On Wednesday, June 10, 2015, a delegation of the Jewish community leaders from USA and Australia met with the students of School of Dialogue in Grodzisk Mazowiecki. Junior high students, who conducted their project – a film and a tour – about Jewish citizens of the town, introduced their guests to the history of the Jewish community in pre-war Grodzisk Mazowiecki. The group was deeply impressed with students’ efforts and involvement in the project.
Rabin Wayne Franklin, one of the trip’s participants, describes the day spent in Grodzisk: “The large graffiti letters on a wall near the center of Grodzisk Mazowiecki had been scrawled by an artist. The Polish words, not defaced, said: “I miss you Jew…” This sign was not the first stop on our visit to Grodzisk, but it became a backdrop for our whole visit to Poland. It was stunning to see such a public admission that a once–important group no longer lived in Grodzisk, and that it mattered.
After meeting the students at their school, the young people guided us through their town, showing us traces of what had been Jewish life in their community. The students were proud to begin our tour at the Jewish cemetery, which they had recently repaired. While they painted the fence and gate and cleaned around many of the tombstones, they learned the meaning of many of the symbols that proliferated on the monuments. They shared what they had learned with us, and some of us then read and translated the Hebrew inscriptions to them. Our mutual sharing helped us create strong bonds.
Our tour included a walk on a bridge over the railroad tracks. From there, we could see the train station from which the Jews of Grodzisk were taken away to the Warsaw ghetto, never to return home. We stood in the doorway of an apartment where a Jewish family once lived. The slanted mark on the doorpost was a clear sign that a mezuzah once covered the spot. We saw the last remaining sukkah on a second floor balcony, where a Jewish family once celebrated the bounties of the harvest. Amidst the stores in the central shopping area, we stopped at the place where the synagogue once stood.
The students in Grodzisk had learned about the Jews who used to live there and what happened to them. They learned the meaning of the traces of Jewish life that remain all around their town, minus the Jews who enlivened the places. Some of them did not understand that we, their guests, were Jews, because we did not look like the stereotypical prewar Jews, whose pictures adorned their classroom. Our presence was another step in their learning that the Jewish people are alive.
It was clear to us that these young people had developed an affectionate appreciation for the ghosts in their town, and for Jewish traditions, which had recently come to life for them. Their enthusiasm and pride in their newly acquired familiarity with the Jewish background of their town endeared them to us. The visit was illuminating for all of us visitors, as it brought to life a fuller understanding of the work the Forum for Dialogue is conducting all across Poland. With young people knowing enough to miss the Jews who are no longer there, the prospects for a positive relationship between Poles and Jews in the future increases exponentially.”