The yellow square on the forehead of the witch-face turned aside is Bobowa in southeastern Poland, at the Carpathian foothills. Here we are, just in the smaller eye of the cyclone, which has been rotating around for two days, incessantly pouring rain on the site of Sienkiewicz’s Deluge. We are heading to the former shtetl, one of the most beautiful intact Jewish graveyards of Poland. The graves look down from a high hilltop over the village to the valley of Biała, so that neither the Wehrmacht, nor the local people were later in any mood to mess with the removal and recycling of the stones, as they did in many other cemeteries.
After Gromnik, the road turns down to the river valley. On its two sides they are already piling up the sandbags, pumps are running, and at its lowest point, the road is already half-flooded by the river. We must rush through the cemetery, before the way back is completely closed to us.
As I stop in Ciężkowice to photograph the Austro-Hungarian military cemetery, it is already thundering forcefully from Gorlice beyond Bobowa, like the guns of the 1915 Gorlice breakthrough, where Cavalry Captain Oswald Richthofen and his sixty-three Hungarian hussars fell. Some of the fallen were no longer recognizable, and so their graves bear only this much: Ein tapferer ungarischer Krieger, a valiant Hungarian warrior.
The storm meets us just before Bobowa. We can only move forward at walking speed, with the rain pouring onto the windshield. Along the main street of the village, where once Hassidic riders galloped to greet the great Tsaddik Ben Zion Halberstam, now water is running deep.
By the time we get to the end of the village, from where one can already discern the whitewashed ohel of the Tsaddik and the first, tiny black gravestones on the hilltop, the flood has become yellowish and rolls stones. All around, from the edges of the gardens, the side streets, the mountain road leading to the cemetery, from both sides of the valley, the troubled yellow river is pouring onto the road. We have to turn back, before we become trapped in the flooded village, as happened many years ago in the Transylvanian Csíkmenaság. Leaving the Biała valley behind us, and looking back from the bank of the loudly roaring Dunajec river, we see that the storm has begun again above the mountains of Bobowa.
We had to turn back before the our goal, but we hope that in a month, when we come here again, the weather will be better in Bobowa. However, driving along the Dunajec in the pouring rain, we have an unexpected compensation. In the village of Zakliczyn, a small military cemetery appears on a quiet side street, dating from the time of the Gorlice breakthrough. It is the only Jewish military cemetery in the country. Buried here are eleven Jews, who fought for the Austro-Hungarian side, and one for the Russian side. We do not know which of them lay where, as all twelve graves are anonymous.
About the military cemetery nr. 293, planned, similarly to several other WWI cemeteries of the region, by the Austrian military architect Lieutenant Robert Motka, writes Két Sheng, some contemporary Yiddish-language postcards (or rather German-language ones in Hebrew letters) also gave news. One of them, published by the Kriegsgräberfürsorge of Vienna, also lists the names of the military units of the fallen Jewish soldiers.