At the outbreak of World War II, almost half of Chelm’s 36,000 residents were Jewish, but only a few hundred survived the war—virtually wiping out a community that had lived for 700 years in southeastern Poland.
Eight of Arlene Blaier Burrows’ relatives somehow survived. Seventy-two members of her family, however, were killed in the Holocaust.
In A Return to Chelm, she goes on a deeply personal journey to learn more about her Blayer and Groman relatives who lived and died. In the process, she forges a connection with all the Jews of Chelm.
She traces genealogy, explores archives in Warsaw and elsewhere, and sees the death camps where so many of Poland’s Jews were savagely murdered. She uncovers a treasure trove of information about a lost community whose descendants continue to thrive decades after their intended annihilation.
While the author’s elders told stories about Chelm as she was growing up, they never dwelled on its dark past. With the city seemingly lost to history, she finds there’s a lot worth remembering despite the city’s history of persecution, repression, and poverty.