I. Lajb Zajdlic’s Shop
Text: Magdalena Krysińska-Kałużna, March 2022
The Jewish Konin has disappeared. Alike its memory has practically vanished from the collective consciousness of Konin’s inhabitants; a memory about the people who, over the centuries, co-created this town with ethnic Poles and representatives of other minorities. Our connection with the past has been severed. Maybe we severed it ourselves.
My family moved to Konin in the early 1980s. While walking to classes in High School No. 1, I passed the synagogue every day. I don’t know if it aroused any particular reflections among the students. It simply was there. Nobody even mentioned the Jews of Konin at school, or that there used to be a Jewish middle school here before the war.
It was like this in other towns, too. We knew they existed. We passed the ruins of their temples. We were sympathetic, but we wouldn’t walk the streets thinking about how they walked them too. We wouldn’t enter prewar houses thinking that they lived in them once; that they had stores and markets here. This memory has vanished. Antisemitism helped to stifle it, but that wasn’t all. Maybe it was the extraordinary human tendency to forget that Mircea Eliade once wrote about.
In the mid-1990s, I learned that a book by Theo Richmond, The Persistent Echo, had been published in the UK. I was told it was incredibly popular in Israel, because of a fairly large group of descendants of the Konin’s Jews that lived there. It was only because of this book that many realized – and others remembered – that Konin used to be a town with a considerable Jewish community. Thanks to this book, we also learned that the recollections of people who remembered Jewish Konin have been preserved.
Is it possible for us to recall our not-so-ancient-neighbors not only when reading books about them, but also while walking the streets, entering tenement houses, crossing Plac Zamkowy? For us to remember where the vegetable oil factory and the sawmill were, where the rabbi lived? And, this time, to not forget?
Jewish Konin. A Place Beyond the Map is a project that is going to last for only three months. We will listen to the stories of people who preserved the memory of the Jews of Konin. We will share photos of places connected to them. On the map of the city, we will mark those places that were important to the Jewish community before the war. Our project will merely tap the collective memory. But sometimes a tap is enough to wake someone up.
There is a tenement house at 20 Dąbrowskiego Street. There was a shop in it once, before the war, and it was owned by a Jew. High above the bricked-up door, one can still spot the sign: “Grocery store. Lajb Zajdlic”. I was told about it by Damian Kruczkowski, the director of the Municipal Public Library. Like the vast majority of the inhabitants of Konin (I think), I had no idea that this inscription had survived. The signboard is barely visible, the words barely make it through paint – they come out blurred, like our memory.
With the help of friends, acquaintances and acquaintances of acquaintances, I am starting to face it.
‘My mother was born in a house on Żydowska Street [now Targowa]’ says Dorota. ‘She was 14 when the Germans displaced them from there. She had many Jewish friends. They came to her for Christmas. They gave her candy for letting them look at the Christmas tree. My mother's family was poor and my grandmother worked for wealthy Jews.’
We are sitting at my friend's house. I ask her about memories of her late mother. I remember that when she fell ill and lost her memory, she often thought she was in prewar Konin. Sometimes she wouldn’t recognize her own family, but she would remember the names of her prewar neighbors.
‘My mother remembered the Jewish Konin with extraordinary accuracy. When Richmond's book was translated and Mom began to read it, it turned out that she navigated the world described in Persistent Echo flawlessly. She probably knew all the people recalled there. That was her world. They were the people she was familiar with. Until the end of her life she reminisced about her Jewish friends. Including the time when they came to her house before leaving for the ghetto. She was afraid to come to the window to say goodbye to them. She thought they might take her too. She felt remorse about it for the rest of her life.’
My friend’s mother associated Jewishness with reliability, with what was solidified by tradition, “good and valuable”. In her house, Jewish Konin survived through flavors and dishes, and through the memories of her mother - the Jewish town of her childhood that they did not manage to write down in time.
Translation: Ada Kałużna
Photo: Anna Małkowicz
Photo: Anna Małkowicz
Stairs inside the tenement house at Dąbrowskiego Street.
Photo: Magdalena Krysińska-Kałużna