Izbica in East Poland. In the former Schtetl, not far from Lublin used to live over 80% Jews in 1939 – today, there’s no Jewish life anymore. This village is intrinsically tied to the darkest chapter in German history forever: in 1942, SS-captain Hermann Höfle designates it a “thoroughfare ghetto”, Izbica turns into a “forecourt of annihilation”. Tens of Thousands of Jews from all over Europe are deported into the eastern death camps from here, thousands already murdered in Izbica itself. Here, the fates of the haunted, the refugees and their tormentors cross.
It is mainly the lives of two persons that reflect the tragedy of this little place: Grzegorz Pawlowski and Thomas Blatt.
Pawlowski is a Catholic priest in the Israeli Jaffa, today. Only with the help of a fake Catholic baptismal he managed to flee from Izbica, leaving behind his family and his beloved mother. Until today he seems to feel guilty to have survived the holocaust. Pawlowski wants to – this is his lifetime goal – return to the Jewish graveyard in Izbica after his death. Back to the place his mother was murdered in a massacre. Therefore he already arranged a tombstone for himself in 1970. The Polish chief rabbi Michael Schudrich, who lobbies for the restoration of disgraced and destroyed Jewish graveyards, can hardly accept the Catholic’s tombstone. Pawlowski once again, travels to Izbica, to confront the past and to resolve this conflict.
As a small boy, Blatt has to serve the unscrupulous Gestapo chief, Kurt Engels, and care for his motorbike. This is his protection – until he and his family do eventually get deported to the annihilation camp Sobibor, after all. He is one of the few to survive. After the war he cannot let go of Engels iniquitous activities. He tracks him down to Hamburg and helps the German authorities to take him into custody. In Izbica, Thomas Blatt tells about Engels reign of terror and comes back to Hamburg once again, to find the grave of Kurt Engels and to be able to live with that history.
Not until 2006 it is finally verified that Kurt Engels had the Gestapo prison – today a local police building - erected with Jewish tombstones of the local graveyard. So far a unique case in history of national socialism. Thomas Blatt, but also Halina Blaszczyk, who helped Jews in Izbica as a young girl, have referred to this. The cautious dismantling of the tombstones is being documented and their dignified return to the Jewish graveyard of Izbica. Under the patronage of the German Ambassador in Poland, an imposing memorial place developed from the tombstones, once disgraced by the Germans. At least the dead can find their rest now.
funded by the German Federal Cultural Foundation