By Emily Morzewski

Baligrod is a town located in south-east Poland that had a Jewish presence since the town was established. It was described as having village life that was typical to Poland. Baligrod was comprised of tradesmen who sold their goods out of carts or stalls on market days and “wealthy merchants that dealt in wine and lumber.”[1]

During World War II Baligrod was occupied by the Germans and used as an assembly point for Jews of small villages before sending them off to concentration camps. In the summer of 1942 the entire Jewish population was expelled to Zaslawie concentration camp and later sent to Belzec death camp.

When researching Baligrod I kept coming across the word “Shtetl” in which the town of Baligrod was being referred to as. Shtetl is a small mostly Jewish town in Poland that reflects a lot of Jewish culture.[2] Since Baligrod was occupied by the Germans during World War II and used as a gathering place for the Jewish people from the surrounding rural areas it could have been possible that Sara Spira at one time was in Baligrod visiting a relative that had been deported there before they were deported to a different area of Poland.

In a town similar to Baligrod, a non-Jewish civilian man recounts his experience during the war where he was told by the Germans to bury a pile of bodies of Jewish people in a mass grave that were shot in the streets the night before. The man said, “we did what we had to, and we turned back.”[3]

In Bransk, another town at in the east of Poland where the Nazis had occupied for a brief period of time since invading Poland, the Soviet Union invaded in late September 1939 to “take back” the town from the German occupiers. The Jewish people welcomed the Soviets because “to the Jews, the Red Army was seen, first and foremost, as an army of liberation from the much worse German menace.” Because of the welcome by the Jews and the Poles seeing the Russians as a historical enemy this split the populations of towns into very distinctly divided parts.[4] Because of the continued occupation in towns such as Baligrod and Bransk, the situation in these Polish towns was stressed and divided. Either way the occupation went the people in Poland were not free to act in the Polish interest. The Germans were not the only ones to have deportation policies in place during this time period. The Soviets deported people to Siberia. “In the middle of November came the deportations to Siberia. In Poland as a whole, deportations were conducted on a massive scale, and entire classes of people were targeted, such as the intelligentsia, the aristocrats, and the foresters – the latter because they knew how to use arms. Altogether, hundreds of thousands of Poles – in some estimates, well over a million – were deported to Siberia during the war.”[5] Overall, Poland was the worst place to be during World War II because both sides were decimating towns and villages each for their own political reasons.

“Now the shtetl, the world of Polish Jews, is no more, and the two nations, the two peoples, confront each other with two sets of memories.”[6] Because of the Nazis anti-Semitic views, an entire way of life and cultural forms have been wiped off the face of the earth and the hundreds of years spent building that culture have all but been forgotten by the world. Memories of towns such as Baligrod are all that is left of this way of life.

[1] “Baligród”, in: Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before and During the Holocaust, vol. 1, ed. Sh. Spector, G. Wigoder, New York 2001, pp. 81–82.

[2] Eva Hoffman. Shtetl: The Life and Death of a Small Town and the World of Polish Jews. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997).

[3] Ibid., 201-202.

[4] Ibid., 209-210.

[5] Ibid., 211.

[6] Ibid., 248.


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