story about a Jewish woman who was born in Bialystok in 1920s or 1930s, who came here in the second half of 1990s and stated that she did not recognize her native town. In her opinion the old and present Bialystok were two different worlds.

Unfortunately many its inhabitants do not even know its rich history. Town without its history, inhabitants without consciousness of their native town’s history probably won’t be proud of living here. They won’t know that their town’s face was shaped by Poels, Jews, Germans, Russians, Belarussians. There is a deep necessitiy to refer to its roots.

Bialystok was significantly destroyed during the World War II. Presently we do not have many monuments witnessing its rich history. Those ones which survived do not appear to be especially spectacular and stunning, but they still retian spirit of the past and they are worth preserving.

I think that there is a possibility to save relics of the past and develop the modern architecture without destroying the old and apparently unspectacular buildings, streets or gardens of the town, where before the World War II several nations lived in relative peace. These places still hold the atmosphere of old times and are capable of arousing imagination.

Below there are presented pictures taken about one month ago, they depict old cosy houses, lush gardens which one day may just disappear…

Trip to Polish Tatars

On a beautiful, warm and sunny Sunday we resolved to set off to Polish Tatars. There are left only few villages where Polish Tatars still live – Bohoniki and Kruszyniany. Most Tatars after the II World War moved to towns and cities – Bialystok, Gdansk, Gorzow Wielkopolski, Warsaw, and many of them stayed at their homeland – near Nowogordek (presently Belarussia, before the WW II town belonged to Poland).

First Tatars were settled in Lithuania in the 14th century by the Great Prince of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania – Witold (Vitaut, Vitautas). Here in Podlasie – in villages – Bohoniki, Drahle, Malawicze, Nietupa, Sanniki, Kruszyniany, Luzany, Studzianka, Lebiedziew, Ortel, Malaszewicze, they appeared in the 17th century. Polish king – Jan III Sobieski settled them in royal villages in exchange for money he should have payed them for their service in royal army, but because of lack of money in state treasury soldier’s pays could not have been paid. Tatars obtained many privileges – they could marry Chrisitan women, obtained nobility and were allowed to preserve their Muslim faith and tradition.

Today about 5.000 Tatars live in Poland, most of them in Bialystok (in the north eastern Poland) – about 2.000 – 3.000, they still confess islam. But it seems that many of them lost their Tatar features – not all have slanted eyes, black hair, olive complexion and high cheekbones. They perfectly integrated into Polish society, their islam is very gentle, moderate and peacful, we can say liberal. Tatar women have equal rights as men, they are not discriminated by their husbands, they can learn, study, work and have equal position to men. Their realtions with other national groups in Podlasie (Poles, Belarussians) apppear to be exemplary.

Below I am presenting pictures taken during last Sunday trip to Kruszyniany.

Mosque in Kruszyniany, bulit in the second half of the 18th century or in the first half of the 19th century.

Mizar in Kruszyniany. Mizar it is the name for Tatar cemetery. Many of tombstones come from the 19th century.

Beautiful pine in the mizar a few hundred years old, it may be as old as whole cemetery, which was established in the second half of the 17th century.

One of the most reliable Israel’s allies

It is still difficult to understand anti – Israeli and anti – American stance of many European politicians. Comparing the present situation of Israeli Arabs to situation of Jews during Holocaust is the most nonsense thing, which one could imagine. It means that persons who aplly such a comparision do not understand meaning of the term “holocaust” and appear to be ignoramus.

Arab – Israeli conflic is not black and white one, there is not one party which is absolutely good and the second one – absolutely bad, as many European leftists see that, they perceive Israelis as a bad guys and Arabs as an exclusively persecuted victims.

Israelis have a right to possess their own state, and so do Palestinians. But it is absolutely unimaginable to tolerate such a situation when some groups of raidcal Palestinians demand destruction of Israel or in their fight for statehood resort to terrorism and attack innocent civilians.

It┬ápleases me much that Polish government, especially president Lech Kaczynski so unambiguously supports politics of Israeli government. In an interview which he gaved last Saturday to the one of the mot important Polish dailies (“Rzeczpospolita”) he stated that Poles because of its historic and cultural ties whit Jews are lively interested in good relations between these two nations.

I belong to these people who – maybe naivly and sentimentally – believe in brotherhood between nations. I myself live in a town (Bialystok, north eastern Poland), where still live many nations – Poles, Belarussians, Tatars, Russians, descendants of Germans, where coexist different cultures and religions – Catholics, Orthodox faithful, Muslims, Protestants, and traces of the past are visible – former Jewish synagogues, houses, cemetaries.

When I have more free time I will translate that interview with president Lech Kaczynski, in which he spoke so much about Polish – Jewish common history, common national heros, poets, writers. Jewish presence in Poland counts about 800 years, so it is no wonder that these two nations are so close to each other. There is no other possibility than true, deep and sincere reconciliation of Poles and Jews. And it is a good news that Poland appears to be one of the most reliable Israel’s allies.

Multicultural town – part 1

Situated on the borderland of a few cultures and religions Bialystok still bears the traces of its past multicultural identity.

Town rights (statutes) Bialystok gained in 1749; its rapid growth as an improtant trade and cultural centre it owed to Jan Klemens Branicki – representative of Polish nobility, who became the owner of the town in the first half of the 18th century. In that period Bialystok and surrounding region was inhabited by Poles, Rutheninans, Jews and Tatars; Catholic, Greek Catholic, Orthodox, Judaism and Muslim belivers. All these ethnic and religious groups lived in relative peace and tolerance. Later on, in the first half of the 19th century newcomers from German states also appeared here.

Below there are presented a few pictures depicting old sacred bulidings related to a few religious and national groups inhabiting this town.

It is the oldest Orthodox chuch in Bialystok, founded by Jan Klemens Branicki in 1758, originally as a Greek Catholic church.

Saint Roch’s church – one of the most modern Catholic churches in the interwar period in Europe, designed by outstanding Polish architect – Oskar Sosnowski.

To be continued…

Remnants of Bialystok ghetto – part 2

Together with my friends I resolved to immortalize places, buildings, gardens, streets which were witnesses of the most tragic and cruel events in history of our native town. We are Polish inhabitants of Bialystok – town of many cultures, religions, languages in the north – eastern Poland. This is the place where the East meets the West; towers of Catholic and Orthodox churches soar above the town, Protestant churches, muslim mosque enrich Bialystok’s face.

Poles, Belarussians, Tatars, Russians, descendants of Germans are still hosts of our town, but Jews who before the II World War made up 50% of Bialystok’s population are absent. Majority of Jewish inhabitants was exterminated by German Nazis in 1941 – 1944. Only a few hundreds of Jews were able to save their lives. Presently there are no open and functioning synagogues or houses of prayer, no lively Jewish community in Bialystok.

This post is dedicated to places which during the II World War found itself in the borders of the ghetto area, where German Nazis gathered about 50.000 Jews.

Evening in Czysta street. View from Czysta street, on the left – house in ghetto were Samuel Pisar lived.

House in the courtyard in Czysta street no 5

Old buildings in Czestochowska street, near Czysta and Warynskiego street.

Warynskiego street, near Cytron Synagogue, in front of – yellow and brown building was a school for Jewish girls before the Second World War