Henryk Prajs was born in 1916 in Góra Kalwaria. The Interviewee’s father, Dawid, died two years later. Henryk Prajs had an older sister named Gołda and a younger brother named Dawid. The Interviewee’s family lived in Góra Kalwaria and in a nearby town of Szpruch, where one of his grandfathers owned an inn. After his father died, he was adopted by his uncle Jankiel. Izrael Messing, interviewee’s grandfather, became a councillor in Góra Kalwaria when Poland regained its independence in 1918. In his early years, Henryk Prajs was actively involved in Zionist organisations operating in Góra Kalwaria, served his apprenticeship in local tailor’s and leathercraft shops (both Polish and Jewish)
On the brink of war, Henryk Prajs starts his military service in the 3rd Light Cavalry Regiment in Suwałki, where he is caught by the outbreak of the War. He takes part in the September Campaign and is taken captive by the Russians. He is released and comes back to Góra Kalwaria, his hometown. Along with his whole family, he is put in the ghetto. Persuaded by his mother, Henryk Prajs makes a successful attempt to escape from the ghetto.
He ends up in a peasant family in Rozniszew, a village near Miszew, 7 km away from Góra Kalwaria. Ms Wsilewska, interviewee’s neighbour, and later his mother-in-law, has her sister obtain a baptism certificate for Henryk Prajs, issued for one Feliks Żołądek.
In 1945, Henryk Prajs returns to Góra Kalwaria and makes efforts to preserve what has remained of the Jewish world – he starts the initiative to fence a local Jewish cemetery and takes an active part in the revival of Jewish religious practices.
Henryk Prajs has very fond memories of his years in the Kozietulski 3rd Light Cavalry Regiment in Suwałki, “It was the best time of my life”, he says. This special nostalgia for the period spent in the Polish army is associated primarily with the respect he enjoyed in his unit – he received a per-diem allowance for kosher food. “He is a believer, so he will make a good soldier”, his superiors used to say. Now he is involved in the popularisation of the Polish cavalry tradition.
Henryk Prajs is known as “The Last Jew in Góra Kalwaria”.
Recording circumstances description
The interview was recorded in the interviewee’s house in Góra Kalwaria. The meeting was arranged over the phone. The meeting was directly motivated by the fact that Henryk Prajs provided a fragment of the history of Góra Kalwaria Jews, which he had written down in secret in the Yiddish language. The author described the life of the Jewish community before the War – its history, customs and everyday life. Written on 10 pages, these memoirs had been hidden in the barn, under its thatched roof. The author came back to retrieve it in 1948.
- Pre-War life of the interviewee and his family: interviewee’s father, grandfather’s inn in Szpruch, a town near Góra Kalwaria, his bar mitzvah and character, approx. 0:00:00
- Jewish traditions in the interviewee’s family home, approx. 00:06:00
- The Interviewee’s involvement in the Zionist movement, Jewish parties in Góra Kalwaria during the 1930s, Zionist parties, approx. 00:08:00
- The Interviewee’s life during the War: being hidden by a Catholic family (under the assumed name Feliks Żołądek), approx. 00:10:00
- Hasidism and tzadiks in Góra Kalwaria; relations between national groups in pre-War Góra Kalwaria, approx. 00:11:00
- The Interviewee’s efforts to preserve the tangible Jewish heritage in Góra Kalwaria in the post-War period: tidying up and fencing the local Jewish cemetery, approx. 00:12:45
- The Interviewee’s attitude to Jewish tradition; religion and Jewish culture and Yiddish, approx. 00:14:00
- Press of Jewish political groups, approx. 00:15:00
- Important personages in pre-War Góra Kalwaria: Mayor Dziejko, Police Chief Jan Janica, who created “Jewish self-defence” to stand up against nationalist circles, approx. 00:17:00
- Social life of the interviewee in Góra Kalwaria during the inter-War period, approx. 00:19:00
- Military service in the 3rd Light Cavalry Regiment in Suwałki; kosher food, approx. 00:20:00
- Anti-Semitism in the Second Polish Republic; thoughts on the nature of contemporary anti-Semitism; anti-Semitic events in Góra Kalwaria (1930s), approx. 00:23:21
- The September Campaign in 1939, Russian captivity, approx. 00:28:00
- Return to Góra Kalwaria; displacement of Jews from Góra Kalwaria on 25-26 February 1941, escape from the ghetto in Góra Kalwaria, approx. 00:00:30
- The interviewee taken in by a peasant family in Rozniszew, a village near Miszew, approx. 00:31:00
- The history of the Jewish community in Góra Kalwaria written down by the interviewee in the Yiddish language, approx. 00:33:00
- Support from Ms Wasilewska, the interviewee’s neighbour, the story behind fabricating a Kennkarte and obtaining a birth certificate for the interviewee, approx. 00:35:00
- Everyday life in the peasant family: cultural and social differences; farming; relations with the locals, approx. 00:39:00
- Motivation of the interviewee to record the history of Jews in Góra Kalwaria, approx. 00:49:40