Dorota Berlińska



I owe my “Jewish interest” to Irena Sendler and my being a night owl. One evening I was watching TV when completely by accident (I know I should be ashamed…) I watched a story about a group of American teenagers who discovered a Polish female hero for the rest of the world. I was extremely moved – the image of a humble old lady contrasted with the greatness of her courage, the joy and vivaciousness of the girls coupled with cheerfulness of Mrs. Sendler. As I was watching, I could not stop thinking why, for heaven’s sake, Polish teenagers do not know about this person, why I myself – their teacher – never tell them about her?

I started reading about Irena Sendler and then about other Polish Righteous Among Nations – Henryk Sławik, the Ulma family, Jan Żabiński and his wife Antonina. At the time, I was mostly interested in those who were saving lives rather than in those who were saved – to me, the latter were still nameless victims, without faces nor names. Again, this changed thanks to Irena Sendler. Her stories about her Jewish friend Ewa moved me deeply. So did her levelheaded account of her heroic struggle for her own survival in the Warsaw ghetto as well as that of the group children under her care. This was what sparked my interest in Jewish history. Today, Jews to me are not just victims of the Holocaust, but also an inspiring nation we share our history with.

I pursued my interests inspired by the schoolchildren I teach. A few years ago, my paths crossed with those of Hubert, Filip, Kajetan and Kazik, four “unusual” middle school students. It turned out that three of them became interest in Błonie’s Jewish cemetery already in elementary school; they even tried to intervene at some institution in an attempt to protect the site.

Together we created an educational program about the local Jewish cemetery. Photos of matzevot taken by the boys where one of the last, as a few months later someone destroyed most of the tombstones… Later we implemented a big educational program introducing Jewish culture and traditions to our school’s community. I explored Jewish Błonie through School of Dialogue program with a group of wonderful students, who created a project called “Following Chaja Łaja” that presented the story of Chaja-Łaja Szpajsendler, a Jewish girl from Błonie who survived the Holocaust hiding on local farms. I am not able to describe my motivations precisely, I just feel this is what should be done. We owe ourselves the memory of our shared Polish-Jewish past, someone should take this responsibility and it turned out that someone would be me. And that is great.

I am a teacher of social studies, I also work as principal of Błonie’s middle school, which I established and have been supervising ever since. I consider this institution to be my most important professional achievement. For many years, I was a scouting instructor, an experience that has also significantly impacted my professional life. I am interested in politics, I enjoy photography, history books, absurd comedies and gardening. My favorite getaway is mountain climbing, kayaking and discovering new places. In the past few years, my vacation routes have taken me to sites connected with the Jews. Teaching is my main profession – during my social studies classes I use any occasion I can to talk about Jewish issues. Initially students would look at me with faces showing they do not understand the relevance of the topic, but they have gotten used to it since.

I think they appreciate their teacher’s interests that go beyond the scope of the curriculum and that I want to share my passion with them. Each year I work with a group of students more deeply involved on educational projects about the Jews. We completed projects about the local Jewish cemetery, organized a tour of Warsaw ghetto sites and events called “We lived together for centuries”.

Yet our most important work was participation in School of Dialogue and everything that followed. Our project “Following Chaja Łaja” garnered one of the two first prizes in the 2013 edition of the program. Our actions were supported by local authorities; together with the local Cultural Center we held a Jewish Culture Week in our town and organized a small exhibition about Jewish Błonie. For the first time in years, my town remembered its Jewish residents. On two separate occasions, we hosted Forum for Dialogue international guests and presented them with Błonie’s Jewish history.

I have a sense that remembering Polish Jews is our obligation and way of paying respect to the victims of the Holocaust. But it is also respect for our own Polish history. I am convinced that without acknowledging Polish-Jewish relations our history is incomplete. When organizing the Jewish Culture Festival in Błonie I was a little afraid, not knowing if people would be interested and how they would react. But it seemed like the local residents were waiting for someone to pull up history’s curtain and make them remember the town’s Jewish residents.

After the School of Dialogue program, the movie “Run Boy Run” about Yoram Friedman, who lived in Błonie before World War II, came out in Poland. 

We learned that Yoram and his family lived in a building that was one of the stops of the urban game we had prepared. At the stop, we talked about a Jewish family celebrating Shabbat… I attended a meeting with Yoram Friedman in Polin Museum in Warsaw, I also wrote an article about him in the local press. It gave me great satisfaction when people asked me about the article, as if seeking confirmation that there are still Jewish people hailing from Błonie in this world – witnesses to the no longer existing Jewish community in our town.

I sometimes wonder what impact my activism has had on my students. Young people are open-minded, curious and unburdened by prejudice. I open their eyes to shared Polish-Jewish history and they are amazed to learn that Jews lived along the street which leads them to school every day. A few students delved deeper into the subject matter and I hope that they will become advocates for Polish-Jewish relations. My personal gain for my activism was meeting Yoram Friedman, who was born in Błonie.

My activism in a nutshell means reclaiming the memory of Polish-Jewish history and fostering openness towards others. What do I get out of this? Personal satisfaction, sometimes pride and from time to time a sense of doing something unique. In the course of one of the visits of US guests the weather in Błonie was horrible: it was raining, so visiting the grassy site of the Jewish cemetery was not a pleasant experience. Only a few people made it to the most remotely located yet most impressive matzevah. When one of our guests started saying the kaddish, the sun suddenly came out…


Dorota Berlińska


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