Coincidence, karma or miracle? This story will make you wonder. It begins in a small village near present-day Ukraine amid war crimes committed by the German Nazis. A time in history that does not feel so long ago given the current news of war crimes in the region.
Near that village lies the dark primeval Białowieża Forest, straddling the borders of Poland and Belarus. Though it's described as “hauntingly beautiful” its tall trees and seemly endless marshlands have witnessed the harshest of evils.
At the outbreak of WWII, Miriam Rabinowitz lived in the small Polish town of Zhetel, (sometimes called Zdzięcioł) with her husband Morris and two daughters, Tania and Rochel.
Christians and Jews had lived peacefully in Zhetel for nearly 400 years, while the town was variously under the control of Belarus, Russia and Poland. In 1939, the population was roughly 4,600 and 75 percent were Jewish.
The Nazis arrived in the fall of 1939. They shipped skilled workers to workcamps and eventually to death camps. With the help of local police, they slaughtered most of the remaining Jewish residents, men women and children, in two consecutive mass shootings in the spring and summer of 1942.
Today a memorial stands on the remnants of the old Jewish cemetery, a fenced collective grave, in which the bodies of about two thousand people are buried, shot in this place by the Nazis on August 6, 1942.
I'm fascinated to discover little-known history, stories of people and events that provide a new perspective on why and how things happened, new voices that haven't been heard, insight into how the past brought us here today, and how it might guide us to a better future.
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