Part one in a series of three guests blogposts, written by Andy Romanoff. All photographs ©2014 Andy Romanoff
In October 2014 Andy and his wife went to Stawiski, Poland, to see where his mother and the Brozozowska/Barron family had come from. Stawiski is a small town about three hours northeast of Warsaw. They traveled there with Hubert Pawlik, a Polish guide from Warsaw who is familiar with the area. Hubert helped them find the abandoned Jewish cemetery outside of Stawiski as well as the place in Plaszczatka forest outside of town where 740 Jews were murdered by the Nazis in 1941. The photographs in this three-part series include both of those places as well as buildings still standing in the town that Andy’s mother would likely have seen in her daily life as a small girl.
Rural Poland reminds me of the land around Chicago, the fields with forests in the distance, the greenness, the smell of the air. I can imagine that sameness might have made it easier for my family when they left this place behind – not that they wanted to stay. We are on the road that runs from Lomza towards Stawiski [map], where my mother came from. Near the town is an unmarked spot, the old Jewish Cemetery. We pull off there.
Once parked we walk into the fields. The cemetery is up there somewhere but there are no markings to guide us. It’s been abandoned for a long time.
The setting is peaceful, the day beautiful. Just a few feet away a small stream flows.
We walk to the top of a small rise and looking down we see what remains of the cemetery. Broken stones covered by nature, all in a beautiful space surrounded by swells of earth, private and quiet and still. We have found where the Jewish families of the town buried their dead.
Clearing away the overgrowth we can see the stones with their Hebrew or Yiddish lettering.
For the most part they are unreadable but the stones are living proof we were here, and even broken they tell their story.
We are not alone in visiting here. Someone has come and left a memorial candle, but there is no way to know now for whom or when they came. I would like to know them, to ask them questions. But like the dead it’s too late for that.
Looking towards the road I see the overgrown beauty of this place and I can imagine mourners coming with their loved ones, standing here to do the last thing they can do, except remember.
And leaving I turn back to take one more look and I make a picture…so I can remember too.
Andy Romanoff is a photographer and writer who also worked as a cinematographer, specialist camera operator and businessman for fifty years. Visit his website to see more of his stunning photographs.
Andy has also written guest posts for this blog about his memories of growing up in the Hollywood Park neighborhood of Chicago: Ghost Chicago–Looking for Things No Longer Here–My Childhood, Ghost Chicago–Shaare Tikvah, Albany Park Cool, Bob and Ikey’s Wedding: An Albany Park Story.