On July 16th 1942 in Bielcza, Poland, German soldiers shot and killed 28 Roma, all members of the Kwiek family. They were buried in an unmarked grave in a forest clearing in the centre of the village. Three years later, the villagers exhumed the bodies and buried them in a mass grave in the local cemetery.
There is no marker here, no memorial. The clearing is overgrown and unkempt. It feels important that I am here. A shaft of sunlight appears and lights the spot.
In Adam Bartosz’s office earlier that day he had pulled out maps to show me the exact location of this place.
He said ‘it’s between the houses and the bushes, you will see an indentation in the earth’ and drew me a diagram on a post it note.
It took us 2 days to find. The forest was overgrown. We drove in circles around the village scrutinizing every indentation. Was this the place? Did it feel like the place? Could we feel anything?
On the morning of the second day he arranged for her to be waiting for us. She took me by the hand and led me into the forest. ‘This is the place’ she said. She remembered when it had happened in 1942 and she was distressed that the place had become so unkempt and overgrown.
I am thinking of Nora’s Lieux d’Mémoire, about what makes a place a site of memory rather than a site of history…this place is unmemorialised, but there seems to be a will to remember…firstly from the villagers, then more recently from Bartosz’s initiative the Roma Memory Caravan, and finally from Roma themselves.