Jewish Heritage Europe

Obit: Feliks Wolf Karpman, cared for Jewish cemetery in Góra Kalwaria, Poland

Feliks Wolf Karpman. Photo: K. Bielawski/Virtual Shtetl
Feliks Wolf Karpman. Photo: K. Bielawski/Virtual Shtetl

Feliks (Wolf) Karpman, who long took care of the Jewish cemetery in Góra Kalwaria, Poland, has died, aged 87.

Karpman, who was born on November 29, 1926, was one of the few Jews from the town to survive the Holocaust — and one of the very few who remained there. In its obituary, Virtual Shtetl reports that he was sheltered during World War II by a Polish family, the Konarzewskis.

Góra Kalwaria — Ger or Gur in Yiddish — was the seat of one of the most powerful Hasidic dynasties in Poland, founded by the Tzaddik Isaac Meir Rothenberg Alter (1789-1866). Isaac Meir Alter’s grandson escaped to the Holy Land in 1939. Several of the Tzaddikim are buried in an Ohel in the Jewish cemetery, which is a site of pilgrimage today.

After World War II Karpman spent years locating and transporting fragments of looted matzevot to the cemetery and also managed to reconstruct the ohel. For many years, he cared for the cemetery and the former home of the Tzaddikim, next to the synagogue, making the keys available to visiting Hasidic pilgrims and tourists.

Several years ago, Krzysztof Bielawski of Virtual Shtetl carried out an extensive interview with him about the history of the Jewish cemetery, in particular WW2 and post-WW2 history.

Karpman described how the Nazis uprooted and removed the gravestones , destroyed the red-brick cemetery wall and the mortuary house, and blew up the Ohel (tomb) of the Tzaddikim.

The tombstones that you can see now  were brought back after the war as I knew where they had been put. Obviously, they do not stand exactly in the original place. Who would know then? And so we have created a “museum cemetery.”

He described restoration of the cemetery and tombs after the war:

When the war ended, Pinchas Menachem, Alter’s son, with whom I used to attend the cheder, asked me to secure the tzaddikim’s grave. We erected a sarcophagus of collected rubble. Its walls are still visible. After some years it started to dilapidate so rails were bought to make a square out of them and the concrete was poured once again. After some time we built a brick chapel here. After the war a Jewish community was formed. We sold the school building and fenced in the necropolis. However, the fence didn’t last long because people immediately started to plunder the posts. Two or three years later, I met one rabbi in Łódź. I went to the Provincial National Council (Wojewódzka Rada Narodowa.) They wanted to help us and gave us some money. It was like a fix and repair household job. The family of my wife lives nearby and in case of any damage, they called me. I did repair jobs for many years. When there was a hole in the fencing that was made of wire net, it was me who bought a new one,  fixed it. I worked tired myself with work in here. Then Zygmunt Nissenbaum appeared and he had the cemetery fenced with a solid, metal fencing. Still, people try to steal metal bars. I do my best to save what I can but I don’t know how long it will all last because everything has its end. I am eighty-four now. This is a considerable age, isn’t it. 


Read the full interview