Zbigniew Wieczorek

Radom

Leaders

Silence… Muteness…Absence… These words strike you when you get involved in issues connected with remembering the people who created the bygone world of Radom and Poland. Silence struck me when I stepped out of the school I work for, and after walking for about 50 meters I saw a building with a plaque commemorating the pre-war “Friends of Knowledge Society” Secondary School. The absolute silence of this downtown tenement house reigned supreme. The contrast between the Polish and the Jewish school was dramatic. If it wasn’t for the plaque, placed by former students of the school, no one walking down the Kiliński street would have known that this school ever existed there. It appeared to me that the place must be revitalized, that we must have the buzz of students’ voices, shouts of middle-school kids fooling around, poured back into this silent yard. Sometime later, as I was passing by the plaque with my colleague, a history teacher, IwonaGrześkiewicz, I shared with her my idea. With her know-how and expertise we could attempt to conduct research of historical sources. We began with sifting through documents in Radom’s city archives. And this was when we were struck by the LACK of documents connected with the Jewish society of Radom. The few documents that survived were written in Yiddish. We felt the burden of our lack of necessary language skills, we also realized that we lack knowledge about the culture, religion and everyday life of Jewish people. Luckily, in 2005,relevant books were available on the market so we knew we had to learn fast. This is how the “I am…” project was born. It focuses on the awareness of citizens of Radom about the history and culture of the Radom Jews.To learn more about the project, visit our dedicated website at www.gimnazjum.website.pl

Our first step was to make ourselves, as well as our neighbors from ul.Kilińskiego, aware of the fact that an important Jewish education institution used to exist on that very street, a source of pride and a flagship school for the Jewish community in Poland. In 2006 we organized our first event in the courtyard of the old Friends of Knowledge SocietySecondary School. The event attracted students and teachers fromJan KochanowskiHigh School no.6in Radom. This was an important experience for many of us. From today’s perspective, when I look at the awareness of Polish-Jewish relations of my fellow-citizens, I could blame our parents, as well as teachers, who survived the war trauma, for remaining silent on this matter. However, their muteness was forced predominantly by the political conditions in Poland under communism. It was the politicians of that system who were responsible for this crime against the memory of our nation. In addition, the Catholic church in Poland until the times of Pope John Paul II did not see a need for repairing Polish-Jewish relations and for conducting moral exoneration. Today, this muteness of the conscience around the numerous signs of anti-Semitism is a continuation of the policy carried out in communist Poland. I cannot stand by idly and observe this muteness. Everything I do is my attempt to bring back the memory, and to form a reply to the silence, muteness and absence.

I am a Polish language teacher, I also teach culture studiesat Jan KochanowskiHigh School no.6 in Radom, and this obliges me to constantly learn about the contexts that shaped Polish literature and art. In the 18th century, we observed a significant influence of Jewish culture and language on the Polish language and culture. To be able to speak about Polish culture in a competent manner, we need to be aware of the many influences different languages and nations had on Polish heritage. I have been teaching Polish language and literature for a few decades now and in my contacts with students I see many reasons why we should deal with Polish-Jewish matters. I do not want my students to face this morally difficult issue alone. Besides, the Polish language curriculum for secondary schools obliges me to undertake the task of explaining these matters. With my personal engagement I am trying to serve as a role-model showing how we should react to anti-Semitism. For 10 years now, around the April 19th, we organize events, during which young people learn about the Radom former Jewish residents. Eight years ago, these events were formally named “Trace” Meetings with Jewish Culture, organized by the “ResursaObywatelska” (Citizens’ Club) Culture and Art Center in Radom – with my active support. Recently, thanks to the cooperation with Forum for Dialogue, I was able to intensify contacts with descendants of Radom citizens currently living in the USA and to prepare a  Seder dinner during Passover.

Popularizing knowledge about Jews of Radom is primarily based on publishing books about their history and culture. The “Book of Radom” covers the topic in the most comprehensive way. I received it thanks to my contacts with the Forum for Dialogue. The struggle for preserving the memory of the Jews must be an ongoing process. It’s like fighting with filth: if we give up our activities, then stereotypes, myths, and all sorts of distortions will come forward.  In that respect, we are in a rather hopeless situation, but if we don’t do anything about this, we will give ourselves consent to live in moral filth.  It is not my intention to preach, but I am  looking my activism from the perspective of a cultural historian who knows that in the past, humanity committed the sin of omission several times;each time it lead to the catastrophe of genocide. I hope that here, at my school, I will be able to make young people resilient to the indifference to past and future of the Other living among us. On a few occasions, I had the opportunity to witness the reaction of past citizens of Radom, how they were touched when they saw and found out what has been done in our city, and I am convinced that the actions I have undertaken make therapeutic sense both for them and for us.

Activism

Zbigniew Wieczorek

Radom

contact information: zbigniew.wieczorek@liderzydialogu.pl