“I hope you realize that anti-Semitism is just like all other ‘anti’s,’ be it anti-Christians, anti-Muslims, anti-Africans, anti-homosexuals – it’s hatred for someone not because they have ever done any harm to you but because they are different, maybe different color skin or different way to worship God – and all ‘anti’s’ are negative and lead to destruction. In this world, in this life, if you want to accomplish anything good, you must be for something, not against something,“ George Elbaum addressed the audience gathered at the 2017 School of Dialogue Gala held on March 1, 2018 at The Teatr Wielki – Polish National Opera. He shared an account of his wartime childhood, and explained that after over 60 years of silence he felt ready to talk about his experience (you may read the full text of George Elbaum’s powerful speech here). His presence and words at the Gala were important reminders that facing the past is necessary for building a better and more open future.
These feelings and emotions resonated in other guests’ speeches as well. The Chairman of the Forum’s Council, Henryk Wujec, talked about the gathering of shattered pieces of Polish/Jewish history as a kind of a mitzvah:
“In Jewish philosophy there is an interesting idea that in this world – world full of evil – there ar scattered sparks of goodness … You have to gather those sparks, so the goodness will finally win. And you are gathering those sparks through your actions, you are the force for good.”
“Today we are meeting with young people, who revive the memory of the Polish citizens of Jewish ethnicity … It is an amazing contribution not on the governmental level, but on the level of everyday activity in your local neighborhood,”said Bogdan Borusewicz, Deputy Speaker of the Senate, in response to the students’ projects presentation, which never cease to astonish.
Włodzimierz Paszyński, Vice President of Warsaw, expressed the faith and trust he places in School of Dialogue alumni in the times of recently changed political landscape of Polish/Jewish relations: “If you hear those disgraceful words you have to react. I think that participants of the 10 years of the School of Dialogue program feel strongly that this is their duty to fight that.”
“I’m here with you today because several Polish families risked their lives to save me – they knew in their hearts it was the right thing to do. Please remember this as you face choices in your life: be for something, not against something!”
George Elbaum, a Warsaw-born Holocaust Survivor and the author of Neither Yesterdays, Nor Tomorrows. Vignettes from the Holocaust, a special guest of the 2017 School of Dialogue Gala
The 2017 School of Dialogue Gala gathered an audience of over 1,200 people, including School of Dialogue students, their teachers, representatives of national and local authorities, as well as Forum friends and allies, journalists, artists, politicians and diplomats.
We were incredibly honored to have with us Deputy Speaker of the Senate, Bogdan Borusewicz, Australia’s Ambassador to Poland, Paul Wojciechowski, Israel’s Deputy Chief of Mission to Poland, Ruth Cohen-Dar, the Deputy Commissioner for Human Rights, Sylwia Spurek, Vice President of Warsaw, Wlodzimierz Paszynski, the Chief Rabbi of Poland, Michael Schudrich, Henryk Wujec, Chairman of the Forum’s Board of Trustees, the representative of the Polish Association of Righteous Among the Nations, and this year’s Gala special guest, George Elbaum and his family.
The Gala is organized annually to honor students from all over Poland who have participated in the School of Dialogue program dedicated to inspiring independent discovery and commemoration of local Jewish history and memory. Since 2008, 327 schools from 215 towns and cities have taken part in the School of Dialogue.
In 2017, 40 junior high and high schools from all over Poland joined this club, while 14 others were recognized for their continuous engagement in projects begun in past editions of the program. As the Gala’s main purpose is to recognize the students participating in the program and the effort they put into the projects created to commemorate the Jewish citizens who once lived in their towns – this year, we awarded the most elaborate and thoughtful projects in four categories.
“Especially today, countering the stereotypes, confronting the discrimination and xenophobia, is extremely important … you can’t build the civil society, open to diversity, without the memory of the past.”
Sylwia Spurek, the Deputy Commissioner for Human Rights
The prize for “Impact on the Local Community” category was awarded to Markian Szaszkiewicz High School Complex No 2 in Przemyśl, for “bringing back the memory of people and places, and depicting the interwined fates of the three nations living in Przemyśl.” For students of this minority bilingual school the program was doubly significant since members of a minority themselves, they felt a lot of empathy towards the Jews of Przemyśl.
For “Discovering History” category the prize went to the School Complex in Kikół. The jury recognized the students for their “meticulous research despite the few information available and courage in taking up the difficult subject of the complicated Polish/Jewish relations.”
In the “Project’s Innovation” category the prize went to Stanislaw Staszic School Complex in Piła, for “organizing the Kristallnacht commemoration and Jewish song festival, as well as finding systemic solutions to providing access to the town’s Jewish cemetery.”
In the fourth category, “Diversity of Initiatives,” prize was given to Stanisław Staszic Junior High School in School Complex No. 2 in Szamotuły. Students from Szamotuły won due to to the sheer diversity of their projects, including “organizing a series of walking tours of their town’s Jewish landmarks, creating a multi-faceted exhibition depicting Jewish history and culture, and engaging the whole school community in their activities, as well as petitioning the local authorities to commemorate places connected to the history of Szamotuły’s Jewish community.” Students from Szamotuły petitioned the local authorities to have the Jewish cemetery and the synagogue commemorated and have also invited the Chief Rabbi of Poland to their school to share with him the effects of their research and to listen about contemporary Jewish life in Poland.
A fantastic group of students from the School of Dialogue in Piła performed during the our Gala. They prepared three songs representing the diversity of Jewish musical tradition: the incredibly moving Yiddish classic “Mein Shtetele Belz,” a 1930s popular tango, “Rebeka” and a Sephardic-inspired “My shell,” made famous by the Polish singer, Kayah.
The Gala was preceded by an NGO expo. We are grateful to all the organizations’ representatives for sharing their knowledge with Gala’s participants – the NGOs and institutions present at the expo included POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, Humanity in Action Polska, Polish History Museum, Stacja Muranów, JCC Warszawa, Polska Debatuje, Towarzystwo Krajobraz and Jan Karski Educational Foundation.
We are especially grateful to The Teatr Wielki – Polish National Opera and other institutions, which supported the program in 2017 and contributed to the 2017 School of Dialogue Gala:
Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, Dutch Jewish Humanitarian Fund, Friends of the Forum, City of Warsaw, Azrieli Foundation, Polish Center for Holocaust Research of the Polish Academy of Sciences, Auschwitz-Jewish Center, Czarne Publishing House, Czulent Jewish Association, Jan Karski Educational Foundation, Green Caffè Nero, Grycan Lody od Pokoleń, Muffia Bakery, POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, Nisza Publishing House, Znak Publishing House, Jewish Historical Institute.