National Geographic : 1986 Sep
Three years ago, after the death of the pre vious president, he was elected head of the Jewish community. He did not want the job. "I am a simple man," he explains with an em barrassed smile. "But they asked and insist ed. 'You don't have anything else to do,' they said, 'or any family.' "There's no money, there's no strength, there are no people. ... " The old man shakes his head in resignation. "But once?" I ask. "Ah, once...." His face brightens for a moment. "Fifteen or so years back there were 20 or 30 of us for prayers. We came every Sat urday. There was a kosher cafeteria, and Jews lived in the rooms across the hall. Then they left, they died. There were fewer and fewer of us, fewer. ... " "How many of you are there today?" "A handful." "But do you still have a minyan?" "For the important holidays, everybody comes. They come from other places, from Wtodawa, from Luk6w, from Siedlce. And so a minyan somehow gathers." From REMNANTS: THE LASTJEWS OF POLAND, by Malgorzata Nie zabitowska, photographed by Tomasz Tomaszewski, to be published this month by Friendly Press. Copyright © 1986 by Friendly Press, Inc. Trans lated from the Polish by William Brand and Hanna Dobosiewicz. 378 "Who belongs to your minyan?" Zoberman, who has been pleasant, even warm until now, suddenly stiffens. For a mo ment the old man looks at me in silence. Then he says harshly: "I won't tell you. You can find them on your own." I PICK MY WAY among tubs of freshly washed linen. At the end of the corri dor is a shabby door. The umbrella maker lives here, the second member of the Lublin minyan after Zoberman the shammes. The old man has a strange face, exotic and striking despite its undeniable ugliness. Ev erything seems too big, too expressive-his nose, his swollen eyes, his enormous mouth. He is wearing a nylon yarmulke. At first the man does not exactly under stand why I have come, but when it sinks in, he reacts violently. "Nothing's going to come of this! I won't go for it!" His tiny, delicate wife tries to mediate, and she gets a scolding: "Quiet, mother!" "And the fact that I say no, a completely de cisive no, ought to be enough for you, miss. I'm no monkey to be put on display." Saddened, I protest. This man with a bitter National Geographic, September 1986 who perished, most dwelt in cities or towns. In 1940 they were confined to ghettos, and later exterminated. Although not revealed by any census, Poland's totalJewish population today is believed to be about 5,000. Most make their homes in Warsaw or Krakdw.