The Competition

For the third time since 2013 Tomasz Soja, history teacher of the regional agricultural highschool, invited pupils to a competition on their knowledge of Jewish history and culture.

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For the first time the competition was open for pupils in the three states (voivodeships) of Lower Silesia, Opole and Silesia. 17 pupils from 7 schools signed up for the competition.

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They had to answer 50 questions in writing and another 3 questions in the oral part.

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The participants impressed the jury with their profound knowledge.Iwona Helwin, Namysłow (left) and Julia Ozga, Oleśnica (right) tied on first place, both achieving the maximum number of points.

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Participants of last year’s LQR reunion sponsored the prices for the winners, a stereo set, a tablet computer and a rucksack packed with a headset and other computer equipment. The fourth and fifth received a rucksack each.

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On behalf of the LQR family I greeted the participants in Polish:

Dear participants of the competition,
we, descendants of Rabbi David Lazarus Laqueur, consider all of you to be winners today. All of you take a great interest in Silesia’s Jewish culture and history. By doing that you contribute to mutual understanding and tolerance in your society. Knowing the other diminishes fear and prejudices. Knowing the other developes open-mindedness and respect. Open-mindedness towards minorities based on understanding, tolerance and respect for the diversity is one key to a peaceful society.
We, members of the Laque(u)r family in the US, UK, Israel and Germany congratulate you. We hope that you will proceed on your way to mutual understanding and tolerance. On that way we wish you good luck and all the best.

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Commerorative plaque in Namysłow

On Thursday, June 9, a commemorative plaque on the building of the former Namslau synagogue was solemnly unveiled. The ceremony was attended by Wrocław’s newly installed rabbi David Besok, by Aleksander Gleichgewicht, chairman of the Jewish congregation, and by starosta Andrzej Michta, the chief administrator of the county of Namysłow.
Together with approx 100 people they followed the invitation of Tomasz Soja, history teacher at the local agricultural  highschool and initiator of the commemorative plaque. The date marks the 160th anniversary of the construction of the synagogue.

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Miscellanea

The certificate we presented to our hosts and friends

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Cover of the certificate


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Inside – signed by all participants


Concerning the dwarves in Wroclaw

In the early 1980s Waldemar Fydrych started an undergound student’s protest movement. Initially the painted ridiculous graffitti of dwarfs on paint spots covering up anti-government slogans. They demonstrated masqueraded as dwarfs. It was supposedly Fydrich who noted:

“Can you treat a police officer seriously, when he is asking you: ‘Why did you participate in an illegal meeting of dwarfs?’”

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The first statue of a dwarf dedicated to the memory of the movement was placed on Świdnicka/Schweidnitzer street.


Amazing encounters in the hotel

The hotel management policy in general and the room allocation policy in particular remained mysterious and unfathomable to us. One couple was allocated a single room. The receptionist asked for the guest’s last name. Unfazed by the objection that the last name would in our case not suffice to positively identify the guest, she valiantly suggested several first names of Laque(u)r s on her list – none of which seemed to be matching. The room allocation policy opened unexpected opportunities to instigate international understanding. At 11 pm a surprised member of our group faced another guest who was given the key to the same room and had opened the door unsuspectingly. However the occasion could not develop its full potential since one involved party felt not quite sufficiently dressed and up to the challenge.


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Monday, May 25

The White Stork Synagogue welcomes us for the prayer on the second day of Shavuot, actually not the historic synagogue itself but a smaller adjoining room. We were astonished not to have to pass through any security checks. We had already noticed the day before that there were no obvious security measures (besides CCTV) in the courtyard of the synagogue.

The cantor Eliezer is already present and directs the women to the back rows. We are welcomed by Rabbi Tyson Herberger, an American Rabbi who serves the congregation since four years and has acquired an astonishing fluency in Polish. When we stumble over his first name, he admits with a smile that he never met any other non-coloured man sharing his first name.

Unfortunately there is no minyan and no kaddish, but since it is last day of the holiday, yiskor is prayed and a very special opportunity to remember Mishka’s grandmother on the very day of her yahrzeit (both Sivan 7 and May 25).

Rabbi Tyson divides the congregation in a Polish speaking and an English speaking study group. Today’s haftara is the book of Rut, which Asher reads in Hebrew and Jim in English.

Rabbi Tyson is a brilliant orator and delivers his sermon in Polish and English. Shavuot is the feast of giving of the tora. What does make you a Jew, he asks.

“Leaning back and say: ‘Ach, I’m Jewish because my mother and my grandmother are Jewish’? Nie, nie, nie … no, no, no! That does not suffice. Being Jewish is accepting the tora and trying to do one more mitzvah, even if it’s a challenge and if it’s hard to do so.” “And what lesson does the book of Rut teach us? Naomi is Moabite, a people despised by the children of Israel because of their evil doings. But Naomi does the mitzvah not to abandon her mother-in-law. And she will become the great grandmother of King. That teaches us that something good may eventually come out of any currently perceived evil.”

Rabbi Tyson effortlessly switches between Polish and English and he finds enchanted listeners both among us English speakers and in his Polish congregation. The Hebrew pronunciation of Eliezer the cantor is absolutely remarkable and makes it easy to follow the prayers. We are stunned to hear that Hebrew is neither his mother tongue nor was he trained in Israel

The following Kiddush offers plenty of encounters with congregants. One of them will accompany Asher and Mishka tomorrow to the new Jewish cemetery.

Noon time is free to roam and explore the city on your own. The bright sunshine invites to access one of the viewpoints offering a bird’s eye view of the city. Wrocław’s Sky Tower (resembling somewhat the Gherkin in London) is one of them. Less high (compared to the 258 meters of the Sky Tower, but located within the old city is the bridge between the two spires of St. Mary Magdalene church, called the penitent’s or the witch’s bridge 45 meters above the old city.

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The Rynek and St. Elisabeth Church, view from Penitent’s Bridge


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St. Maria Magdalena Church -mirrored in the façade of a neighboring office building


In the afternoon we meet do explore the old Jewish cemetery south of the old city on ul. Ślężna (Lohestr). The cemetery was closed in 1942, suffered some damages during the siege of Breslau and fell into disrepair subsequently. In 1975 the cemetery was put on the list of the city’s monuments. The restauration started in the late 1970ies and it was reopened to the public in 1988. Fortunately it is a part of the Wrocław City Museum and therefor open in spite of the holiday.

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We find a number of graves of the various families, among them Siegfried and Anna Laqueur, Eduard and Emma Tischler, Rosalie Hentschel née Laquer and Fritz and Max Luft.

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The lovely and peaceful compound offers plenty of opportunities to explore various styles of cemetery architecture typical for the graves of assimilated Jews in the late 19th and early 20th century, visit the graves of various celebrities such as Ferdinand Lassal (whose man is spelt in German “Lassal” instead of the more familiar French spelling “Lassalle”) or the “Silesian nightingale”, the poetess Friedrike Kempner, famous for her notorious fear to be buried alive as well as for her involuntary comic lyrics. Because of her lyrics the journalist, theatre critic and writer Alfred Kerr vehemently denied being related to her even by changing his family name from Kempner to Kerr.

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After dinner it’s time to say good-bye. Brigitte leaves by bus that evening and others have to catch their flights early in the morning.

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Wrocław Główny -Wrocław Central Staion


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Our family group (left to right): Jim Estin, Annie Nehmad, Ann Laquer Estin, Bernadette Laqueur, Klaus Laqueur, Asher Israel, Gudrun Laqueur, Andreas Laqueur, Mishka Luft, Maria Konarzewska (our host in Grabowno Wielkie, Großgraben), Brigitte Faller, Katherine Laqueur
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Sunday, May 24

Czesław drives us back to Wrocław safely. The warm sunshine invites to a personal exploration of the city before we meet for our guided walking tour. Our route leads us to the memorial of the New Synagogue (Neue Synagoge) which was burnt down by SA men on November 9, 1938. 20.000 Jews (approx. 3,5% of the total population) lived in Breslau in 1930. Half of the Jewish population fled Breslau before 1938; the remaining 10.000 Jews were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau.

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Memorial stone at the site of the Neue Synagoge, Anger 8 (Łąkowa 8), burnt down on November 9, 1938


“They have cast fire into thy sanctuary, they have defiled by casting down the dwelling place of thy name to the ground.” (Psalm 74,7) is written in Hebrew, German and Polish on the memorial stone.

The New Synagogue was built in the years 1865 to 1872 and seated 2.000 worshipers. It served the Liberal Jewish Congregation whereas the Orthodox remained in the White Stork Synagogue in the old city. It was considered to be (next to the New Synagogue in Berlin) the most splendid and beautiful synagogue in Germany.

Our tour led us across the moat to the old city. The White Stork Synagogue (Synagoge zum Weißen Storch) is located in the Wallstraße Nr. 7/9 (Pawla Włodkowica). The neighboring building was the famous Jewish Theological Seminary of Breslau, where Liberal candidates were taught alongside with Orthodox candidates and the staff had both Orthodox and Liberal teachers. But Breslau’s then chief Rabbi Abraham Geiger was considered to be too liberal even for them, and his application was turned down.

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Synagoge “Zum weißen Storch” (White Stork) – Entrance


The Nazis used the courtyard as collection point for the Jews to be deported. After the war the Polish authorities turned over the building to the Jewish community (mainly Jews who were evicted from Galicia and east Poland) in the city. After the heavy anti-Semitic campaign in 1968 and the subsequent emigration of Polish Jews, religious ceremonies were suspended in the synagogue. In 1995 the building was returned to the Jewish community and renovated for more than a decade. The synagogue was rededicated in 2010.

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In the court yard


It’s already late afternoon when we arrive on the Ostrów Tumski (Cathedral Island) located between the branches of Oder River. The gothic cathedral allows us just a peek through the door since one of today’s (Pentecost) numerous masses is celebrated. Photographs depicting Breslau in 1945 give an impression of the degree of demolition Breslau suffered especially between February 13 and May 6, 1945. Hitler had declared that the “Festung Breslau” (fortress Breslau) had to be defended at all costs. On 6 May, after 82 days of siege and shortly before the unconditional surrender of Germany in World War II, General Niehoff relinquished Festung Breslau to the Soviets. Concentrating the attention of the Red Army on the siege of Breslau possibly had the side-effect of allowing thousands of German Silesians to flee slightly less threatened. At least that’s known from other German commanders in the region, that they tried to distract the attention of the Red Army from refugee tracks.

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Cathedral Island


The way back to the hotel allows us to explore the trams of Wrocław, a very popular means of transportation and a beautiful way to discover the city, at least if you know which line to choose. We dearly miss any map giving an overview of the route network.

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Historic tram


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Saturday, May 23

Czesław picks us up for our round trip to Oleśnica (Oels), Grabowno Wielkie (Groß-Graben) and Twardogóra (Festenberg). A stroll leads us to the Piast castle in Oleśnica. The oldest parts of the castle date back to the 13th century whereas the main parts where built in the late 16 th century in Renaissance stile.

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Oleśnica castle


A remarkable new memorial commemorates the victims of the plane crash on April 10, 2010 near Smolensk. The President of Poland Lech Kaczyński, his wife, 18 members of the Polish parliament, senior members of the Polish clergy, and relatives of victims of the Katyn massacre were killed. They were on their way to ceremonies marking the 70th anniversary of the Katyn Massacre.

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Oleśnica  – The Katyn Memorial


The memorial commemorates the victims of the Katyn massacre as well as the victims of other massacres in Volhynia and Eastern Galicia. And it relates the story of thousands of Poles, deported and killed by the Soviet Union in the Stalin era – highly controversial issues up until today and untold stories in communist Poland.

As we knew through prior research conducted by Tomek the Protestant rectory of Groß Graben was demolished in 1945. The former Protestant and now Catholic church of Groß Graben would be the closest we could come to the history of Louis Laqueur, who spent the years 1850 to 1852 at the rectory preparing for his entrance examination for the gymnasium. As he relates in “Aus meinem Leben” the Protestant church was built in 1851 and solemnly inaugurated in 1852. We were told that the priest had an appointment with his bishop but the chairwoman of the parish council Ms. Maria Konarzewska would show us the church.

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Maria Konarzewska and I with the key to the church of Grabowno Wielkie


She came and brought the original wrought iron key from 1851 and invited us to unlock the entrance door ourselves. The church with its painted decorations was restored recently. Therefore it can be safely assumed that the inside looks pretty much the same as Louis Laqueur had seen it some 164 years previously. We spent quite some time exploring the church and (unsuccessfully) endeavoring to climb the inside of the spire.DSCN7932

Grabowno Wielkie – church inside


“And before you leave come to my place” Ms. Konarzewska said. “We have prepared a little something for you.” Her place turned out to be a former restaurant still in use a venue for weddings or other celebrations. And the “little something” turned out to be fully-fledged three course dinner with a soup, main course and desert. Ms. Konarzewska, her daughter and her granddaughter served a delicious meal. Along the way she told us that one of her daughters is married in Germany and that she was a delegation member visiting Argentina recently. However her statement that Argentina’s hospitality was the world’s best could not remain undisputed in view of the (completely unexpected) hospitality we were enjoying that very instant.

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Czesław, our bus driver, Maria Konarzewska, Tomek and Katherine


Locating the Jewish cemetery of Festenberg (if it still exists) remains a future task. The address mentioned on a website led us to a (most obviously) Catholic cemetery where we did not even try to locate graves of any of our ancestors. And the exploration of a place outside of Festenberg led Ann, Tomek and me to a thicket in a small wood with lots of nettles, some garbage and a few fragments possibly of headstones but with no legible insriptions.

Back at the hotel we had to say good-bye to Tomek, who had done a wonderful job to prepare the past days. The cordial outreach and the official receptions were clearly his doing and made the days in Namysłow unforgettable.

Later that evening a very happy Asher returns from his second visit to Parkstr. 18. Accompanied by Tomek he met the current resident of the house and was even invited in to have a look at.

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Friday, May 22

Tomek, Andrzej and Lina pick us up at the hotel and walk us to their school. Lina is an English teacher and a colleague of Tomek and Andrzej. She has joined the group to translate today. We walk by ul. Parkowa 18 (Parkstraße 18) where Asher’s grandmother lived until 1939.

The head master of the school Mr. Jacek Pietroszek welcomes us warmly, obviously proud of Tomek’s and Andrzej’s dedication to teach their pupils about the Jewish heritage of Silesia and their commitment to maintain the Jewish cemetery of Staedtel. We all agree that their dedication is quite remarkable.

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left to right: Lina, Annie, Klaus, Katherine, Jacek Pietroszek, Brigitte, Bernadette, Mishka, Asher and Ann


The reception in the school is followed by a reception at the new town hall. Mr. Julian Kruszyński, Mayor of Namisłow, welcomes us cordially in the assembly hall of the city council under the Polish coat of arms, the crowned eagle, and the Namysłows city arms, the black (Silesian) eagle and a red star.

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center (under the Polish crest of arms): Julian Kruszyński, Mayor of Namisłow 


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Dr. Jan-Paweł Woronczak (department of Jewish Studies at the Wrocław University) tells us about the research of his late father Prof. Jerzy Woronczak on the Staedtel cemetery.

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Dr. Jan-Paweł Woronczak


Prof. Jerzy Woronczak and his students inventoried the headstones, transcribed and translated the inscriptions, a thankworthy undertaking whose results still wait for publication. Dr. Jan-Paweł Woronczak stressed the necessity of verifying the transcriptions and translation before publicizing the texts.

Finally we are on our way to the cemetery of Staedtel, the biggest Jewish cemetery in rural Silesia. We are accompanied by three pupils, who are involved in the cemetery project. They prepared a short welcoming ceremony in Polish and English.

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left to right: Ewelina Gwiazda, Iwona Helwin und Daniel Załuski of the Zespół Szkół Rolniczych welcome us at the Staedtel cemetery


The priest of the neighboring community of Świerczów joins us for a short inter-religious prayer.

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right to left: Natalia Michta, Ksiądz Dziekan Krzysztof Szczeciński and I


Then we are left to ourselves to explore the cemetery. Mishka has brought white fabric and rubbing wax to make headstone rubbings. The results are amazing. The rubbings make the inscriptions far more easily readable.

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Practicing the fine art of headstone rubbing


With Jan-Paweł Woronczak’s aide Ann retrieves the (broken) headstone of one of her ancestors on the single-u side. She even manages a provisional “reconstruction”.

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Brigitte and Jim reassembling a broken headstone of a Laquer-Ancestor


A common kaddish at the Rabbi’s grave concludes our visit.

It’s almost 3:00 pm when we arrive at a beautiful inn for late lunch in Pokój. We learn to appreciate the ever-present pierogi, dumplings with various fillings (russki – mashed potatoes and cheese, z mięsem – with minced meat, there are also varieties with cabbage or mushrooms)

Duke Carl Christian Erdmann von Württemberg-Oels founded Carlsruhe in 1748 as his summer residence. The protestant Baroque Sophia’s Church (Sophienkirche) was built in the years 1765 to 1775. The local Protestant minister, whose minority congregation is widely spread over Upper Silesia, shows us the church.

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Pokój, S. Sphia’s Church – baroque altar


Whereas the Duke’s palace was completely destroyed by the Red Army in 1945, the church was spared after WWII. It also serves as the venue for the annual Carl Maria von Weber festival. The composer stayed in Carlsruhe in 1806/1807.

A late dinner and a good draught Samkowa conclude the day. Unfortunately it was already time to say good-bye to Andrzej and Natalia.

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