The Ghosts of Zambrów

Zambrów cemetery today

Three years ago, when we were still living in Warsaw, we were visited by very good friends from Argentina. Like most Argentines, Susana is descended from immigrants from Europe, and wanted to see the place from which her grandmother came from: a small town called Zambrów in north-eastern Poland.

I had never heard of Zambrów, but we soon drove the 120 km from Warsaw, to look at the town and find the Jewish cemetery. Susana’s grandmother Feigue had escaped from Zambrów one night in the 1920s and thus avoided the fate of many of the Jewish residents when the Nazis arrived.

In the 1960s, survivors of Zambrów, mainly in the US, Argentina and Israel, produced The Book of Zambrov, published in Tel Aviv in 1963, containing over 600 pages describing the Jewish life in the town. Included in the book is a handwritten map showing the cemetery which was our guide.

Sadly to say, we found the cemetery in a pitiful state with many gravestones damaged. This was the inspiration for my poem:


Bottles smashed

Sprinkled splinters of glass

Teenagers drinking in the ghosts

Gathered in the darkness

On the edge of town

Around the stones

Broken and sticking out of the ground like the teeth in an old crone’s mouth

Uneven and randomly spaced

Hebrew words spilling out of the carvings

She has come from far away

From the city

At the end

Of the world


Among the tombstones

On the edge

Of a small town


In the misty past

With arms stretched out in the darkness

Reaching across the years

Towards a girl of twenty

Who ran away one night from this place

Her grand-mother

Feigue in the Jewish cemetery shortly before her departure for Argentina