Bagnowka, A Collaborative Web Site

Posted by Ann Rabinowitz

Mme. Eliza Orzeszko, 1842-1910

Many JewishGen researchers have had the pleasure of interacting with Bialystok researcher Tomek Wisniewski in regard to his huge collection of over 2,000 post cards of Eastern Europe, his tour guiding, and now his collaborative web site Bagnowka . Bagnowka is named for a section of Bialystok that was shared by various nationalities and religions and therefore is a fit name for a site which features, amongst other things, photos of Jewish cemeteries and shtetls of Belarus, Latvia, Lithuanian, and Poland as well as other fascinating aspects of Jewish life.

Tomek contacted me the other day and provided a link to his video of the Kupiszki cemetery (aka Kupiskis, Lithuania). The video was based on a post card which was taken in 1910 that depicts Jewish tombstones. Where possible the tombstones are translated from the Hebrew.

Unfortunately, the majority of the twelve tombstones shown do not match any of the existing death records for the community. Therefore, I was unable to identify the individuals who had died. However, I looked at photograph #8 which showed two tombstones which had been imbedded in the hut in the cemetery (probably the tahara house). The first tombstone on the left states the following in English:
Here lies a man upright and honest, our teacher and rabbi Yehudah Leib, son of Reb Noah. Gave from his bread to the poor?? Died 20 days to the month of Second Adar in the year of 5670 by the abbreviated era. May his soul be bound in the bond of everlasting life.
When I looked at the death records for Kupiskis, I found: Iudel-Leiba Trapido who was born in 1832 and died March 18, 1910. He was married to Khaia who was born 1837 and died March 13, 1906.

My next link was to the Trapido family tree which confirmed the same information. Given that, I went back to the photograph and looked at the second tombstone and found that it stated:
The modest woman, Chaya, daughter of the prominent our teacher and rabbi Menachem Mendel of blessed memory. Extended her hand to the poor and stretched out her hands to the needy. Died 28 days to the month of Adar in the year 5666 (March 25, 1906) by the abbreviated era. May her soul be bound in the bond of everlasting life.
Sure enough, as can be seen, it was for a female named Chaya which was actually Khaia bat Menachem-Mendel. It became apparent that this was the wife of Iudel-Leiba and their tombstones were placed together.

After looking again at the family tree, I also realized that Khaia’s father, Menachem-Mendel, was not on the tree and this information was new. It took the family back another generation to the beginnings of the 19th Century. This was a remarkable discovery for Iudel-Leiba and Khaia’s great granddaughter Fay, who I knew personally and was therefore able to pass on the information to.

The site and its various photographs and videos are a treasure for those researching the various shtetls covered. A listing of the shtetls where cemeteries are shown on the site is here. As you will note, the shtetls include a wide range of places in Belarus to Lithuania, Poland, and the Ukraine.

The variety of what one finds is amazing as there are not only cemeteries, but other places and activities pictured as well. One that I was not aware of was a memorial for the twin cities of Drohobycz and Boryslaw, Ukraine, which is located in Holon, Israel. Another is for Baranowicz, Belarus, which I have an interest in.

Under the topic Wooden Synagogues/Minorities, one can then see two subtopics of Jews (with 87 entries) and Jews – Orthodox (with 44 entries) and also another subtopic of Karaites (with 5 entries). Under the subtopic of Jews – Orthodox, I noticed a beautiful illustration of a Meir Ezofowicz. The illustration was one of many done by Michael Elwiro Andriolli (1836-1893), an architect and painter. He was born in Vilnius, the son of an Italian immigrant captain in Napoleon’s Army.

Intrigued, I looked further and found that Meir Ezofowicz was character in a Polish novel, which was from a story by Eliza Orzeszko published in “Klosy” in 1878. The story was later translated into English as “An Obscure Apostle, A Dramatic Story” by Mme. Eliza Orzeszko, translated by C.S. de Soissons, London: Greening & Co., Ltd, 1899.

The author was born in Milkowszczyzna, Poland, a village 40km from Hrodna, Belarus. She was known as the Polish George Sand and wrote a number of Jewish-related works. Her novel may be of interest to those researching Polish Jewish life in the 19th Century as it captures many themes prevalent at that time. The novel was an exposition on the conflicts between the traditionalism of the past and the coming liberalism of the future in a Jewish shtetl.

It can be found in a number of on-line versions. One is here, and another is here. In addition, a full description of Orzeszko and her book can be found in “Stranger in our midst: images of the Jew in Polish literature” by Harold B. Segel.

Not only was the story captured in novel form, but it became a film in 1911 which was directed by Jewish banker Aleksander Hertz who headed the Sphynx, the largest production company in pre-World War II Warsaw. His co-director was strangely enough the anti-semite Jozef Ostoja-Sulnicki and the film starred Maria Duleba, Wladyslaw Grabowski, Mila Kaminska, Wiktor Kaminski, and Jozef Zielinski.

The story was also adapted into a play as mentioned in “The Jewish Chronicle” issue of August 7, 1936. It was also performed in London in 1957 in Yiddish with a portion in Polish as again reported in “The Jewish Chronicle”.

It was felt that Eliza Orzeszko had a great influence on the discussions about the relationship between Jews and the Poles and this was further mentioned at length in “The Jews in Polish Culture” by Aleksander Hertz and Lucjan Dobroszycki, published in 1988.

In the end, Eliza Orzeszko was much admired by Jews of her time and when she died, “The Jewish Chronicle issue of June 3, 1910, stated that:

Authorities did their best to prevent Jews from paying tribute to the author when she died. So well-esteemed was the author that memorial services were held in several synagogues and the more important communities of Poland and the western provinces sent delegations and wreaths to the funeral. Jews formed an important section of the 15,000 who participated in the procession at the funeral. All Jewish shops were closed.

This research into the offerings on the Bagnowka site seems to have gone in all sorts of interesting directions as often happens when one starts at one place and goes onto another. My feeling is that it is important to view sites like Bagnowka which present wonderful visual and textual information which may be found no where else regarding places once home to vibrant and active populations of Jewish residents and now gone forever. I hope you will visit the site and find information that will enhance your family research as I did.

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