Frank: With the ending of our 2013 HSSLP trip, I am left with several thoughts. First and foremost, I am impressed by our students. As a group, they all engaged in the seriousness of the endeavor that took us to Poland while still managing to experience pleasure in a new country, to meet new people, to try new foods, and to generally be excellent traveling companions. Each one of these students embraced every activity we suggested including sitting through a religious service conducted in Hebrew followed by a lecture in Polish! Our evening book discussions were notable for thoughtful engagement and heartfelt contributions. During the days, the group pulled weeds, ivy, and hauled piles of brush and logs in the cemetery even when getting scratched, muddied and bitten by insects. Yet, when uncovering a tombstone, one that perhaps had not been seen by anyone for decades, they gathered around to clean it off with reverence and respect, restoring a forgotten name to the world.
Jocelyn: I, too, am impressed by the energy and devotion of the students. For the most part, I think their passion for the work made them find satisfaction in what they were doing. At times, however, one or another would express frustration at what we were unable to accomplish. Can thirteen hours’ work by ten people really solve the problems posed by a neglected 40-acre cemetery?
Yes — and more than we can know. First and foremost, we are honoring the dead: people buried in the cemetery; their families who are unable to tend their graves; the Holocaust victims memorialized there.
Second, we are performing a service for the living. Cemetery caretakers Piotr and Mateusz; Holocaust survivor and former Wroclaw resident Sam; Magda and the members of Wroclaw’s Jewish community — all of them thanked us, some over and over again, for the work we do.
Third, we inspire others to give their time and energy. In 2009, a local magazine ran a feature article on the “Forgotten Cemetery.” It mentioned American students who help with its restoration. That article brought the cemetery to the attention of Wroclaw residents and led to an increase in local volunteers.
Finally, our work over the last twelve years has contributed significantly to the cemetery’s restoration. On the first few trips, the Albion group cleared the paths of roots and debris.
In 2007, we cleaned Fields 12 and 13. Here’s what the area looked like then:
Here’s what it looks like now:
In 2009, we focused on Field 11:
Field 11 today:
Chelsea and Allie painstakingly pieced together a broken epitaph.
The epitaph has now been restored to its monument.
In 2011, we made a massive pile of German-American-Polish-Jewish-Chinese friendship out of Field 17:
Field 17 today:
In 2007, you couldn’t see the walls from the middle of the cemetery. You couldn’t even see them from 20 yards away.
All that underbrush has now been cleared.
Piotr and Mateusz have been hard at work with a heavy-duty weed-whacker, a chain saw, and a tripod for raising fallen tombstones — tools we have bought for them over the years.
They work so hard because they are racing against time. Without their efforts, nature would take over within 10-15 years.
We can help with that.