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Bedzin Blues

Dora Diamant grew up in Bedzin, on Modrzejowska Street, right off the main road of Kollataya Street.

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It was a thriving town back then. According to , Bedzin (pronounced BEN-jeen) was a predominately Jewish city for many years. In 1897, 80 percent of the population was Jewish, and Bedzin was one of the most important trading cities in Poland. & Jewish life was rich and varied, and a large & synagogue stood near the castle by the river. &

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Old postcard of Bedzin, Poland by KPBS, on Flickr

But then the German army occupiedthis area in 1939. In September of that year, the Great Synagogue was torched, killing hundreds of people who had sought sanctuary inside. Some of the first transports to Auschwitz, only twenty miles away, came from Bedzin. Today, there is almost no trace of the vibrant Jewish life that once flourished here. The ethnographic museum has only a half dozen etchings of Jewish scenes on the first floor. The entire second floor is devoted entirely to ladies underwear, bras, girdles and lingerie from the 20 th century. Interesting and fun, but in light of what could have been presented, worse than frivolous. Across the river, the castle's museum is interesting, too, largely given over to armaments, swords, armor, and other implements of battle. The one stirring exception is a Torah scroll, and the piece of a Jewish gravestone. Behind the castle, in stark contrast to the be-flowered, lovingly tended Christiancemetery across the street, the broken stones and vandalized graves of the Jewish cemetery in Bedzin are shrouded in darkness from the overgrown forest that covers them.

Bedzin today is a dreary place, filled with pawn shops and crumbling buildings.

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Modrzejowska Street view by KPBS, on Flickr

Byron and I were warned not to walk around at night, even the five minute walk from our hotel to the castle. The town seems to have disintegrated. & The collapse of the coal mining industry certainly is a factor, but there is a deeper reason, I think, for the high unemployment and pervasive sadness I feel all around me.

NEXT UP: Kafka Project keeps climbing in Silesia. & As Kafka said, "As long as you keep climbing there will be steps; they will magically appear under your climbing feet."

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