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March 30, 2012     Heritage Florida Jewish News
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March 30, 2012

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, MARCH 30, 2012 By Hillel Kuttler Seeking Kin: Kibbutz searches for descendants of Holocaust hero buried in its cemetery KIBBUTZ YAD MORDE- CHAI, Israel (JTA)--In a far- off corner of this quiet farm a handful of miles from the Gaza Strip as the rocket flies, down a dirt road that peels off from an old Arab well's housing, Wladyslaw Kow- alski rests with his people. Like him, most of those buried in the kibbutz cem- etery were immigrants from Poland. But unlike many others interred here, Kowal- ski was not himself a kibbutz member. In 1963, Kowalski was designated as one of the first Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem, Israel's central Holocaust commemoration institution. He is credited with smug- gling Jews out of the Warsaw and Izbica ghe'ctos, hiding and feeding them. After his death in 1971, he came to rest at this kibbutz, founded in 1943 in memory of Warsaw Ghetto revolt leader Morde- chai Anielewicz. Vered B/r-Semech, a Yad Mordechai native and the By Arieh O'Sullivan The Media Line director of the kibbutz's museum, hopes to locate Kowalski's daughter, step- son, granddaughter and any other descendants. Meeting them, she hopes, will enable her to learn more about Kowalski's life. Bar-Semech would like to include the Kowalskis in programs run here for visiting students and soldiers, or collect from them personal items and documents to exhibit in the museum. Yet what's become of his family is a mystery that baffles the kibbutz museum's staff. The last trace of Kowalski's family came four decades ago in a note sent by Kowalski's daughter to Bar-Semech's father, Artek Wieneman, who was then serving as the kib- butz secretary. In the note, Miriam Vardi, who lived in the Tel Aviv suburb of Bat Yam, penned the words she wished to appear on awreath to adorn her father's grave: "To our unforgettable father, from his wife Lea, children Miriam and Michael and granddaughter Ruti." EIN ARIQ, West Bank-- A convoy of white United Nations jeeps pulls into the olive-tree laden valley below the Jewish community of Eli. They are greeted by Jamal Deragmeh, the mayor of the nearby Palestinian town of LubbanAI-Sharkiya, who points out the cement pool around the spring and complains. "If you weren't here," he says to the representative of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humani - tarian Affairs (OCHA), "The [Jewish] Settlers would come and put a bullet in my head." Scores of springs like Ein Ariq pepper the valleys and slopes of the Samarian and Judean hills of the West Bank. Palestinians use them to water their flocks and ir- rigate fields. But some have been neglected and forgot- ten, and in recent years resi- dents of Jewish settlements in their vicinity have come to clear out stones and mud, build small pools, put in a few picnic tables and turn them into parks. And this has raised the ire of the-local Palestinians, who say the Israelis have taken over the springs and keep them away. The U.N.'s OCHA has investigated ttie claims and has issued a re- port sharply criticizing what it calls the "entrenchment of the settler enterprise" in the West Bank by taking over Palestinian water springs. In the report "How Dis- possession Happens," OCHA says settlers use "intimida- tion and threats" and some- times erect fences to take over the springs. "The problem is this is private Palestinian land, which has been taken over by settlers from the Eli and Shilo settlement here," Ye- heskel Lein, head of research and analysis for OCHA, told That was on May 11, 1971, four months and eight days after Kowalski's death in a Gedera nursing home. Since then, nothing. Bar-Semech has scoured kibbutz archives for names, addresses or phone numbers. She has looked online and asked Yad Vashem, Bat Yam municipal officials, even the nursing home for information. "I'm curious to know where the family disappeared to, whether they have come to visit the kibbutz or the grave, whether there was a connection to the kibbutz and, if so, why it stopped," Bar-Semech told a visitor. Kibbutz members occa- sionally touch up the black lettering on Kowalski's headstone, Bar-Semech said as she touched it, brushing off some stray leaves. According to Yad Vashem's "Encyclopedia of the Righ- teous," from 1940 until the war's end, Kowalski "put all his energy and money into saving Jews," keeping them in his Warsaw home and with relatives and friends. _ After the Nazis suppressed the city's revolt and emptied its population, Kowalski "re-, fused to abandon the Jewish refugees under his care; he prepared a bunker amid the rubble of Warsaw and stayed there" until the Russians liberated the area in January 1945, the entry continues. A document in Ya_d Mor- dechai's archives credits Kowalski with saving 56 Jews "in various ways,' and states that he was a World War I veteran who earned a degree in ergonomic engineering and worked in Warsaw for Phillips. In 1947, Kowalski married Lea Buchholz, one of the Jews he rescued. Buchholz already had a son, Michael. The three moved to Israel in 1957, where another kibbutz document states that Miriam was born. When Kowalski died on Feb. 3, 1971, at age 75, Is- rael's rabbinate and Jewish cemeteries refused to inter him because of his Christian faith. Bar-Semech thinks .that Kowalski was in the process of converting to Ju- daism and perhaps even was circumcised in preparation. She also referred to his will expressing his desire .to be buried "among my brothers the Jews." With the intervention of future Tel Aviv chief rabbi Ye- didya Frankel, Yad Mordechai agreed to accept him for burial, and Wieneman delivered the eulogy during a funeral held "in a torrential rain. "We are too small to ap- preciate and understand the superior motives of this man who risked his own life to save tens of Jews from the sharp claws of the Nazi beast," Wieneman said. In the next sentence he slammed those who had prevented Kowalski's burial as a Jew. "But we are still enraged at those who were obligated to respect this man after his death but saw an opportuni- ty to disgrace him in the eyes of the modern world and of his family," Weineman said. "It's our honor that Kowalski's body lies here in our kibbutz cemetery. His great character and his great actions will serve as a symbol to us and our chil- dren of all that is pure and In the West Bank, springs of contention The Media Line. "They have developed this as a tourist site and together with the army they are preventing free access to the owners of the land and Palestinian farmers all around who were relying on this spring for the watering of the livestock and for the irrigation of their crops and for their house- hold consumption." According to OCHA's report, some 30 springs have come under full settler control, with no Palestinian access, and 26 are at risk of being taken over. Some springs have been renamed. The Hebrew name for Ein Ariq is Ein Ha'gvura, or the spring of heroism, to com- memorate a fallen Israeli soldier. Amid the commotion at the spring, a solewhite jeep arrives. Behind the wheel is Amiad Cohen, the security coordinator for Eli. Leaving behind his assault rifle in the vehicle, he approaches the group of Palestinians, U.N. officers and journalists. An argument ensues. "I never stopped any Pal- estinian from coming to the spring. I've been the head of security for three-and-a-half years and I never stopped any Palestinian to come here," Cohen says. Asked if Palestinians can swim inthe pool, he answers: "Of course. Is their blood different than ? Do they dirty the water when they come here? No." "When I come here the settlers come and tell me to get out of here," Deragmeh tells him, to which Cohen replies that he has his phone number and he should call him if it happem again and he will come to make sure he was not hastll. He also reminds the mayor that youths in his village prevent Jewish settlers from visiting a spring there. The story here is more than just about water springs. It is a fight for the narrative. "We are developing be- cause the Jews love the land of Israel. We love to develop it. We plant trees. We love the fountains. We love the springs. We love this coun- try. This is our country and we like it. So we develop it," Cohen says. "But this is the West Bank, not Israel," a reporter from the AI-Jazeera television network responds. "That is your narrative. My narrative is that this is Israel," Cohen replies. "But you are inside the West Bank,'she insists. "Israel. This is my narra- tive," he answers. But the springs only manifest a greater problem in the eyes of the U.N. They see the upgrading of the springs and their environs by the Jewish settlers as a way to further solidify their hold on the land, which the UN says is illegal and to normalize their presence. "They are contributing to the entrenchment of the set- tler enterprise by generating employment and revenue for settlements," Lein of OCHA says. "One of the effects of this developmen t of tourism infrastructure in the West Bank is that for certain parts of Israeli society settlements are being normMized. They are being seen ;is a subject of fun of relaxationand not only as a contentious issue of politics and ideology and confrontation with the Arabs." The report says that in 40 of the 56 springs identified in the survey Jews are devel- oping the surrounding area into a "tourist attraction." The spring of Ein Sheban is about five kilometers (thi'ee miles) east of Ramailah. It is one of the springs considered "at risk." A large mulberry tree grows out of a crack in a cliff with water trickling down into a cement pool constructed years ago by the Palestinians. Dror Etkes, who monitors settlement building for the leftist Peace Now organiza- tion and is author of the OCHA report, explains that it's not the development of the springs that bothers them, but the illegal devel- opment by Jewish residents. "This is an older pool that was made by the Pal- estinians and hasn't been demolished," Etkes tells The Media Line. "What you can see in terms of settlers de- veloping is actually the signs leading to the site, which are in Hebrew and English only, of course the picnic benches which have been put there and the parking lot .... The idea behind it is to convert this into a spot that is visited by Israelis and, of course, once it is visited by Israelis the interest to Palestinians is very, very limited." "Development of a spring by settlers is one mean that the settlers are using in order to enlarge their en- croachment into new parts of the West Bank which haven't been taken by them in the past," Etkes added. The U.N. report says the takeover of the springs could not have been done without the "active support of the Israeli authorities." It asserts that some of the springs waters have been diverted so that Palestinian farmers can't use them for irrigation and have caused a "loss of control over space" by the Palestinians. It says 84 percent of the springs "were on private Palestinian land. In reaction, the Israeli Civil Administration called the U.N. report "distorted, biased and full of inaccura- cies." "As a general rule, it has been made clear that every- one has the right to access the local natural springs in the public spaces...there is nothing preventing the Palestinians from accessing the natural springs," the spokesman for the Coordina- tor of Government Activities in the Territories'said in a statement to The Media Line. It also said that all con- struction at springs required permits and they had re- cently demolished an illegal one at El Kabira and initiated legal proceedings against another called Ein Elmah'na. It also urged anyone who is prevented or threatened PAGE 21A good in humankind, and will strengthen our belief and hope that the brotherhood of nations will ultimately defeat racist hatred and brutal nationalism." Seven weeks ago, on a chilly but clear day, Bar- Semech and Shira Rubin- stein, a museum educator, laid flowers on Kowalski's grave on the 41st anniversary of his death. "Since we can't find his family, I did it to show that we do remember him and do appreciate what he did," Rubinstein explained. "If we find them, it would be something great. It would solve this riddle." The Seeking Kin column aims to help reunite long- lost friends and relatives. Please email Hillel Kuttler at if you know the whereabouts of Wladyslaw Kowalski's descendants or if you would like the help of'Seeking Kin" in searching for long-lost relatives and friends. Include the principal facts and your contact information in a brief(one-paragraph) email. from going to a spring to report it to the police. "There is no permanent set- tler presence or army presence that is preventing people from reaching this area. It's a history of harassment or intimidation attacks that has deterred the people from entering areas like this one. They have internal- ized the level of threat that is involved in getting closer to settlements or to settlement areas and they have stop re- lying on that because of the dangers," Lein says. Help Wanted PROOF READER Flexible schedule. 5-10 hours per week. Contact Jeff Gaeser at 407-834-8787. A Happy Passover i ; | P Harriett & Shelley