I arrived in Lipsk around 8 am. Disembarked from the minibus and headed from the supermarket down toward the great cathedral. From there I started wandering the streets until I could find the local library. Wandering through the open streets, watching the fields of wheat and grain swaying in the summer breeze, I felt nearly as tranquil as the little town I had arrived in.
I located the library and made my way inside. I met the librarian and we quickly discovered that neither of us spoke the others language. She went back into the stacks and came back with a colossal 1980’s Polish to English dictionary and began to translate a sentence I had written.
Seeing a computer terminal nearby I pointed and expressed Internet. She understood and let me get on while she went to work translating. I quickly booted up Google and although in Polish I opened the language tools section and went to their translator. I then quickly began typing my questions.
“I am looking for my ancestors, Haskell/Chaskell, Berger, Loseman… Any of these names buried here?”
“I understand, Please wait a moment”
“Maybe, Catholic priest mastered a document about Jews in Lipsk. Maybe. Wait.”
“Is there a Cemetery? Or the old synagogue or schools?”
“Yes. Cemetery. Only two Jew buildings still.”
“Can I see them?”
“Yes, But one may be school. Synagogue torn down – pool now.”
“Wait forty minutes and I can master you to the Cemetery and Old Jew street.”
I sat patiently as she finished her shift, we were then joined for 10 minutes by a young man who was studying a little bit of English. he had just finished high school and was eager to try out his English although nervous as well. He said he could walk with us for a few minutes and translate but couldn’t stay long. I repeated the earlier conversation to him and then asked him about the graves and any records about deaths or families living in Lipsk from the end of the 1800s.
The answer was – the Cemetery was pillaged, parts of it were taken by farmers and the tombstones broken or thrown away. What little was left was kept on a forested patch of ground preserved from farming a little outside the city. It had a memorial but the only stones there were from 65-75. She said there were no Jews left in Lipsk. No one took care of what was left of the cemetery.
We arrived a few minutes later. The cemetery was as described. a small corner of a field down a dirt road. Completely overgrown, what few tombstones were left were in the far righthand corner under a large tree. All placed together and relatively recent. I kneeled in the grass and undergrowth. Focused myself and connected with the spirits and feelings of those who may have died or lived in this place. My ancestors, my family.
I felt like they only passed through. That this place was only a temporary stop on an ageless journey. My mind turned and all I could think was our family was nomadic, this place wasn’t our origin or destination, only a stop along the way.
We left the cemetery and walked on, reaching a small building which was where the last Jews in Lipsk had lived. It had survived since the 1850’s with some moderate upgrades in the 1970’s. it was rough and abandoned, but still had curtains inside and a little well outside. We continued on to the Jewish street Ulica 400. There we met the Catholic priest who had written about the Jews in Lipsk and although our translator had left us, we communicated through sign language that the only other building was a home, which may have been the school house my great grandfather helped build. From there we walked to the town’s new recreation center, built where the synagogue had stood. He gestured to the large open pool demonstrating how big it was and what it looked like.
We headed back to the Library and the Librarian gave me a copy of the priests book, in Polish but none the less a palpable reminder and perhaps a guide to what came before.
I left the library with the librarians contact information and headed to the bus stop to return to Augustow.
At the bus station I found I’d missed the bus and had to wait until 4pm for the next bus back. As I was reading the sign my translator and his younger brother (who does Parkour) stumbled upon me, invited me back to their house for a drink and then decided to give me a tour of the monuments and sights of Lipsk.
We saw the Church, Monuments to soldiers from Lipsk, Communistic monuments, old artillery, and the river and lands around the City.
We then had a quick lunch of pizza, and meandered around until later that afternoon. Then my translators younger brother decided to demonstrate his Parkour ability, starting with a J-flip, and going into two aerials, first a back flip and then front flip, followed by running up the bus station wall and doing another back flip, then running off the top of a hill and doing a front flip to land on a narrow ruined wall below. Impressed we talked for a bit more about university and what they wanted to study and then I caught my bus to Augustow.
I waited in Augustow for 6 hours for the 10pm bus to Krakow ( a tiny little minibus for a nine hour ride ) and then checked myself into my hostel, booked my hostel in Prague and made my way the next morning for a 15 hour ordeal.
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