A RELATIVELY unknown Polish town has played a part in Miriam Wernick’s life for the past 30 years.
Until the Holocaust, most of Zelechow’s inhabitants were Jewish.
And Yiddish language and culture survived there, such as the work of Yehiel Lehrer, who was taken from the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943 and murdered at Treblinka.
His 1938 poem, Mayn Heym (My Home) was prizewinning and, more than 80 years later, Prestwich-based Miriam has translated 60 of its lines, and entered it into The Stephen Spender Prize for Poetry in Translation.
She first came across the name of Zelechow when spending a year in Costa Rica while reading French and Spanish at Girton College, Cambridge. “A small group of young men from there set out in 1930 for a new home and Costa Rica was a place which didn't require much money for their visas, if any at all,” Miriam, who was raised in Switzerland and France, told the Jewish Telegraph.
“Those that could managed to bring their families over just before the outbreak of the Second World War.
“A few managed to bring out some survivors after the war, but most lost their families.”
To this day the Jewish community of Costa Rica knows of its Zelechow connection.
Miriam, who is married to Gary, later embarked on an MA in Yiddish studies at University College London and decided to turn the Zelechow/Costa Rica connection into the theme of her thesis.
She recalled: “I finished my MA in 2002 and thought that would be the end of it.
“Two years ago, after the terrorist attack at the Manchester Arena, a Costa Rican contacted me to make sure I was okay.
“She advised me that her Colombian-born, Israel-based cousin David Lukowiecki had been researching Zelechow.”
Since then, she has helped David set up a Facebook page, which has garnered more than 750 descendants from the village.
They are scattered all over the world, from North, Central and South America, to France, Israel, Australia and others.
Miriam, 51, decided to enter Lehrers poem into the The Stephen Spender Prize for Poetry in Translation as an opportunity for people to learn more about Zelechow, as well as the fact that this year’s competition has a Polish strand.
The winners will be announced in September. Visit tinyurl.com/y6z9zt36
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