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New Latrun museum to memorialize Jewish soldiers who fought in World War II
By GREER FAY CASHMAN
02/10/2014
Polish officials visit Israel to help project and foster bilateral relations between countries’ armed forces.
 
Former Polish ambassador to Israel Agnieska Magziak- Miszewska, who is currently an adviser to Polish Defense Minister Tomacz Siemoniak, arrived in Israel on Sunday for a three-day visit with a three-fold purpose.

One is to discuss bilateral defense issues with Israel’s defense establishment.

Another is to help coordinate a new project whereby members of Israel’s and Poland’s defense forces spend time with each other in order to enhance bilateral relations on a people-to-people basis.

The third, which may be the most meaningful, is to begin tracking down families of Jewish soldiers in the Polish Armed Forces in the East, better known as Anders’s Army, who paid the supreme sacrifice during the Second World War. Israel is establishing a museum within the Armored Corps Memorial at Latrun to honor the memories of all Jewish soldiers who fought and died in the Second World War.

According to Magziak-Miszewska, an extraordinarily high percentage of these Jewish soldiers were Polish citizens or sons of Polish citizens who had migrated to other countries before the war.

Magziak-Miszewska was accompanied by Prof. Aleksandra Skrabacz, the director of the Warsaw-based Center of Civic Education and coordinator of the Witnesses in Uniform program; and by Dr.

Andrzej Czeslaw Zak, director of the Central Military Archive at the Ministry of National Defense. Both are in Israel for the first time, though Zak has been engaged in cooperative activities with Yad Vashem.

The Museum of the Jewish Soldier in World War II is currently a work in progress.

According to information on the museum’s website, approximately one and a half million Jewish soldiers, ranking from privates to generals, fought in the armies of the Allies in all branches. In addition, thousands more fought with partisan groups.

Of those who lost their lives in action, some 1,500 were Polish citizens, said Zak, who brought a list of names to present to Brig.-Gen. (res.) Zvi Kantor, who is in charge of the museum for fallen Jewish soldiers. The figures for Polish Jewish casualties as quoted by Zak are lower than those on the Latrun website, but Zak’s figures are based on Poland’s military archives, whereas the Latrun data base may have additional sources of information.

The reason that Zak and Skrabacz came to Israel is because Polish law forbids the transfer of the effects of a fallen soldier to any museum without the permission of the soldier’s family, unless it can be proved that no one related to the soldier is still alive. They and Magziak- Miszewska are eager to trace the relatives of Polish Jewish soldiers who died in action in World War II.

Most of the soldiers died in Italy and are buried there, but at least one soldier on the list, Sgt. Leon Blumsztok, born in Warsaw on December 12, 1897, died in Jerusalem on January 30, 1945. Magdziak- Miszewska was unable to say where Blumsztok was buried, but suspects that he was buried in the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery in Ramallah, where a section was set aside for Polish soldiers and where several of the graves are marked with a Star of David, while most are marked with a cross.

Also on the list is the name of Pvt. Jakub Berek Moskowicz, who was a rabbi in Warsaw before the war. He was born on May 12, 1911 in Skiernowicz, a village outside Warsaw, and died on June 28, 1945. He is buried at Porto St.

Giorgio in Italy. Poland’s Central Military Archives contains diaries, letters, photographs, and other personal effects that were found on the bodies of dead soldiers, in addition to well-documented files on each soldier, said Zak.

The complete list of names can be inspected on the website of the Warsaw Central Military Archives at www.

caw.pl under the file heading of Depozyty.

Siemoniak, who was in Israel last year, is very keen to foster closer personal ties between Polish and Israeli military personnel. Some kind of relationship did exist when Polish contingents were stationed with the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force on the Golan Heights, but Polish troops were withdrawn in 2009.

Nonetheless, said Col. Radoslaw Janczura, the Polish military attache in Israel, there is very close cooperation between the Polish and Israeli defense establishments.

Janczura cited joint exercises undertaken last year at the Uvda Air Force Base by the Polish and Israeli air forces in a two-week operation called Desert Oak, which involved eight F-16 Polish jet fighters.

Magziak-Miszewska and Janczura each confirmed that cooperation with the Israel Air Force and the IDF’s special forces is “very good.”

While some 3,500 Israeli soldiers have gone to Poland on Holocaust-related visits each year for the past 13 years, there have not been similar reciprocal visits. During their time in Poland, the Israelis spend one day with Polish Army officers, but this year the time together has been extended to two days, including visits to Auschwitz, Krakow, and Warsaw to try to pick up similar threads of Polish- Jewish history. The joint meeting has been scheduled for June and the overall program will be determined by representatives of both countries.

In October, some 25 Polish officers are to come to Israel to learn about the differences between the Polish and Israeli defense strategies, to tour the country with their Israeli hosts, and to gain an understanding of what it means for a small democracy to be surrounded by hostile forces.

Because the October visit is a pilot project, it was essential that Skrabacz come to Israel well in advance to coordinate the visit.
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