Sunday, July 24, 2011

Poland -- visit to Dukla

Dukla's ruined synagogue, monotype by Shirley Moskowitz, 1993. (c) Estate of Shirley Moskowitz

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

One of Polish towns I visited in June was Dukla, a small town in the far south of the country at the top of the Dukla Pass just north of the border with Slovakia. Here, just off the rather run-down market square,  stand the gaping ruins of a once imposing synagogue.
Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

And there are  two Jewish cemeteries at the edge of town, marked from the road with a sign indicating it is a war memorial site.

Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

The walled newer cemetery, entered through a rusting gate, had a few neat rows of stones, some with fairly interesting carving -- and the whole area was nicely maintained, with freshly-cut grass/weeds.

Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

Dulka. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

Across the dirt road, though, the eroding gravestones in the old cemetery were scarcely visible in the thick vegetation.

Dukla. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

I first visited Dukla in, I believe, 1992, when I was researching my book "Upon the Doorposts of thy House: Jewish Life in East Central Europe, Yesterday and Today." (The book is out of print, but I am planning to re-issue it as an e-book on Kindle.) Things are much today as they were then, though the market square seemed a bit more run-down and less quaint this time around.

This is what I wrote about Dukla in "Doorposts":
The Dukla Pass is the lowest and easiest north-south route through the western Carpathians, and by the 16th century it was already a well-established artery for trade, including the wine trade. the town of Dukla itself prospered as a major center for the import of Hungarian wine, though Ber of Bolechow [the 18th century wine merchant and Jewish leader from what is now Bolekhiv in Ukraine] recounted that the Jewish wine traders from there were not always quite honest. He told the story of a certain Reb Hayyim of Dukla, who made a large purchase of wine in the Hungarian town of Miskolc at the same time that Ber's brother and two other associates were there. Unfortunately, Reb Hayyim paid the Hungarian suppliers with counterfeit money -- golden ducats that turned out to be gold-plated copper -- and Ber's brother and a friend were arrested along with Hayyim, even though it was acknowledged that they had not held any of the bad coins.

The three were kept in jail for a year, until, after much nerve-wracking investigation, the origin of the bad coins was traced to a monastery, which in turn had received them from local noblemen, who made a practice of circulating debased coinage at that time. Ber's brother was released from prison and was even paid a considerable sum in compensation for wrongful arrest, Ber wrote. But the affair had taken a toll: the stress and tension had caused Ber to break out in spots.

During World War II the Dukla Pass was the scene of bitterly fought battles between combined Czechoslovak and Soviet armies and the Germans. The bloody mountain fighting in the autumn of 1944 destroyed the German defenses and left 100,000 soldiers dead. The towns of Dukla, to the north of the pass, and Svidnik in Slovakia to the south, were almost totally razed. I passed numerous memorials to this fighting as I drove along the gentle curves through the wooded hills. Monuments had been erected to the fallen, and ruined tanks, artillery pieces, and airplanes had been left in place where they had been at the close of he conflict, rusting memorials to the battle.

Dukla itself was a small town clustered around a stage-set market square with a white market hall at its center. Nearby, I found the synagogue. It had been built around the middle of the 18th century, and the wily Reb Hayyim may will have worshipped there. Now it was a ruin. It had been destroyed during the wartime battles and had simply been left as it was, four massive stone walls and little else, looming in a small hollow. At the edge of town, a few graves still stood in the Jewish cemetery, surrounded by a brilliant carpet of wild spring flowers.
On that trip, I brought my mother, the artist Shirley Moskowitz, with me -- and she produced a cycle of montoype prints of some of the Jewish heritage sites we visited -- including the one of Dukla synagogue at the top of this post. The cycle of prints was exhibited in several places in Poland in the early 2000s, and now many of them are posted on the web site that we established for her and her artwork after her death in 2007.

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