Seventy years after the murder of his brother Samek in the spa town of Rabka, Poland, Murray Goldfinger and his family rededicated a memorial at Morristown Jewish Center Beit Yisrael in his memory and in memory of the Jews of prewar Poland.
Artist and synagogue member Leon Segal designed a new setting for the memorial stone, which was originally presented to the synagogue and put on display when the family returned from a trip to Poland in 1992.
With her father aging (Goldfinger is now 86), daughter Linda Prentiss, a member along with her family of the congregation, wanted the memorial to have a “grander” setting in the synagogue foyer. In its previous display, its light-colored setting faded into the walls.
She also wanted to ensure that anyone seeing the memorial would be able to read an accurate history of Rabka and how her uncle died there.
Attending the Aug. 16 ceremony at the synagogue were Goldfinger and two of his three daughters (the third was traveling), as well as a cousin from Bridgewater. In addition to Segal, also taking part in the ceremony were the synagogue’s Rabbi David Nesson, Cantor Emeritus Maimon Attias, president Fern Spitzer, and executive director Gerry Gross.
Goldfinger, the only member of his immediate family to survive the Holocaust, returned to Poland with his daughters in 1992. While there, they visited Rabka, to see the place where Samek was killed, and to recite Kaddish for him.
‘We’ve been waiting’
During the war, Goldfinger and his family were confined in the nearby Stary Sacz ghetto when the SS forced the Judenrat there to round up young Jews to be transported to Rabka to work as slave laborers. The SS had established a training camp for extermination squads in Rabka, on the site of a resort hotel.
Samek was among those sent to Rabka. There, many of the boys were required to dig up Jewish headstones from an area cemetery and fashion them into blocks that were to be used to build a horse pasture. Samek, however, was not assigned to this work; he tended livestock at the site until 1942. That year, he and five others managed to escape. They were caught hiding in nearby barns and immediately executed, with the exception of one man who survived to tell the others’ fate. Samek was 20 when he was killed.
When Goldfinger and his family returned to the area 50 years later, a group of Catholic nuns were running an orphanage at the site. “When we got there,” said Goldfinger, “they said, ‘Oh, we’ve been waiting for you.’”
He was, apparently, the first Jew to return to the site. While the nuns were excavating the grounds to build a patio years earlier, they found the remnants of the Jewish headstones. They had removed and cleaned the stones and were storing them until the Israeli embassy could come and get them.
Goldfinger and one of his daughters requested permission to take a couple of pieces of the broken stones home, intending to use them to serve as a reminder of the injustices against Samek and the other Jews of Rabka, and to commemorate Jewish life in prewar Poland. (One daughter eventually presented a piece to the middle school in Whitwell, Tenn., that created the Paper Clip Project, a memorial to the Shoa.)
The piece donated to Morristown Jewish Center Beit Yisrael, in its new setting, has been displayed lower on the wall to allow better viewing. Segal added an image of the SS “thunderbolt” insignia, which appears to strike the stone, causing irrevocable damage. A plaque has been added at the bottom with the history and dedication in memory of Samek Goldfinger.
After Segal described the artistic changes he made, Murray Goldfinger recounted his brother’s story; then, together, they unveiled the memorial, and everyone assembled recited Kaddish.