The Talmud asks: When does fire break out? Only when thorns are found nearby (when there is evil in the world) but it always begins with the righteous.
The media widely reported the deadly fire last week in the Ben Shemen Forest in central Israel that destroyed Mevo Modi’im, the village founded by the late Jewish folk singer Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach (1925-94).
However, many people don’t know that the fire also destroyed the nearby memorial to the Zaglembie martyrs, erected 20 years ago by Holocaust survivors from — among other places — Los Angeles and New York.
It was poignant and ironic to feel the pain when we walked through the ashes of the once beautiful and serene forest and surrounding landscape. We read the inscription carved into the blackened marble monument dedicated to the Jews who once lived in Zaglembie:
“In Zaglembie, a region of southwest Poland, dozens of Jewish communities flourished for over seven centuries. All were destroyed by Nazi Germany in the Holocaust. The Jews of Zaglembie — about 100,000 souls — maintained their dignity with courage in the face of the German Nazi barbarity until they perished in the nearby Auschwitz crematoriums.”
A small marble plaque embedded in stone had the names of soldiers — sons of the survivors from Zaglembie — who died fighting for Israel. The Jews of Zaglembie — about 100,000 souls — maintained their dignity with courage in the face of the German Nazi barbarity until they perished in the nearby Auschwitz crematoriums.
Some of the trees on the site and in the valley and hills around Mevo Modi’im were still smoldering after the fire when we were allowed into the area. The silver plaques dedicated to those who helped build the Zaglembie memorial were burned and twisted. The black, granite stone walls inscribed with the names of the Jews who died were covered with soot. The large, steel sign that once read “Yizkor” (they should remember) in Hebrew, and six stone candleholders — lighted on each Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel — were scarred and missing the letter yud.
But perhaps more moving was what did survive: The white stone slabs, engraved with the name of each village destroyed by the Nazis. A small marble plaque embedded in stone had the names of soldiers — sons of the survivors from Zaglembie — who died fighting for Israel. Then there was a letter penned by one of the last Jews of the town of Bezdin, who wrote, “7,000 Jews have already been murdered and by the time you receive this letter, there will be no Jews left alive in the town.”
Yet amid the destruction and the odor of a dead forest was a single area of trees, bushes and landscaping that somehow survived, just like those few survivors of Zaglembie, who came to Israel to erect the memorial.
The Jewish determination is strong and we know that this memorial will be rebuilt and those who perished will not be forgotten.
Rabbis Avraham and Chaim Braverman made aliyah from Los Angeles 27 years ago.