"Pope John Paul II teaches that the Jews are our elder brothers in faith.
After all, the Jewish cemetery is a resting place of people who were born and raised on this land, that lived and worked and died here.”
Reading the inscriptions in the valley
Father Leszek Sikorski started to work at the Catholic Church in Bodzentyn in 2003. His involvement in restoring the Jewish cemetery started in 2005. “Whilst on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, I had the opportunity to visit a quarry site close to Jerusalem where the places of former Jewish communities are engraved on walls,” says Father Sikorski. Amongst the inscriptions in the Valley of the Communities in Yad Vashem, he found the name of the town of Bodzentyn.
Returning to Poland, Father Sikorski asked senior citizens what had remained of the former sizable pre-war Jewish community in Bodzentyn. “They pointed to the two most important existing reminders, the diary of Dawid Rubinowicz and the cemetery,” says Father Sikorski. “I went to see the cemetery for myself and found it located in a striking setting on the top of a hill at the foot of the much higher Municipal Hill. It reminded me of a forgotten wild garden, neglected and inaccessible.”
There and then, father Sikorski made a promise to himself to clean the area. “Pope John Paul II teaches that the Jews are our elder brothers in faith,” says Father Sikorski. “After all, the Jewish cemetery is a resting place of people who were born and raised on this land, that lived and worked and died here.”
"Bodzentyn", and other places, engraved on one of the walls in the Valley of the Communities at Yad Vashem, Jerusalem.
Call to tidy up the burial ground
Announcing in church, Father Sikorski called for a concerted effort to tidy up the burial ground. Many people, particularly our young people, came forward to help out. “Though the work was arduous, the rewards proved to be all the more pleasing since, among the undergrowth and trees, we uncovered beautifully preserved Matzevots,” says Father Sikorski, who lead the way of the cleaning on the grounds. “This was the beginning – a proper Christian gesture showing respect for the dead."
In the next years, more people followed Father Sikorski's example. "The spontaneous gesture has since borne beautiful fruit, pulling in a wider circle of people into the endeavour in awaking common respect for each other, by working with tolerance, and by jointly recognising each other’s culture and particular distinctiveness,” says Father Sikorski.
The Valley of the Communities at Yad Vashem is a site in which the names of over 5,000 Jewish communities that were destroyed or barely survived in the Holocaust are engraved on its 107 walls.
- In November 2008 Father Sikorski received a diploma of honour from the Chief Rabbi, dr Michael Schudrich, and in June 2009 he received another diploma from the Israeli ambassador Zvi Rav-Ner "for preserving monuments of the Jewish heritage in Poland".
- Editor's interview with Father Leszek Sikorski in 2009.