It is with great sorrow that we announce the death of Henryk Prajs, who died on April 25, 2018, aged 101. He was the last Jew from Góra Kalwaria, a cavalryman, one of the last members of a chevau-léger unit of the pre-war Polish Army.
Henryk Prajs was born as Avrum (Abraham) Prajs in a poor Jewish family, in Góra Kalwaria on December 30, 1916. He was the son of Dawid and Gitl née Messing. After the early death of his father (1918), he was brought up by his uncle, Jankiel. From his mother's side, he was the grandson of a city councillor, Izrael Messing. In his youth he was active in Zionist organizations, and he supported himself as apprentice at local tailoring and leather-goods workshops, both Polish and Jewish.
In 1937, he joined the Polish Army and served in the Colonel Jan Kozietulski 3rd Chevau-Léger Mazowiecki Regiment located in Suwałki. These were the breakthrough times of his life, as he said – “the best two years of my life”. A special nostalgia he felt about the period when he served in the Polish Army was related to the way he - a Jew, was respected in his unit. He was receiving rations for kosher food, the commanders were saying: “He is a believer, so he will be a good soldier”. He gained through service to the rank of corporal (as a combatant he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant). He fought in the September campaign, and the battle of Olszewo (September 13-14, 1939), he was seriously injured in the head; he fought till he lost consciousness.
He was taken prisoner by the Soviets. Severely wounded, captured, he fought for life. After his release, he returned to his hometown which was under German occupation. Soon after, together with his whole family, he ended up in a ghetto.
Persuaded by his mother, Henryk Prajs escaped from the ghetto. He was sheltered by a peasant family of Pokorski from Rozniszewo - a village 7 km from Góra Kalwaria. Until the end of the German occupation he was hiding under the assumed name, Feliks Żołądek, he also had a baptism certificate, obtained by a pre-war neighbour, Wasilewska. His family and many of his friends perished in the Holocaust.
In 1945 he returned to Góra Kalwaria, where he studied in a secondary gardening school. He was a member of the post-war Jewish Committee in the city. Until 1968 he was an alderman. He initiated many actions aimed at preserving the surviving residues of the Jewish world. He contributed to the fencing of the local Jewish cemetery, took an active part in the practice of the so-called Religious Congregation – a substitute for the Jewish religious community.
Still in the 21st century, as the last surviving soldier of the 3rd Chevau-Léger Mazowiecki Regiment, Prajs continued his involved in the popularization of the Polish cavalry tradition. He was an active member of the Honorary Squadron the 3rd Chevau-Léger Regiment.
Henryk Prajs contributed to the enrichment of the collection of the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews. He gave our institution his writings on the history of the Jews of Góra Kalwaria, containing a particularly valuable description of the Jewish community's life before the Holocaust. The unique text written in Yiddish on 10 pages was hidden under a thatched roof in a barn. It was left there until 1948, when the author came to collect it. The transfer of the memento to the Museum took place in August 2014.
The funeral of Henryk Prajs will take place at the Jewish cemetery at Okopowa Street in Warsaw, at midday on Sunday, April 29, 2018.
We would like to express our sincere condolences to his family and friends and colleagues.
May his soul be bound up in the bound of life!
The Virtual Shtetl team