|Town Square Rzeszow|
We arrived in Rzeszow (don't even try and pronounce it) following an extremely long and emotional day (we dropped our guide at his family home.) Navigating the old city center to find our hotel-even with a GPS and detailed Google maps-proved a major challenge. In the end, we succeeded through the kind help of a police escort-our first sign that we were in a special place. And special it was!
|New Synagogue Rzeszow|
|Old Synagogue Rzeszow|
Our hotel looked out over the spectacular, colorful square seen above and was crowded with enthusiastic locals enjoying a sun-drenched drink while watching World Cup soccer on strategically placed huge screens. the local tourist center had already closed but there was plenty of light so we followed our interpretation of the Polish map to find the two rebuilt synagogues. I always find it amusing to see the "old" synagogue and the "new" nearly side-by-side. These two were huge and spoke to the large population of Jews in the region for centuries as well as their relative prosperity and freedom. Again I was directly confronted with the sweeping destruction Hitler promulgated in just a few short years. A small plaque on the new synagogue gave a poignant tribute.
We slept and ate well, rising early for what we knew would be another long day. Our guide rejoined us and we headed due south to Tyczyn, the family home of my grandfather. The town dates back to 1398 and underwent the usual sequential sacking and pillaging through the ages ultimately becoming a part of Galicia (of the Austro-Hungarian empire). The town square sat on a small hill, commanding control over the surrounding rural villages. The Stryj River was nearby and served multiple purposes including swimming for the local boys! We had spent some of our many driving hours reading a memoir of one of his brothers and had already learned about the remarkable mobility of this community-both during times of distress (pogroms) and for business (trading and commerce). Unlike the villages we had visited the day before, the Jewish population of Tyczyn was relatively small (under 1000) and in the minority (though there were still two competitive synagogues). As elsewhere in this region, the Jews were primarily shopkeepers.
For the next hour we were thoroughly entertained by a remarkably healthy 90 year old who managed through a combination of English, German and Polish to relate many memories about his life in the village. During WWII he had been forced to serve in the German army (having been a Polish army officer before the occupation) but after being wounded, returned to witness some of the final carnage extracted upon the Jews. His property bordered two important landmarks-one was a dilapidated, abandoned, crumbling home that he identified as belonging to the Tuchmans who were cousins of my mother! Apparently no one wanted to disturb the building as it was known the last inhabitant were the mother and children who had been shot by the Nazis right near the village. The second was the Jewish cemetery. While the cemeteries we had seen in Smigrod and Dukla were chilling, the one in Tyczyn was overwhelmingly somber and distressingly sad. The large plot is fenced and locked, access is almost impossible, and it is clear there is little care given to the place. Through the fence, we could just glimpse one remaining tombstone-standing in silent witness and memorial.