Jakub Niewiński

Murowana Goślina

Murowana Goślina is a small town in Wielkopolska Region. Before the war, the town had an important Jewish community with its own quarter, synagogue and cemetery, living aside Poles and Germans. Rabbi Adolf Wiener was born here in 1812. The Jews were involved in trade, they were members of the town council and supported the volunteer fire brigade. Unfortunately, World War II led to their physical annihilation and disappearance from the collective memory of the inhabitants of Goślina. There are only a few who remember about their Jewish neighbours – and there is no tangible „reminder” in the public space about those who perished. Only two matzevot survived and the remaining ones were used to pave the roads. So when, after graduating, I returned to my home town as a teacher, I decided to bring back the memory of Jewish heritage and the Jewish inhabitants.

It was then that I invited the local community, including young people from the Hipolit Cegielski Junior High School No. 1 and the Jan Kochanowski Junior High School No. 2, to work together. In 2007 we created a memorial site at the Jewish cemetery with a symbolic dove made with porcelan pieces by young people from Poland and Israel, as well as a sculpture by a Dutch artist titled “Message to Heaven”. We began collecting testimonies and established relations with descendants of Goślina Jews from Israel, Australia and the USA. I have many friends in Israel and for two years I studied Hebrew in Poland and Jerusalem. The history of my family is also connected with the camps in Germany: Ravensbruck and Bergen Belsen. The town I live in and work was inhabited by Jews, Poles and Germans living aside before the outbreak of the war. As a teacher, I feel a moral obligation to restore the memory of those who are no longer among us.

As a teacher in a school where diversity and otherness are the foundation of interpersonal relationships, I see both opportunities and challenges. The common denominator of opportunity and challenge is change. For many years now, I have been involved in international projects with different countries. I cooperate with non-governmental organizations and schools from Germany, France, Norway, Israel, Malta, Georgia, Armenia, Belarus and Lithuania. Together we talk about the values that unite East and West, foundations of the European Union. The best way to get to know each other, integrate and get rid of stereotypes is to have young people from different countries work together. My activities so far have focused primarily on multiculturalism and intercultural dialogue. The Shoah seen in both the Jewish and Polish perspectives is an important aspect of my activism.

To me Polish-Israeli and Christian-Jewish dialogue is an essential experience. Tolerance cannot be just an empty, popular term, needed to build a positive image of people or institutions. It must be implemented in everyday life and action. Yet tolerance cannot be developed without a very important axis – knowing the other. Since 2006, together with young people from Murowana Goślina, we have been implementing educational projects about the multicultural past of Murowana Goślina, with particular emphasis on the Jewish community. The focus is on what unites rather than divides. The main idea behind my activism is to build a space of respect and acceptance for each person, regardless of origin, religion, age, physical and mental fitness or sexual orientation.

For many years, I have been working with the Center for Citizenship Education as a mentor, coach and author of class/workshop scenarios of three programs: “Leaders of Tolerance”, “Let’s talk about refugees” and “Good Talk Club”. I mentored four groups of 10 teachers from all over Poland in an e-coaching course at the School of Tolerance, with each course lasting 3 months (4 modules each lasting 3 weeks). I motivated teachers to work on educational and social projects focused on anti-discrimination activities, I shared my own experience in the field of counteracting discrimination, human rights and migration. After each module I read and provided feedback about the reports on-line. It was a big challenge for me to mentor for the on-line training “Let’s talk about refugees” because of the emotions accompanying this topic. By participating in a course combining global and intercultural education and workshops, each teacher: deepened his/her knowledge of refugee issues and gained basic information on global migration (including the situation in Syria, other countries of the Middle East and North and East Africa), all that was put in the context of the modern globalised world and global interdependencies. Participants received educational tools to be used in discussions with young people on issues related to the current migration situation in the world.

One included class scenarios within the “Let’s talk about refugees” series, for which I prepared two workshops: “Nuna and Natasha – two stories, one dignity. Empathic perception of the excluded” and “Accepting multiculturalism at your fingertips”. “Let’s Talk about Refugees” Program is followed up with the “Good Talk Club”, which aims at creating a space in schools for positive conversations about refugees and contemporary migrations. New educational materials will be available soon, including class scenario of “Logos. Building not only verbal bridges” – activities using the Nonviolent Communication method developed by Marshall B. Rosenberg. Two years ago, together with junior high school students, we implemented a project entitled “Young (and) Seniors in Action, or Active Memory of Tomorrow” for the benefit of the local community against age-related social exclusion. We invited for cooperation the elderly from “Zacisze” Senior Club. We managed to overcome stereotypes about elderly people who are often perceived as people tired of life, and stereotypes about young people who are lazy. By working together we were able to show that integration and cooperation of seniors with juniors is possibile despite the age gaps and different life views. We hope that thanks to our project the local community of Murowana Gośliny will become more open and empathic, that people will start to really respect each other and share kindness.

In our activities we used methods fostering and strengthening dialogue between younger and older inhabitants of Murowana Goślina and other localities. Our project included one very important meeting at the Galicia Jewish Museum with Lidia Maksymowicz who told us about her childhood years spent in Auschwitz. During workshops with the elderly inhabitants, always in small groups, we were talking about the present (“active”), the past (“memory”) and the future (“tomorrow”), and discused nine concepts put in the perscpetive of both yound and elderly. These were: family, childhood, upbringing, friendship, love, sexuality, work, interests, passions. We travaled to Mazury region where we spent four days together and shared stories. We talked, discussed and were getting to know each other better. Five years ago, a group of my young students within Multicultural Circle was one of the winners of a competition organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs “Poland for All”. The main activity was organized as an investigation and led to a location-based game entitled “Where are Esther and Roman?”, a love story of a Jewish girl and a Catholic trader. Students came up with the idea to place it in the multicultural space of Murowana Goślina. It created an opportunity to experience the past in various ways.

Before the war, Murowana Goślina was a space of coexistence of Poles, Germans and Jews. The meeting points were two inns. One was run by the multi-generational Jewish Cohn family. There was an Evangelical church with a beautiful temple built with a cirular structure, a small synagogue and a Roman-Catholic church (for a short period of time there was also a Polish-Catholic church). The voluntary fire brigade was an important integrating element of the multi-faith community of Murowana Goślina. The head of staff was Polish, his deputy was German and the treasurer was Jewish. After the war, the Jewish and German cemeteries were plundered and the mazevot were used to pave one of the roads in town. For 70 years the inhabitants forgot about the multicultural past of Murowana Goślina. In the face of a crisis of humanitarianism, expressed, among other things, in negative feelings towards refugees, we see the need to restore the memory of diversity and respect for OTHERS, especially those who are different from the majority and who will not be able to cope alone in a homogeneous society. As part of the project, the NORMALITY MANIFEST was also created, in which young people encourage Poles to accept OTHERNESS.

My work as a teacher and educator is primarily about shaping the attitudes of young people who enter the adult world, the reality of the modern world, which, on the one hand, tempts with its diversity and, on the other, poses a certain risk of intolerance, racism and discrimination against those who are different. I am aware that through my actions and attitudes I have a huge impact on young people. Therefore, I often share my own experience in my teaching and try to be always ready to accept the experience of students. Becasue there are not many hours of the Polish language classes per week (5 lesson units). Whenever I deal with different literary or philosophical topice, I always keep dialogue and respect for otherness in mind. Students have the right to express their thoughts, interpret various cultural ideas in the way they feel comfortable with. In my work I combine formal education at school with non-formal education with various NGOs. I cooperate with the Partner Committee of the Goślina Land, the Regional Chamber of the Goślina Land, the Poznan Jewish Community, the Social and Cultural Association of Jews in Poland and the international ecumenical organization BIEN – Baltic Intercultural and Ecumenical Network. My projects are therefore a joint action of the school, associations and non-governmental organizations. The Shoah seen in both the Jewish and Polish perspective, is an important aspect of my activism. To me Polish-Israeli and Christian-Jewish dialogue is an essential experience. Tolerance cannot be just an empty, popular term, needed to build a positive image of people or institutions.

It must be implemented in everyday life and action. Yet tolerance cannot be developed without a very important aspekt of getting to know the other. Irena Sendler is to me an unrivalled example of this kind of active tolerance, with openness and respect for every human being. I try to achieve this by working with the Israeli Mekif Chet High School in Rishon le Zion near Tel Aviv. Thanks to this cooperation, my students can experience tolerance in a direct way, understand the need for openness to various phenomena of the contemporary world, not forgetting the memory of the past. For example, thanks to joint projects with a school in Israel (“Stones of memory roots” and “Three lives – common memory”), young people from Goślina learn how to educate Israeli youth about the Shoah. During the joint project “Three lives – common memory” in November 2009, a group of students from the Hipolit Cegielski Junior High School No. 1 participated in classes at the Israeli school on the subject of Holocaust remembrance. It was a very interesting experience, because some of the classes were conducted by the students from the school in Rishon le Zion. My students, on the other hand, guided their guests from Israel around the multicultural Murowana Goślina and Poznan. I believe that because my initiatives with different groups from Murowana Goślina (association “One moment”, senior citizens’ club “Zacisze”, group of active women “Fanaberia”) and the location based game “Following the footsteps of Jewish neighbors” organized as part of the School of Dialogue program, I created a foundation for official commemoration of Goślina Jews and for establishing relations with their ancestors. I would like to continue this process by undertaking further activities and projects.


Jakub Niewiński

Murowana Goślina

kontakt: jakub.niewinski@liderzydialogu.pl