Amy Halpern Degen ’82 leads charge to save Jewish cemetery in Poland
Amy Halpern Degen ’82 is a stalwart believer in preserving the past, and honoring the lives before us. She has taken up the cause of saving one of the largest Jewish cemeteries in Bialystok, Poland, which is at risk of fading into obscurity.
“I want people to understand what is happening in Europe in terms of Jewish memory. This project has given me hope,” said Degen, who majored in sociology at Wheaton and currently serves as a Holocaust teacher at Congregation Shalom in Chelmsford, Mass.
Although Jews lived in Bialystok for more than 400 years, “there is no visible sign of a Jewish presence, except for a few memorials where Jews were killed during the Holocaust,” Degen said. When the Nazis invaded Poland during World War II, they murdered the Jews in town, and then destroyed their cemeteries, even stealing gravestones to use as building materials.
In summer 2016, Degen and her husband, who is a landscape contractor and stonemason expert, traveled to Bialystok to help restore the Wschodnia Jewish Cemetery. This cemetery is the resting place of an estimated 30,000 Jews. In the 30-acre space, approximately 3,000 tombstones are visible and remain in various states of disarray.
With eight other volunteers, the couple was able to set the stones and apply special adhesive to put the broken stones back together. They removed the grass away from the stones to expose them, scraped off dirt and moss, and washed and painted the lettering on the stones, Degen said. [Read more...]