July 15, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

The Life of Herzl Melcer aka Lt. Iwan Siemienowicz Pidlowskij

Memorial at Kurhan Cemetery in Debno, Poland.

Letter from Polish Red Cross confirming gravesite.

In the beginning of January 2014, Martin had sent me the contact to download the story of the battle around Küstrin between the armies of Russia and Germany. It was one of the main battles in the area. If Russia could defeat the Germans, the approach to Berlin, directly west, would be open to them. In that battle, 6,000 soldiers died on each side. I mention this only since the town where Herzl was wounded, Genschmar, on the German side of the Oder, is also mentioned in the battle description.

Suddenly, at the end of January, I heard from the rabbi in Frankfurt again. He had found a young man who was willing to go to the cemetery to take pictures of the gravesite. But since everything had changed in the interim, with information about a mass grave at a different location, nothing further came of it. As I had mentioned above, the contact with the rabbi stopped suddenly, for reasons that he never gave me.

In order to obtain more information about the new gravesite, and possibly a copy of the page with Herzl’s name in the town’s grave registry, I Googled the city administration of Miedzyrzecz. I was given a list of all the town’s officers and I picked a Mr. Tadeusz Dubicki whose title in Polish was given as “Burmistrz.” Since that word is similar to the German “bürgermeister,” meaning “mayor,” I assumed that it was as good a place to start as any. On January 22, 2014, I sent an email to the address of the city administration that I had obtained from Martin. I did not receive a reply, even to a reminder email the following week. Naturally, I did not know how current the information is that Google gave me. Mr. Dubicki might not be mayor anymore, and my email might not have reached anyone. Boris told me that this is not surprising, since the Polish administration is not known for efficiency.

Several people whom I contacted, who claimed to be able to help me contact someone in Miedzyrzecz, were unable to come up with any new information.

Martin wrote to me, at the beginning of February, that he has a friend in the U.S. who used to live in Küstrin and emigrated to the U.S. His friend lives in Shamong, New Jersey. As a courtesy to Martin, I called his friend and identified myself.

Martin also told me where to download a picture of a cemetery of Russian soldiers on the German side of the Oder River. It showed a very neat area, with individual grave stones and clean grass areas with well-kept bushes surrounding the area. Interesting, but of no help to me, since Herzl is buried on the Polish side of the river in a mass grave. Martin emailed me a number of photos taken of the area both east and west of the Oder.

Among the various contacts I had tried was the Polish travel agency located in Hoboken, New Jersey. At the end of February I received an email from Elzbieta Budzillo, operations manager at the agency, forwarding to me a town map of Miedzyrzecz and pictures taken of the monument honoring Russian soldiers at the cemetery located within the city borders. Ms. Budzillo also gave me the email address and phone number of Iwona Kuczynska from the City Hall, who had sent her all that material. Now we were getting somewhere. On February 27 I wrote to her, giving all the available information on Herzl and asking her specifically for a copy of the page listing Herzl’s name, if that was the case. I received a prompt reply on March 5, but with the statement that the name Ivan Semenovich Pidlovsky was not found in the city records, and asking for more time to check other records.

When after a month I had not heard anything further from Iwona K., I contacted Elzbieta again at the Polish travel agency. Elzbieta contacted Iwona and received a reply saying that she would contact me by the “end of the week.” Iwona also stated that she was in contact with the Polish Red Cross, as well as Russian authorities, the latter also having names of Russian soldiers buried in Poland.

At the end of April I asked Iwona for an update on the status of the investigation. Instead I heard from Elzbieta that Iwona had told her she had difficulty obtaining information from the Russian authorities—they do not want to talk about it—without further explanation. Also the Polish Red Cross in Warsaw had no information. Elzbieta gave me the telephone number and working hours of Iwona. Before I had a chance to call the following morning (June 23), an email from Iwona confirmed what Elzbieta had already conveyed to me. No one had any further information. But Iwona was not closing the matter, telling me that the Polish Red Cross was still actively working on it, and the fact that the Voivodesship (this is the highest-level administrative subdivision of Poland, corresponding to “province”) office got involved is a positive sign.

On July 28, Iwona emailed that there was no new information. Reminders during August produced no reply. August 19 I emailed the Polish Red Cross directly and received a reply the same day confirming receipt of my email and stating that it may be some time before they would have something to report, etc. The email was in three languages: Polish, English and Russian.

On September 29 I received an email from another Iwona. This time it was an Iwona Majkowska-Mróz, a caseworker with the Polish Red Cross, sending me a questionnaire to fill out to start a search for the grave. Unfortunately, the questionnaire was in Polish only. By the following day, upon my request, I had one in English. The form had asked for a Certificate of Death, which naturally did not exist. Instead I sent in copies of the documents I had received from the Russian Ministry of Defense through Boris. Eventually, as will relate below, these documents would act as a Certificate of Death, accepted by the Polish Red Cross as such.

(To be continued next week…)

By Norbert Strauss

 

Norbert Strauss is a Teaneck resident and has volunteered at Englewood Hospital for over 30,000 hours. He was general traffic manager and group VP at Philipp Brothers Inc., retiring in 1985. Prior to Englewood Hospital he was also a volunteer at the American Committee for Shaare Zedek Hospital for over 30 years, serving as treasurer and director. He frequently speaks to groups to relay his family’s escape from Nazi Germany in 1941.

 

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