The Full Story

I am descended from a Jewish family who escaped to London from Nazi Germany just before the start of the second world war. Although he lived in Berlin before the war, my grandfather’s family roots are in a town he knew as Greifenberg In Pommern, in what is now Poland, where his father Salomon Leiser owned a shop on the town’s main square. Salomon was part of a thriving Jewish community in the town, and both he and his wife Johanna were buried in the town’s Jewish cemetery.
The Jewish population was wiped out completely during the war. At the end of the war, the Germans there were driven west by the Russians as they made their way to Berlin, to what became East Germany, and the town was populated by Poles and Ukrainians brought from further east by the Russians.
In September 2014, I realised an ambition of my father’s; to visit Greifenberg (now known by its Polish name of Gryfice). I was able to make contact with local historians there who showed me where my great-grandfather’s shop was, where the synagogue stood before its demolition in the 1980s, and lastly the site of the Jewish cemetery where my great-grandparents were laid to rest.
This was an upsetting experience for me. The cemetery was no doubt in a bad state of disrepair after the war, with no local Jews or descendants of those buried there to tend to it. Times were hard, and there was an urgent need for housing, and in the 1960s, a block of flats was built over the former Jewish cemetery. My two hosts in Gryfice told me stories of children playing with human bones that were being revealed by the mechanical diggers.
The only sign of what had been there before was scattered growths of Malva Alcea, a wild flower that thrives on the products of human decomposition and is for that reason mostly found in cemeteries.
I returned home with a strong urge to somehow remind the people of Gryfice and visitors there of the lost Jewish community. At the same time I understood that it would not be sensitive to remind the residents of the flats that their homes were built on people’s graves.
It was my cousin Briony Kapoor, a sponsor of the arts and also a descendant of the family in Gryfice who suggested that a memorial could be made in the town.