Polish born American businessman Aaron Ziegelman decided to enrich his memories of the vibrant community of his childhood in the town of Luboml.
In l994 he began collecting and preserving information about Jewish life in his birthplace, eventually leading to the founding of a major traveling exhibition “Remembering Luboml: Images of a Jewish Community,” a book dedicated to the vanished shtetl and a documentary film entitled, “Luboml: My Heart Remembers.”
The powerful “Remembering Luboml: Images of a Jewish Community,” presently exhibited at the Moreshet Holocaust Study and Research Center at Givat Haviva, brings to life through a large collection of rare photographs, letters, maps and other materials, the richness of the daily lives of the Luboml Jewish community prior to its destruction in the Holocaust.
In 1938, when still a young child, Ziegelman, with his mother and sister, left his place of birth and generations of family roots for America but never forgot his deep ties to Luboml. The Luboml Exhibition Project he initiated to bring back to public consciousness the lost community of his birth led to the collecting of many artifacts and thousands of photographs – some from people nowadays living in numerous different countries.
The items exhibited graphically depict the richness of life in pre-Holocaust times in Luboml (nowadays part of the Ukraine), recreating the vibrancy of one of hundreds of proud Jewish communities throughout Poland.
“The Holocaust also destroyed the deep rooted traditions and rich cultural life of Luboml and all other communities like it,” explained Yonat Rotbein, director of educational projects at Moreshet.
From photograph to photograph, Rotbein gives a deeply moving account of the people, places and professions depicted in the grainy testimony to pre-Holocaust Jewish life in Luboml, known in Yiddish as Libivne.
“Luboml was a typical early 20th century shtetl, orthodox but with the Jewish enlightenment movement (the Haskalah) already beginning to take effect,” she explained as we stood in front of a photograph of the Beit HaKnesset HaGadol (the main synagogue) taken in 1930. On the dirt road in front of the impressive building, the roof of which is decorated with parapets and intricate stonework, horse drawn carts are visible as are a number of men in black coats and black hats who seem to be making their way to synagogue.
Photographs showing a densely crowded market place, children dressed in their Purim costumes and self-consciously giggling at the camera while others are depicted in school or dressed in their Shabbat best clothes, wide smiles across their faces, are deeply moving to say the least. Their smiles seem quite infectious and one is quickly smiling back – until remembering what became the shared fate of those in the photographs and the rest of their community not recorded in pictures.
A 1922 group photograph shows around 40 young men and women, members of the Hashomer Hatzair Zionist movement. In the middle of the front row, two youngsters are holding a portrait of Theodore Hertzl.
It is somewhat poignant that a group of Luboml Hashomer Hatzair youth – circa 1922 – would be shown in an exhibition over 80 years later at Givat Haviva, the educational center and archives of the Hashomer Hatzair movement in Israel.
Another photograph, taken eight years later, shows a dozen adults – the men in casual suits and ties, the ladies in summer dresses, standing around a couple sitting on wide handlebar bicycles, and another powerful picture depicts three girls, maybe five years old, wearing new dresses, shoes and stockings in honor of the Pesach holiday.
In l921 there were 3,328 Jews in Luboml, and only 187 non-Jews – the Jewish population therefore making up 94.4% of the small town, but only 51 Jews from Luboml survived the horrors of the Holocaust.
The Moreshet exhibition on Luboml affords a glimpse into the daily life of a small Jewish town and a world wiped out, but thanks to Aaron Ziegelman and others like him, certainly not forgotten.