A gentle rain was falling on Cmentarz Zydowski, Warsaw’s Jewish Cemetery, when, on November 9th 2012, the spirit of Blima Joselzon was finally laid to rest. Seventy years earlier, under the name of Stefania Rudlicka, her body had been buried in the city’s Brodno cemetery as a Christian. But peace for her soul came only on that day, in Cmentarz Zydowski, when she was reburied as a Jew.
Nazi persecution had forced Blima to take on another life and to hide under a false name. So when her remains,exhumed that morning from the grave at Brodno, were reconsecrated at the Jewish Cemetery , it was the righting of a great wrong that was taking place. The determination of three people had made that possible.
First, Blima herself, a sensitive yet powerful woman, who had the courage to pass herself off as a Christian, at risk every day of being caught and murdered for hiding under a false name. Surviving in the most trying of circumstances, she also fought to preserve her family for as long as possible. Ultimately, she lost three daughters and her eldest son and their families. Another son went to Palestine and settled in Canada. And the third, Leon, the youngest of Blima’s sons, with his wife, Anya, fled the Ghetto just before the Nazis sealed it, and lived in hiding with Blima outside the Ghetto until her death.
Leon was also next in line in this remarkable story. Going on to thrive in the United States, he became a well known business man and philanthropist, growing ever more determined to commemorate his martyred family and the people of Warsaw. Thus, years after his mother had died and been interred at Brodno, he arranged unofficially that a stone be erected on her grave. Intended to stand and bear witness, it explained that Blima lay there buried as a Christian, because she could not be buried as a Jew. Later, after an antisemitic incident that knocked down and broke the original stone, another was placed on her grave. The words on it were the same, but this time, protectively, it was placed flat to the ground.
Finally, there was Leon’s daughter, Barbara Jolson Blumenthal, Blima’s granddaughter and namesake. It had been her father’s dying wish to move Blima’s grave to the Jewish Cemetery where, he felt it could best be seen, her story best be told, and justice ultimately be done. So with the fierce determination that characterized her family, the process of moving Blimas’ remains began to unfold under Barbara’s direction.
What followed was a long and difficult process. But after dealing with years of bureaucracy, acquiring the necessary documentation, establishing the history of the name change, and fighting to prove that Stefania was Blima, she finally accomplished her goal. On November 9, 2012, Barbara found herself watching at Brodno as the remains of the grandmother she had never known began to reveal themselves in the earth. Among them were three blue buttons that seemed to Barbara almost as though they were a gift from Blima.
An hour later, almost disbelieving that the task she had set herself had been accomplished, she watched with strong emotion as Blima Joselzon at last left Stefania Rudlicka behind, and was reburied in a plain pine box in the Jewish Cemetery of Warsaw where she joined her husband Schachna, who had been buried close by at the beginning of the war.
As you pay your respects to Blima, you will see that the stone from Brodno was moved along with the body. In April 2013, at an unveiling ceremony, an additional stone will be erected alongside it with her story told in both English and Hebrew.
Today the responsibility for keeping this haunting tale alive also becomes yours. Visit the grave, say a prayer, and leave a stone. But we ask you also to tell, and keep telling, the story of Blima Joselzon, a poignant symbol of the Holocaust, who could neither live nor die as a Jew, yet who rests here now, triumphant.
Barbara Jolson Blumenthal (granddaughter of Blima Joselzon) – Sponsor of Lubliner Festival