The Bananas of Being a Hero – Part 1: “What another synagogue?”

“What another synagogue?”

From the Field: Guest Blogger Maj. Peter Lerner

Major Peter Lerner is the spokesman for the Central Command. During this week  (April 2-9, 2011), Maj. Lerner will be blogging his experiences from the “Witnesses in Uniform” program, a special program run by the IDF as a way to contribute to commemorating the Holocaust and heroism in the army.

Synagogue in Tykocin, built in 1642. Before WWII half of Tykocin's 4,000 inhabitants were Jewish.

I was up at 0530 this morning, making sure all my team was awake. Quick breakfast, and by 0630 all of the mission members were loaded on the buses for our first destination of the day. We traveled for about two and a half hours, to a small village called Tykocin. The buses stopped at a small courtyard and we all got off, one team at a time.

I didn’t understand why we had to travel for so long to see another synagogue, especially after the one in Warsaw which is, as I mentioned yesterday, the largest in Poland.  The entrance to the place of worship is a small wooden door that everybody was jamming in to. Beyond the door is a small entrance and a few steps going down below the street level. I almost chocked when I got inside, this is a magnificent place that has been transformed into a museum.

The synagogue was built in 1642, and is a living monument of the magnificent Jewish life that existed in this land before the Nazis tried to exterminate us. Before the war Tykocin was populated by approximately 4000 people, 2000 of them were Jews.

All the time I was listening to the guides I kept asking myself what happened to all the people that lived here. I was to have an answer at our next destination. After a short tour of the little village, via the square and adjacent village roads we got on the bus and traveled some 7 kilometers away. We stopped in the middle of a forest called “Lopuchowo” and were told to line up in four lines. We were then ordered to march in the background while our own board military trumpet player stood in the midst of the forest and played some Klezmer music.

After a few minutes we started to understand where we were being marched. We arrived at three burial sites, all fenced off and surrounded by burnt out candles, Israeli flags and today by Israeli soldiers that marched to the site where the firing squad, the Einsatzkommando, shot dead men woman and children, just because they were Jews. These pits made my stomach turn of the thought of the site.

Today I wept for the 1700 Jews that were murdered on the 25 August 1941. I lit a memorial candle for somebody I would have never of heard of if I hadn’t been on this mission. Meir Ben Gershon Polanski was murdered in a pit in a silent forest outside a village where Jews had prospered for hundreds of years. I lit the candle thinking to myself “never again”.

Peter – Warsaw April 4, 2011

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