In December 2015, Sławek used the contact form on this website to get in touch with us. He wrote,
My name is Slawomir Pastuszka (originally Proskauer). I am one of the last Jewish residents of Pless (Pszczyna). I am also a local historian, who is taking care of local Jewish memory and the local Jewish cemetery. I think Małgorzata Płoszaj told you something about me, when you visited Pszczyna last year. Unfortunately, I was out of town, so I couldn't meet you. I would like to make contact with you. I have some memorabilia connected with the Weissenberg family. I will be so happy to publish an article about your family in our local newspaper. But I need your help and permision to use family photos, which are very precious for me. I am looking forward to your answer.
1. information, that Leopold Weissenberg became an owner of Carl Montag's company. 2. notice - that Else Weissenberg is looking for a nanny to her son Werner. 3. photo of the Weissenberg house in the 1910s. (they rented it, they were not the owners). All the best, Sławek
From here, Sławek’s generous interest in the family story grew, to the point at which he asked permission write a series of articles about the Pless side of the family for a local magazine.
Of course we gave our permission. Having been so traumatised at the idea that my family had (at that point) seemingly been as thoroughly obliterated from all records as they had been from life, the idea that someone in the town in which my dad was born would be publishing their story – well, it was extraordinary.
Now at least, through this telling of their story, they would not have been forgotten – they would not have disappeared completely. I am unable to express how much this means.
Over the next few months, every so often a large envelope would arrive in the post with the latest copy of the magazine in it, and we would eagerly turn the pages to find the next instalment of our family story. It was intriguing to see familiar photographs from a different perspective and presented in a different context. It was almost as good as finding new documents and photographs.
More recently, I asked Sławek if he would give me some autobiographical information so that I could write something about his contribution to our project on this page.
What follows is taken from his email reply.
Sławek Pastuszka was born 1990 in Pszczyna. He is a representative of the eighth generation of his family who are Jewish and who still live in Pszczyna. Sławek is a teacher, a historian, a doctoral student at the Institute of Jewish Studies in the Faculty of History at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow; he is also a city guide. Sławek went on to add: My mission in life is to commemorate all the Jews who used to live in Pszczyna; I have published two books and around 100 articles on this topic, including the articles about the Weissenberg family. Since 2005, I have been the caretaker of the Jewish cemetery in Pszczyna, where more than 250 tombstones were renovated by myself and the area of the cemetery was totally cleaned.
When my husband and I last visited Poland in 2016 we arranged to meet Sławek for the first time. We decided to meet at one of Sławek’s favourite coffee shops in the old Jewish district of Kraków – an area known as Kazimierz. In person, Sławek was as warm and generous with his time and energy as he is by email.
We chatted for a good couple of hours, sipping our coffee and enjoying our cake. He is delightful company – and a fascinating source of local and wider historical knowledge, as one would expect, given his high level of studies towards his PhD (and how I look forward to emailing Dr Pastuszka one of these days!).
As we reluctantly parted company all too soon – sadly, we always seem to be racing the clock on these trips – my husband turned to me and said something that hadn’t occurred to me, until he said it – when it rang so very true.
He said – ‘You realise, we have been siting having coffee and cake together with Sławek from Pszczyna, whose ancestors had a shop on the square in Pless, as it was then … and your grandfather had a shop on the square in Pless. The families shared the same religion and culture, and would have gone to the same synagogue just off the square. And despite everything that has happened in between, we’ve just shared coffee and cake together, as our families probably shared coffee and cake together … that was truly something worth doing.’
My eyes welled up with tears – but with tears of warmth, for once, on this subject. I wondered if Sławek realised how important this afternoon had proved to be.
Before I stop completely embarrassing him, I want to write a few more lines about Sławek and the important work he does not only towards his own studies, but also for others of us who perhaps have struggled to find our way through a life that has been dominated by the ashes and memories of the Shoah.
Sławek’s notes above – about what must in fact have been long, hard physical work on the Jewish cemetery in Pszczyna – highlight something important about visiting Poland for those of us who lost so much, and so many of our family members.
To put it simply, there isn’t a lot left to find. For many, there will be nothing to find. And these quiet, shaded, green, often abandoned, places where our cultural ancestors are buried may be the only signs left that we were ever living here at all in such numbers. Over three million people who attended synagogue and followed the tenets of Judaism lived here once, and there is on the surface of things very little to show for this rich and varied period of our shared Jewish-German-Polish history.
Before I started this project, I had always been puzzled about – and vaguely dismissive of – some people’s apparent fascination with Jewish cemeteries. When we first visited Poland in 2015, however, I visited my first Jewish cemetery. As it turns out, it was the one in Pszczyna – although I didn’t know Sławek then, nor did I spare a thought for the fact that any individual had had to work so hard to restore the quiet, green beauty of this special place. In my defence – I had nothing to compare it to then, as I have now.
I have documented my initial reaction elsewhere. I was upset at the contrast between the in-use, bustling, busy Catholic cemetery down the road, and the apparently abandoned Jewish cemetery further out of town. At the time it served to highlight sharply the millions of missing people – both those from our own family and from the landscape in general. It was drawing towards the end of my first visit to Poland, and my emotions were by then in turmoil.
But that was my first experience of a Jewish cemetery in Poland and I now understand better their purpose, and the important work people like Sławek are doing in bringing them back into a state in which they can be viewed – and searched – with some dignity. Where so much hard work has been carried out, as in Pszczyna, many gravestones can be read once more. And some of us, at least, might again find connections here – the significance of which to our present lives and emotional health are without explanation – but run very deep.
In closing, after we had had coffee with Sławek in Kraków, he was walking us to where our car was parked, and he mentioned that he was hosting tours of Pszczyna.
He seemed uncharacteristically bashful, and said that he hoped we didn’t mind, but that when he was explaining about the town’s Jewish history, he talked quite a bit about our family story. He said he had not come across so much information about another Pless Jewish family before – and he repeated that he hoped that I didn’t mind …
How can I express what this has meant to us? To know that in the town my father was born in – from where I believed that my family’s lives had been expunged – to know now that this careful, considerate, hard-working young man is keeping their memory alive …
From numbers to names