Karolina and Piotr Jakoweńko

Będzin / Gliwice


Piotr Jakoweńko: Perhaps it was our destiny to work in this field. Just by chance we learned from a Będzin official that on the first floor in a private tenement house the space of a former Jewish prayer house is up for rent. This prayer room was discovered in 2006 but neither the city council nor any organization wanted to care for it. We were shocked.

Karolina Jakoweńko: Będzin is my hometown. 30 thousand Jews lived here before World War II but their history has been swept under the carpet since. You can find information plaques, and monuments commemorating the ghetto and the synagogue, but hardly anyone pays attention to any of it. We decided that we need to rent the prayer house or another remnant of our city’s past would be destroyed. We made this decision without having any idea what to do with the place. It was a spontaneous act.

Karolina: I studied cultural studies, Piotr is a graphic designer. Only after we took care of the prayer house did we realize the importance of Jewish contribution to development of Będzin. Jews built factories and houses, invested in the industry, many of them lived in the city center. Due to this new-found passion, I completed a post-graduate program in Jewish studies at Jagiellonian University in Kraków. I am also a tour guide and tour leader in Silesian voivodship. Piotr is passionate about history but he is also the mastermind behind the visual aspect of all our published works; which makes for an important part of our activism, as we are now recognized thanks to our strong visual identity. Since January 2016, I have been working as head of the Upper Silesian Jews House of Remembrance – which is a local branch of Museum in Gliwice. Family? Most important! First child? Cukerman’s Gate, second – Helenka, the sweetest and most wonderful person in the world! Our greatest success was definitely the restoration of the polychromies in the prayer house. We convinced the building’s owners to register the space we as a heritage site, and then established Brama Cukermana foundation and applied for funds to renovate the polychromies. We obtained funding for 100% of the renovation costs from the Silesian Voivodeship Conservator of Historical Monuments, a feat that happens rarely.

I think that the officials were impressed that young people wished to protect cultural heritage, and someone else’s at that. Since 2008, we carried out a whole list of projects: we mapped out tourist-educational routes about pre-war Jewish companies named “Wholesaler’s Manufacturing Plant” in Będzin, Sosnowiec and Dąbrowa Górnicza.  Since 2009, through “Witnesses to History: Będzin” program, we have been interviewing Będzin’s oldest residents, who still remember the town’s Jewish history. We give tours on Jewish heritage of Silesia to visitors from all over the world. We also created ‘Stories of Not-Present’ – audio guides on the Jewish heritage of the region. Our foundation took part in creating an exhibition on Jewish population in Silesia between 1945 and 1970 – ‘Lost Hopes’. We organized an event promoting modern Israeli culture and the country’s culture called ‘SABABA. Jewish Culture for Fun’. In 2014, we initiated a series of youth workshops  about Jewish heritage – ‘CHEDER. An Space for Social Education’. In the same year, we presented a report on the condition of Jewish cemeteries – ‘Our Cemeteries . A Social Initiative For Jewish Cemeteries in Silesian Voivodeship’. We are currently editing photographs from the Żarki ghetto that we wish to publish in book format. Piotr: We would like ‘Cukerman’s Gate’ to become a cultural institution or an education center commemorating Jews of Będzin and the surrounding area. Education has become the aim of the foundation as general history taught at school does not present Silesia and Zagłębie areas in all their diversity and uniqueness. One of the projects we have been implementing since 2014 (‘CHEDER. An area for Social Education’) is intended for middle and high school students. We conduct workshops on history, Holocaust, antisemitism in schools; sometimes we visit local cemeteries together with students. We believe that this sort of activism is the most beneficial for local communities who make for our immediate audience. Our Cukerman’s Gate is home for people from all over the world who are always welcomed here. The descendants of Będzin Jews see us as freaks, who live their lives for an unusual passion.  


Karolina and Piotr Jakoweńko

Będzin / Gliwice

contact information: karolina.jakowenko@liderzydialogu.pl piotr.jakowenko@liderzydialogu.pl