Kamil Mrozowicz

Jedwabne/Kucze Wielkie

Almost everyone who is interested in the Holocaust or Polish/Jewish relations knows the name of the town where I grew up.  Jedwabne – it is synonymous with evil, suffering, a site of fratricidal killing where neighbors burned their neighbors. I became interested in the subject of this crime when Prof. Jan Tomasz Gross book “Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland” came out – before that when passing by the execution site on my bite I would notice a stone with an inscription that some Germans burned some Jews. I heard the same story at home, at school, in the town. In the years 2000/2001 I was in my second and third year of junior high school in Jedwabne. I was 15 back then and I did not exactly know, just like my classmates, what had happened in the town that the whole Poland, or even the world was so interested in.

When we asked our teachers or our parents about the events of July 10, 1941, we would get the answer “This was long time ago and nobody knows what exactly happened” or that “this is a political matter”. I remember that the town was full of journalists and cars. When in 2002 I went to high school in Łomża, I remember that when I was asked where I was from, I answered that I was from Łomża. I was ashamed of Jedwabne. I knew that a terrible crime happened there, although I had no idea how it unfolded, how it exactly happened and in what context – I knew that in the town where my family lives people died in horrible and unimaginable suffering. I decided to read everything available about the massacre in Jedwabne. Then I understood that it was not just a story about extermination. I understood that it was my story and it was natural for me to get to learn more about it.

I work as administration employee on a daily basis. I also deal with online advertising and I am writing my PhD in literature at the Faculty of Philology of the University of Białystok. I work with many associations and foundations. I move around on my bike.

During my studies I decided to write my master thesis on how the evens about the Jedwabne Jews are remembered, what is said about the pogrom, especially among the younger generation. It has been a decade since the unveiling of the memorial commemorating the murdered Jews. I believed that after such a time it was possible to speak openly about it and start acting – at least in the form of interviews, conversations and questionnaires for my master’s thesis. Problems started to arise at that moment and things did not unfold as I had imagined it they would have.

After graduating, I couldn’t stop thinking about that crime. I decided to act. I returned to Jedwabne.

I found a job in nearby Łomża, and my position allowed me to have access to a wide range of historical documents and more. My work in the scientific library inspired me to set up a grassroots initiative, which we called the Community History Club and met in one of the community centers once a week. The meetings were attended by 3 to 7 people. The conference room was managed by the Commune Cultural Center in Jedwabne, and before we organized there an event “The Jewish Community of Jedwabne. Others but the same” together with the Jan Karski Association. We wanted to organize several meetings devoted to multiculturalism, but at the end we focused on one but successful day. The meeting was devoted to Caucasian culture and Islam. When I saw young people from Jedwabne and young Chechens settled in Łomża doing selfies, I understood that this is how we should lead dialogue. Unfortunately, the town authorities took a different approach because a journalist from a local TV station came to the event. And so I took my activism to the conference room where I felt good, until the moment when I started to use the word “Jew” in a local context.  

I came up with the idea of organizing meetings around films. I thought that this form would be more attractive for the inhabitants. And so it was! More people came to see the movies! Friends from different foundations and institutions were kind enough to lend us a projector, screen, speakers, etc. When I organized the screening of a film about the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising “There Was No Hope”, one of the girls in the audience told me that she came because she thought it was about the Warsaw Uprising. I realized that knowledge about the Holocaust or local history – because of sweeping the “problem” of Jews under the carpet by teachers, authorities, etc. – is almost inexistent!

I decided to speed up the pace of “smuggling” the word “Jew” and came up with the idea of creating a literary corner with a mini library, two laptops for work, a projector and I was dreaming about a local association founded by people from the Jedwabne Commune. I wrote a post on my Facebook encouraging people to donate books about the Holocaust. When I opened my phone the next morning, it turned out that my blog entry had hundreds of “likes”, it was shared dozens of time, and it probably had a billion positive comments.

Unfortunately, the comments didn’t come from my friends from Jedwabne and the surrounding area… with some exceptions. I had to put away the plan to create this corner. I hope not forever, because… of those few exceptions?

What am I involved now? I organize film screenings on Jewish themes in various places, e.g. in rural culture houses. Together with some friends, I do maintenance works at the Jewish cemetery in Tykocin, and we try to combine it with education, e.g. in art and language. I also organized workshops on Jewish cuisine in Białystok, where we talked about Jewish tradition in the diaspora. As for Jedwabne, I have so far managed to organize several meetings, including a film about the Kielce pogrom, I also conducted multicultural meetings in rural cultural houses in the Jedwabne Commune.

What is important to me is where I come from, and despite the difficult, murderous past of this place, I believe that one day it will be possible to organize a common space for activism promoting culture, dialogue and tolerance. This is what I want to pass on to future generations.

Activism

Kamil Mrozowicz

Jedwabne/Kucze Wielkie

contact information: kamil.mrozowicz@liderzydialogu.pl