“The future depends on you. The work you do is so absolutely amazing, that I would want your generation to spread all over the world, “ said Esther Pinskier, a Warsaw-born Holocaust survivor from Australia, in a video message addressed to the students at the 2016 School of Dialogue Gala. She noted that the commemoration of the past is an investment in a more tolerant future that enables rebuilding of lost connections and dialogue. This is the idea behind the School of Dialogue program, the closing Gala of which took place on March 3, 2017 at The Teatr Wielki – Polish National Opera. The event is organized annually to honor students from all over Poland who have participated in the program dedicated to inspiring independent discovery and commemoration of local Jewish history and memory.
The Commissioner for Human Rights, Adam Bodnar, compared the School of Dialogue endeavors to a boat running upstream a great river. “Its current is strong, the water muddy, and there is a waterfall nearby.
But you paddle on, in spite of the current. You don’t give up. You believe that this is the only way to reach safety for you and the entire humankind.”
The Chairman of the Forum’s Council, Henryk Wujec, observed that the current situation in Poland and abroad is starting to resemble the ominous atmosphere of prewar Europe. Referring to a 1931 article published by Stanisław Stomma entitled “Paddling Against the Current of Niagara,” he addressed the students and Forum’s educators: “You too are paddling against the current of Niagara. You oppose this growing tide of nationalism that is happening both in Poland and all over the world. The last time this fight with hate did not end successfully. Let us all hope that those experiences, as well as the fact that there is so many of you, all sharing the courage of Stanisław Stomma ensures that this time it will be a success. We will protect humanity from things that it would later regret.”
Michael Schudrich, the Chief Rabbi of Poland
Over 1,200 students, teachers and Forum’s educators, important guests including representatives of state and local authorities, as well as diplomats, artists and academics involved with the Forum, came to the Gala, hosted by Marcin Meller, a well-known journalist. The presence of important public figures confirms both the program’s and the Gala’s prestige and importance. This year we had the privilege of hosting:
Bogdan Borusewicz, the Deputy Speaker of the Senate
Adam Bodnar the Commissioner for Human Rights
Anna Azari, Israel’s Ambassador to Poland
Paul Wojciechowski, Australia’s Ambassador to Poland
Włodzimierz Paszyński, the Deputy Mayor of Warsaw
Michael Schudrich, the Chief Rabbi of Poland
Henryk Wujec, Chairman of the Forum’s Council
Alicja Schnepf, representing the Polish Association of Righteous Among the Nations.
The 2016 Gala was unique because of the significant guests from abroad, who enriched the celebration. Samantha Britt, an American opera singer and actress, whose family came from Radom, sang two songs in Yiddish, “Du Shaynst vi di Zun” and “Zol Nokh zayn Shabes,” and an aria from Romeo and Juliet. The Pinskier family came from Australia to show their appreciation for the work done by School of Dialogue students. During the ceremony, Australia’s Ambassador to Poland, Paul Wojciechowski and Forum’s President, Andrzej Folwarczny invited Esther Pinskier to the stage. The audience greeted her with a standing ovation.
In 2016, 40 junior high and high schools from all over Poland joined the School of Dialogue program, while 15 others were recognized for their continuous engagement in projects begun in past editions of the program. Since 2008, 270 schools from 190 towns and cities have taken part in the program. ”You’ve opened my eyes,” said Adam Bodnar in response to the students’ projects presentation, which never cease to astonish. The submitted works, which often reveal new information about the past, exhibit both the artistry and dedication of students involved. In 2016 the 1st prize went to Wojciech Korfanty Technical-Vocational and High School Complex no 1 in Chorzów. Instead of the standard tour of the Jewish history of their town, the students organized an engaging location-based game, for which they secured the support of local authorities and business community. They also filed a petition to have the former site of the synagogue commemorated, under which they have collected over 200 signatures. The 2nd prize went to School Complex in Pilica and Maria Konopnicka Junior High School no. 16 in Sosnowiec, while the 3rd prize went to Junior and High School Complex in Drawsko Pomorskie. John Paul II Junior High School from Sztum and Lajos Kossuth High School no 63 in Warsaw received honorable mentions.
The fact that students work independently outside of the traditional classroom makes them teachers in their own right. Włodzimierz Paszyński, the Deputy Mayor of Warsaw said: “You discover and revive a world that is no more, a world that was murdered. But your actions prove that memory cannot be murdered. This is extremely important especially today.”
We are especially grateful to Teatr Wielki – Polish National Opera and other institutions, which supported the program in 2016 and contributed to the 2016 School of Dialogue Gala:
Friends of the Forum, Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, City of Warsaw, Dutch Jewish Humanitarian Fund, Auschwitz-Jewish Center, Azrieli Foundation, Commissioner for Human Rights Office, Czulent Jewish Association, Czarne Publishing House, Czarna Owca Publishing House, Fabryka Cukiernicza Kopernik, Filo Publishing House, Grycan Lody od Pokoleń, Iskry Publishing House, Jan Karski Educational Foundation, Jewish Community of Warsaw, Korporacja Ha!art, KrytykaPolityczna.pl, POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, Polish Center for Holocaust Research of the Polish Academy of Sciences, Prószyński i S-ka Publishing House, REBIS Publishing House, Świat Książki Publishing House, W.A.B Publishing House, Znak Publishing House