Reunion in Nowy Dwór, 2019 For three hundred years, some of us stood watch over the bodies, then bones of your Jewish ancestors. For three hundred years, we watched the people who came to visit them, relatives and friends from our town, from Warsaw, and places even further away. We watched them leave small stones atop us pebbles of covenant and remembrance they kissed with cold lips and fingers raw from sorrow and wind. For three hundred years, by the elbowed shores of the Vistula and Narew, we weathered storms sunned and faded, shared our landed border with our Gentile neighbors, divided by only a fence that did nothing to keep the essences of graveyard flowers away. We stared either forward or up, our faces heritage proud, carved with life songs and stories of the beloveds below us, with biblical passages and poetries of blessing of the one God. And then came the onset of the second great war and the invasion of our home, the Nazi soldiers who tore us away to lie and crumble under roads who ground the bodies and bones of our blesséd into asphalt that bore the treads of tanks near the tracks of trains that would take their descendants to Auschwitz to serve, to starve until it was their time for gas. And for seventy years we lived in hiding blinded and buried in dirt and mud, under the crushing weight of human tamping in a town where not even one Jew of the thousands remained. We were so erased from memory, no one knew we were there. Then in 1988, two sons of two survivors bought our cemetery home back, emptied it of rubble and waste, erected a fence for its protection. In a short miracle, twelve of our eight hundred headstones were found, and under pressure from the Christian populace of Poland, road excavations unearthed over one hundred more. And now along a pavered plaza, on two high cement walls we hang as one community, as resurrected symbols of resilience our edges are rough and crumbling, some of our faces barely there. Townspeople continue to find us, under sidewalks and playgrounds and they bring us to this new home built on our original resting place. They lean us against the locked gate to wait for the memorial caretakers to carry us inside. Some of us come in pieces and wait in careful piles for wholeness. Behind us, on triangled pages of black granite, the names of the vanished are incised, four thousand Jews who inhabited the houses, who ran the businesses in what became a ghetto prison walled in wood. And when the winds blow in from Auschwitz, they carry the ash of the ancestors of our visitors who gather each year in early June to visit our stones, to find new or forgotten family. And they each bring a stone from their homeland, many from Israel, to continue to honor the covenant and community their everlasting God made first with Moses and then with Joshua and always with the unvanquished Jews, His chosen people not to be forgotten.
Nancy Himel spent 30 years teaching high school English in the hood near Los Angeles before she retired in August, 2019. Prairie Schooner published one of her poems in 2007, and now that she is a full-time poet, she is hoping more of her work will be published soon. She lives in Tucson, Arizona where she is working on a memoir-in-verse, tentatively titled From Ruach’s Cradle.