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Wiesław Żyznowski: I bid farewell to Uri Shmueli

16 lutego, 2023 | 0 komentarzy

One of the truly last, perhaps the very last Jew who remembered pre-war Wieliczka has passed away. He was born and raised in Krakow, but by the time the Holocaust came to the town in August 1942, he had had his closest family there and often visited them. After the war, he left forever for Israel.



His biography is available online and in the publications of our publishing house. My wife Urszula and I met personally and privately some of the last Jews of Wieliczka and we had a different attitude to each one of them. I had the warmest and most admiring one towards Natan Kleinberger. Maybe because he reminded me physically and mentally of my father Zbigniew with whom he had gone to the same school in Wieliczka, two years earlier. The two of them must have stumbled into each other in the school corridor, looked at each other, perhaps trustingly and sympathetically. Natan always lived in an unambiguous manner, i.e. in Poland in Polish, in Israel in Israeli – his publicly available biography does not do justice to his soft as velvet and hard as steel character and complex personality.

My attitude to Uri was more complicated. Was it not because he went to school in Krakow –still as Uriel Szmulewicz back then – and could only meet my father on the street when he was in Wieliczka? Uri was more of Krakow than of Wieliczka. Not that there were not any like him in Wieliczka, by any means, but he was endearingly cultured and polite, and always replied to my email with an email at least twice as long. Right to the very end he exchanged emails with all the members of our publishing house and many other Polish friends. Man of the world, cosmopolitan, open to foreign countries, Zionist after his parents and capable of any career anywhere.

He became a renowned professor of chemistry in Israel and abroad specialising in crystallography; he lectured abroad, an intellectual, bookish type, read a lot to the very last of his physical abilities. He was one of the authors of our publishing house. He was a veritable rock for Urszula Żyznowska and Anna Krzeczkowska when they edited the Jews of Wieliczka and Klasno. Although he only heard about Bruno Schulz from me, the distance from Poland did its work. His mother taught him Hebrew from a young age, alongside other languages; they would walk the streets of Krakow and Wieliczka and talk in Hebrew. They created an international atmosphere in the town, which only after so many years began to return to it, but this time thanks to the tourists, not the residents. While still in Krakow, he was fit for living outside of Poland, just as living outside of it he was fit for living in it

I had never matured for the dialogue with Uri which we had had from the beginning of our acquaintance and which we never intended to end. We talked a lot about the relation between Poles and Jews. I would like to have as many of them as possible in Poland, he was rather opposed. I was in favour of the Polishness of the Jews as much as possible, he treated it as heresy. When we talked, I was mentally pre-war and he was of the 21st century. Thanks to him, among others, I understood the enormity and power of the Jews’ resentment and grievance against the Poles for the way they – prevailing – treated the others when they lived here together.


Dla wielu ludzi decyzja, dokąd udać się po wojnie była najważniejsza. Naturalnym rozwiązaniem dla wielu polskich Żydów był powrót do kraju i sprawdzenie, czy ktoś z najbliższych przeżył. […] Zrobiłbym pewnie tak samo, gdyby nie rozmowy z innymi więźniami, którzy zostali przeniesieni z obozu w Oświęcimiu przez Mauthausen do Linz III. Wtedy już zrozumiałem, że każda akcja deportacyjna prowadziła do komór gazowych. Zrozumiałem także, że prawdopodobnie jestem jedynym ocalałym z rodziny mamy; byłem bliski prawdy – tylko ja i córka jej brata Józefa przeżyliśmy Holokaust.

Uri Shmueli: „Powrót” [w:] „Żydzi Wieliczki i Klasna”.

I recommended to him maybe a few, or a dozen books written in Polish, all of which he read and commented on. Recently, I pointed him to Erenburg and Grossman’s The Black Book and sent it to him, we emailed about it. Based on the reading of it, I tried to imagine, at least in part the shock of those murdered in the gas chambers of extermination camps like Treblinka and Belzec. Uri’s mother died in the latter place, and he never spoke or wrote about her other than ‘beloved’. He, on his part, tried to understand what a reader who had no loved ones murdered there might imagine and feel. I, for one, was inclined to believe that the reader might get a micrometre closer to the inside of a working gas chamber thanks to an outstanding literary text written almost on the spur of the moment, just after the events it dealt with; Grossman’s Treblinka article comes to mind first. He probably did not believe it.

We knew each other, met and visited each other at home with whole families. He and his wife Magda kept in touch not only with Urszula and me, but also with our sons Tomek and Miłek. He read texts published by our publishing house, followed us on Facebook – as we followed him. I think it flashed through his mind that if he, more than a quarter of a century older than me, died before I did, I would write a memoir about him.

Autor: Wiesław Żyznowski

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