Zychlin Cemetery Cleanup

Memo Bozena Gajewska to ADJCP Zychlin Shtetl Coordinator Lori Sandoval


April 2022: 

This series of pictures taken on April 26, 2022 by Bozena Gajewska (from TPZK) and her team of workers at the cemetery.


September 28, 2022: Report of Marysia Galbraith:

On September 28, I returned to Żychlin so I could visit the Jewish cemetery. I was eager to see the area that had been cleared earlier in the year as part of the “In the Footsteps of Żychlin Jews” program spearheaded by Bożena Gajewska and funded by the Forum for Dialog.

The first challenge was finding the cemetery. Even though I have been there several times and I had checked the location on Google Maps, I passed it the first time. I recognized the houses along the road from Google street view and guessed that the cemetery must be mismarked on the map. I backtracked to #55 Łukasińskiego Street and spied the cemetery gate at the back of a narrow gravel-and-grass-covered driveway. I parked on the shoulder of the road, careful not to block the driveway which leads to a farmhouse on the right-hand side. A plowed agricultural field is on the left side of the drive. The homeowners and their ducks and chickens watched me as I walked by their yard to the cemetery gate.

The gate needs repainting, though it remains sold. A padlock hangs from the latch but the gate is unlocked. The area that was cleared for Bożena’s project remains accessible. I took a closer look at the three irregular monuments made from matzevot fragments held together with concrete. Some of the tombstones have come loose and lie on the ground. Others appear to be missing. Red graffiti scars the front of one.

Rabbi Trunk’s grave marker has fallen into disrepair. The curved concrete over the site seems to have lost its top layer, and the vertical section of the marker has collapsed. The black stone with the inscription that used to be mounted on this vertical section has broken in half; part sits half hidden in a groove and half lies flat on the broken concrete. Notes left by visitors are visible in the cracks, and the remains of an Israeli candle sat on the ground near the grave. Photos  show that this grave has deteriorated sometime since 2019 and March when Bożena cleared the site (she sent photos which I compared with my own).

The rest of the cemetery ground is overgrown with 9-foot blackthorn shrubs that make an impenetrable thicket. The sharp thorns on this plant pose a particular problem for cemetery maintenance. Bożena told me that it took a crew of four to clear a narrow pathway through the overgrowth to the memorial monument and a fourth concrete-and-matzevah obelisk. I had to watch my step to avoid the stumps of the blackthorn bushes that were cut six inches from the surface of the ground. I didn’t see signs that the bushes were growing back, but I have been warned that they will unless everything is trimmed back again before next spring.

Old candle lanterns sit below the monuments—a testament that someone remembers this place.

I inspected the fence from the outside of the cemetery, walking from the gate to the southwest corner. Only a small section of fence around the gate is made of solid iron spikes; the rest is made of rusty chain-link. The fence continues along the west side as far as I could see, which wasn’t far because of the small trees along the fence line. Stone curbs below the fence seem to mark the cemetery boundary.

The Żychlin Jewish cemetery needs help. Fortunately, the ADJCP has good allies in Bożena Gajewska, Żychlin mayor Grzegorz Ambroziak, regional organizations TMHŻ (Association of Żychlin History Enthusiasts) and TPŻK (Association of Friends of the Kutno Region), Steven Reese and the Matzevah Foundation, and Rabbi Yehoshua Ellis and the Warsaw Jewish Community. Together, I’m hopeful we can make lasting improvements on the cemetery and maintain it as a testament to the Jewish community that called Żychlin home for centuries.

I ended the evening with the Association of Żychlin History Enthusiasts. My intention was to record some of the members’ recollections about wartime in Żychin. Serendipitously, my visit coincided with that of a guest of honor, Marianna Rybicka, who was a child during WWII; her memoir was published by the TMHŻ. She arrived from Płock with her daughter Iwona who brought a table full of food.