The Cemetery at Stawiski

Rural Poland

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.

Rural Poland

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.

Rural Poland

The setting is peaceful, the day beautiful. Just a few feet away a small stream flows.

Rural Poland

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.

Jewish Cemetery at Stawiski

Clearing away the overgrowth we can see the stones with their Hebrew or Yiddish lettering.

Gravestone at Jewish cemetery

For the most part they are unreadable but the stones are living proof we were here, and even broken they tell their story.

Jewish Cemetery at Stawiski

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.

Cemetery at Stawiski

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.

Rural POland

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.

10 Responses to The Cemetery at Stawiski

  1. Jerry Pritikin January 18, 2016 at 1:23 pm #

    Thank you, it is good to be reminded of the past, even when it’s a tragic setting… at least for many generations, the Jewish cemeteries of Poland and Europe were the final resting place of people who died of natural causes. So sad, to think of the Jewish population had to endue all kinds of hatred for hundreds and hundred of years. I am reminded of a town where Jews who survived the holocaust, and after the war went back to their hometown, only to be murdered by the people who stolen their property and belongings. We, the kids of Albany Park during that time were so lucky. We did not grow up in fear, and in most part lived among groups of all ethnic groups. Again for your great images and stories… and reminding us Never Again, Never forget!

  2. Frances Archer January 18, 2016 at 5:20 pm #

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts Jerry. It is always good to hear from you.

  3. gene schultz January 19, 2016 at 10:05 am #

    My father was born in Krakow, Poland and I would love to visit his birth place soon.

  4. Frances Archer January 19, 2016 at 5:38 pm #

    Gene, my grandfather came from Poland also, so I was really interested in the idea following in our predecessor’s footsteps. I imagine many of us from the former Roosevelt-Von Steuben neighborhoods had relatives in Poland.

  5. Ferne Berman January 19, 2016 at 7:10 pm #

    My father too came from Poland at the age of 3,a small town between Lomza and Bialistak, so the story was called wysoki mazaveitka?????spelling. My great grandmother was buried in Waldheim, her husband must have died there, don’t know much about him. I find it all very fascinating.


  6. Frances Archer January 19, 2016 at 8:53 pm #

    Hi, Ferne. I guess we shouldn’t be so surprised that all of us from the same neighborhood had grandparents from the same country. The town my grandfather, Abraham Krantzler, was born in 1891 in the town of Rosochaz, which I’ve seen spelled many different ways. My grandfather spelled it Rosoczick. It was in the Tarnopolo Region, and it was over time part of Austria, Poland and the Ukraine. I think I’ll have to write my own history now!

  7. Harriet Miller January 19, 2016 at 9:39 pm #

    My father was born in Warsaw. He came here before the war. He was 17 when he came here. I wish he would have shared more of his early life with me. I hope some day to visit Poland to see where he was born. My maternal grandparents were from what was considered Russia-Poland at the time. I found through some research that she had 2 brothers that died in WWI. So much lost to

  8. Frances Archer January 19, 2016 at 9:44 pm #

    Thanks, Harriet. When we’re young we don’t appreciate the history our families could share with us — if they wanted to, which isn’t always the case.

    As a kid I thought it was both funny and confusing when my grandfather would tell me the country he was from was once Austria, then Poland, then Russia. I couldn’t wrap my head around that mutiple identity. He spoke about five languages including Yiddish.

  9. Don Simon February 1, 2016 at 6:15 pm #

    Thanks Andy. Well Done!

  10. Julian Kronen June 3, 2016 at 2:48 pm #

    During World War II Polish People suffered greatly under five years of German occupation. Nazi ideology viewed Polish People, who were Roman Catholics as “sub-humans” occupying lands vital to Germany. Germans killed many of the nation’s political, religious, and intellectual leaders. They also kidnapped children judged racially suitable for adoption by Germans and confined Poles in dozens of prisons and concentration and forced labor camps, where many perished.

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