While working on the list of victims, I have a lot of time to reflect on things. And what I cannot get off my mind is whole families murdered - grandparents, parents, children. Line by line. For us, active in "People, Not Numbers", each recovered name is a precious finding and our mission. We are often perceived as a group cleaning up cemeteries, and it is OK. Yet this is but one element of our project. Our key task is the list of victims. It has to be verified through research, the core of which in the case of Nowy Targ is made up by the Judenrat list, updated in July 1942. In August that year, all Jews of the Podhale region were sentenced to death.
What we find shocking during the verification of such lists is that only very few survivors can be found among this great number of people. Out of the 240 people from the town of Szczawnica, we have managed to identify only two survivors, and four people have been discovered as prisoners of camps in Germany. Yet the hope of somebody surviving just because they were registered in one of the camps in 1944 is often very delusive, sadly. As established by Dr Karolina Panz, young boys or men in their prime, picked out for work during the selection, had a chance to survive in the camps. However, there was no single pattern of survival in those terrible places, and life was often decided by chance. Those incarcerated were initially sent to labour camps in Podhale, and then to the Plaszow camp and many others: Auschwitz, Mauthausen-Gusen, Bergen-Belsen, including their subcamps. Some were registered in five or six different camps and experienced the death marches. Unfortunately, the four people on the list who were still alive in 1944 did not survive till the end of the war.
It is horrifying that out of so many people only two or three managed to survive. The same is true of the list of victims from Nowy Targ, where around 100 are estimated to have survived out of 2,500 people. Our sad verification work is thus about identifying only few individuals who made it to the end of the war.
Coming across photographs of former inhabitants is an extraordinary kind of discovery. Such was the case of Ewa Grodner, who lived in Nowy Targ, yet died elsewhere. We will never find out why she settled in Nowy Targ. Was it because of love? Work? The photo suggests she must have loved the traditional highland costume, yet we will never know this for sure because we will never learn the feelings and thoughts of those thousands of Podhale Jews. We have their names, which in the case of Holocaust victims is unusual anyway, and a handful of photos like this one. It is yet another photograph we have managed to discover (like that of the Horowitz family from Czarny Dunajec) of a member of the Jewish community in a highland costume.
The photo comes from the Yad Vashem Archive.