Urszula Antosz-Rekucka

Mszana Dolna


For many years I was completely unaware of the subject. It all started during my theology studies in Krakow, in particular when we were studying the Bible. The fascination with the Old Testament caused not only a dream to name my children Rachel and Jacob (he must have loved her very much to wait 14 years for her at the time when we were still on trees or in caves) – today many people see it as a proof of our “Jewishness”, because this dream did come true, although at the time I was not at my “Jewish” stage. This came later. During my studies I lived in different places and one of them was in the district of Kazimierz in Krakow, and so I wrote my MA thesis (no, at that time I was not dealing with the subject. I was writing about pastoral theology and dialogicality of culture, so a dialogue was already appearing…) by typing it in a semi-legally rented room on Józefa Street. It was only then, there, that the culture and history of Jews began to slowly reach me. I walked around Kazimierz, which at the time was dirty and neglected, I took pictures of remaining Hebrew signboards, I went to TSKŻ meetings, not knowing whether – as a Goy – I was allowed, also a little afraid of the legendary Henryk Halkowski, who would look at me with suspicion.

And this is how it was: while preparing my thesis I read Levinas, Rosenzweig, Stein, because of the philosophy of dialogue, then I attended classes on Judaism led by a wonderful erudite and man of dialogue, Father Jerzy Chmiel, back then thinking about a PhD (but educating my children seems like a PhD work), the first Jewish Culture Festival, concerts of Szlomo Carlebach, Leopold Kozłowski. And then a question came to mind: what about my town? I knew about the Jewish cemetery somewhere at the outskirts of the town, and so they had to live, exist, co-create history. I started asking my parents: my dad did remember something, he was 7 years old when the war broke out. My mother recalled testimonies about the Holocaust near her home village, in the Kielce region. And so it started. And when I do something, I get 120% involved, so I got fired from the first primary school where I worked as a religion teacher, because of „ those Jews and Jews only”. However, there were some possibile in the high school I was „send” to teach. How about an anecdote? There is one, pretty good one. When I started to look for possible roots, because where did this “strange love” come from? (Psalm 16) – I did not find Jewish blood in my ancestors, but I did find a few drops of Jewish milk.

During the bombardments after the outbreak of WWII, my family was hiding in my grandmother’s basement. The neighbors, a Jewish family with a newborn, also came there to find shelter. After a while, my grandmother went milk the cows and bring something to eat. My mother, then 2 years old, started to cry very loudly. To calm the little one down, the lactating Jewish mother put a Christian child to her breast for a moment. So there was no blood in her veins, but milk from a Jewish mother, yes. Maybe it was the milk that resurfaced after years? I am a religion teacher in Technical and IT Secondary School in Mszana Dolna. Before the war it was a high school building My three great “professional” loves are: The Bible, dialogue and merciful love, that is, charitable actions. These are closely connected with each other, because for me they come from Gospel, and “dialogue is another name for love”. (Pope Paul VI). Therefore, in my work – the regular one and in my activism – I try to put emphasis on these matters. They are intertwined, because the Scripture leads to interest in Judaism, and dialogue includes learning about holidays of other religions, and for example during Purim, together with the students we are not only bake hamantashes and read the scroll of Esther, making a lot of noise, but we also organize fundraising for the needy in Ukraine, because the mitzvah for Purim is to help the poor.

That’s how I see it, and that’s how I try to do it. Every year I organize a Bible Week with different ideas – this can include copying Gospel or favourite Bible fragments on a scroll, a marathon of reading Scripture or a Biblical Lottery, and later we send the money to, for example, children from Rwanda. We constantly help children in Burundi and Congo, we support our compatriots (and not only) in Ukraine. I do it in cooperation with “Caritas”. I also do Ecumenical Week, Biblical Week, Days of Judaism, Islam, Days of Solidarity with the Mentally Ill and Disabled, Days of Fighting Depression – once I worked in the Psychiatry Department, with the spiritual heirs of Professor Kępiński. And one more important professional matter: I try to keep high  standards in my teaching, and tackle difficult or controversial topics, to show that there is no contradiction between knowledge, science and faith – by working with good tools to understand the Bible, and not a magical-literal approach. This is what I learned during my theology studies. I love Psalms, I think they hold the whole truth about the world; I even set up a fanpage on Facebook: “Everything is in the psalms”. And the greatest non-professional love is a family that supports me in everything and they are absolutely the most important to me: we love each other and we are friends at the same time.

I protect the memory of the town’s Jewish residents by reconstructing their stories from recollections of the localss, scraps of documents, and few photographs. I create artistic and historical programs; I go with my students to the Jewish cemetery and memorial sites. I organize commemoration of the crime – the Holocaust in our context means mass executions. We take care of the cemetery and mass graves, the path that Mszana Jews took to their death, and after 4 years of efforts I managed to have it named Holocaust Victims Avenue of Remembrance. Now I am finalizing another initiative: commemorating the site where the synagogue stood with a plaque. I lead the initative to plant the Tree of Remembrance for our Righteous: Stefania and Józef Wacławików, whose story is completely unknown, as well as marking and commemorating two more mass graves in the area of the Jewish cemetery. I have been involved in dialogue and memory projects with my students: “Let’s Bring Memory Back”, “Preserve Memory. History and culture of two nations” (one involves meetings of Polish and Israeli youth; I organized two such meetings in my school), “Faces of dialogue. Young Assisi. Youth for tolerance and peace” – we’ve already participated in four and each time we were rewarded, and twice we were recognized as “project leaders”.

Together with my students, we plant crocuses to commemorate children – victims of the Holocaust. This is a part of the international “Krokus” project. We distribute daffodils on the anniversary of the outbreak of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. I write articles for local media, I created and run “Shtetl Mszana Dolna” website on FB. I keep in touch with descendants of Mszana Jews and host them when they come over. Finally, every Friday I light Shabbat candles and bake challah, and every year I light Hanukkah candles (it’s also an Internet campaign: “Light the Hanukkah light of memory with us”), in memory of the murdered neighbors. In my classes, I teach my own topics “The Evil of Anti-Semitism” or “What can we learn from the followers of Judaism?”. I even gave a lecture on the latter at my home university in Krakow, as part of the Day of Judaism in Krakow last year. Why am I doing this? There are two reasons: first of all, someone should, and no one in my community is eager. And secondly: ” They are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight” (Ps 16) – indeed.

I feel great satisfaction, because I managed to do a lot: in the public space of the town through commemoration and by guarding the memory, in the consciousness of students through educational activities (this is confirmed by questionnaires after meetings with young Israelis). I feel that I actually do less and less in the school space, because for the past 3 years I have been teaching only students of vocational classes, and the work is not the same as in high school, as for example they come to school only on specific week days. But what is most elementary is probably the most important: I take every class to memorial sites, tell the stories, they put stones for a chosen person, they go home changed. During these years of working here (before I worked in Krakow, but not yet in this field), hundreds of young people have gone down this path with me.

We found descendants of Mszana Jews also through educational projects. Just a word from Szoszana, the granddaughter and niece of the victims buried in a mass grave in Mszana – her mother survived, though through the hell of the camps and the Death March: “Ursula, it would have been easier for my mother to die, if she had known that you were here taking care of the memory and the grave of her loved ones. And also: “My mother used to make the same soup!” – that’s what she said when she tried mine at my house. It’s not always easy, not always these actions meet with approval or understanding of the town authorities or at school, sometimes I get large doses of hate, but I believe that my activism makes sense, it gives me a lot of joy and I will continue doing it.


Urszula Antosz-Rekucka

Mszana Dolna

contact: urszula.antosz-rekucka@liderzydialogu.pl