Egged, Israel’s largest bus company, owns a bus station in Makow Mazowiecki, Poland that was built over a Jewish cemetery, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
And the company does not take responsibility for the crumbling memorial to the Jewish community, located on the bus station’s edge, in the town 77 km. north of Warsaw.
The date on which the old Jewish cemetery of Makow Mazowiecki was established is unknown, but the first known mention of it dates back to 1781, according to the Virtual Shtetl website operated by the Museum of the History of Polish Jews – Polin. It was in use until 1870, when a new cemetery was built.
During World War II, the Germans destroyed the cemetery; in subsequent years, tombstones from the cemetery were used to build sidewalks in the area and a bus station was built there during the communist era.
In 1987, local activists and descendants of Makow Mazowiecki’s Jews built a memorial out of tombstones salvaged in the area. The oldest tombstone in the memorial is from 1890.
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One descendant, Alan Abbey of Jerusalem, visited the site in recent years, and found “the badly deteriorated and quite depressing, relatively unmarked monument to the town’s Jews on the edge of the local, open-air bus depot, which is sort of a small ziggurat of broken gravestones glued together,” he told the Post
, adding that his guide said that “the town really wanted to fix up the markers, but it didn’t have the money, and it had received no help from the bus company.”
In 2016, Abbey contacted Egged, saying that “for an Israeli company to have this sad and embarrassing monument is a terrible thing.”
The bus company responded at the time that “the law prevents Egged from dealing with operative matters connected to its subsidiaries.”
More than two years later, Egged further distanced itself from the site it owns through its Polish subsidiary Mobilis
, which purchased the bus station in 2010.
After giving a brief history of the station – nearly identical to that on the Virtual Shtetl website – Egged’s representative said, “the memorial is not on the functioning territory of the station, but in a forest at the edge of the station – and it is fully accessible to visitors.”
MALGORZATA KARCZEWSKA from the Department of City Promotion in the Makow Mazowiecki Municipality said the city applied to the Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage for a 76,000 zloty (NIS 78,600) grant to finance the monument’s renovation two years ago, but the application was denied.
The Polish government did, however, give the city a grant to renovate a different monument – one memorializing Poles executed by the Germans during WWII.
Karczewska said the land on which the bus station and monument to the Jewish community are located does not belong to the city, but rather to the national treasury, and is leased to Mobilis.“The city authorities are aware that the monument is in poor condition,” Karczewska said. “Also, the location is not suitable for this type of monument, because it’s right next to the bus parking lot.” Wojciech Henrykowski, the local guide who initiated the monument’s construction in 1987, said that “nobody is really interested in the fate of this monument. The city council claims that it’s not their responsibility, since they are not the owner of the plot, and they shift the responsibility to the owner, the Mobilis company.
“The Mobilis company belongs to the Israeli company [Egged], so they should be even more aware of the fact that its bus station is on the site of a former Jewish cemetery and should at least be interested in preserving the monument,” Henrykowski lamented.
Henrykowski explained that the monument is in such poor condition because the tombstones are made of sandstone, and rain dissolves the stones. Exhaust and vibrations from the nearby buses exacerbate the situation.
The local guide collects Jewish tombstones that he finds around the city, and has about 600 pieces stored in his own warehouse.
“Many of the headstones were found in the 1980s during road and renovation work in the city,” including having been made into sidewalks around a Catholic cemetery, Henrykowski recalled. “That is how I became interested in their history, as well as the pre-war Jewish community.”
Abbey said on Tuesday that “it should be a no-brainer for Egged to step up and do the right thing... in Poland where they are very active as a business. That they refuse to accept responsibility is a terrible thing. It’s not a big deal in terms of budget. It’s a no-brainer, they’d get good press in Israel, but they don’t seem to care. That’s the most disturbing thing of all.
“The monument is an embarrassment; that Egged is brushing it off as not their concern is disturbing,” he said.Additional reporting was provided by Anna Weglarczyk of the Polish news site Onet.pl.
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