• School of Dialogue

    Teaching about the Past to Ensure
    a Better Future

Each year, former participants of the School of Dialogue program  decide to continue their involvement in activities related to the remembrance of Jewish communities in their towns and cities, initiated in the previous  years through their involvement in Forum for Dialogue’s chief educational program. Even though 2021 was yet another year affected by the pandemic, 21 schools became involved in works concerning local history and Polish-Jewish relations. In many cases, the global situation significantly restricted the usual activities undertaken by schools, such as meetings, public events or walks. Despite many difficulties, students and teachers begun numerous initiatives commemorating Jews.

Acquiring Knowledge

Both the students and teachers often emphasize the particular value in acquiring and building up knowledge. It allows them a better understanding of the topic, and motivates them to share the information they learned or the stories they read or heard.

One of the ways of acquiring knowledge that is often chosen is visiting museums and sites of memory. The students from the towns of Dobra and Szamotuły have participated in study visits, whereas students from Włocławek took part in online classes offered by the Museum of the Former German Kulmhof Death Camp in Chełmno on Ner, and in an online study visit in to the Memorial and MuseumAuschwitz – Birkenau. Students from Szydłowiec learned a  lot  about Jewish history and traditions during their visit at the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw, and the students from Pniewy were learning the ins and outs of making Havdalah candles as part of the Simchat Chajim Festival of Jewish culture.

Furthermore, many groups researched  information about Jewish residents of their towns using, among others, online databases of the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw and the Yad Vashem Institute in Jerusalem. Classes based on Forum for Dialogue educational materials were conducted in nearly all of these schools. The students were not the only ones expanding their knowledge, as their teachers benefited a lot, too. Last year, teachers from Trzebinia, Kikoły, Częstochowa, Queen Jadwiga High School no. 10 in Warsaw, Szamotuły, Krzepice, Wieluń, Bydgoszcz, Przemyśl took part in webinars, training sessions, online meetings, and conferences organized by Forum for Dialogue, the POLIN Museum of Polish Jews, Yad Vashem Institute, the the Galicia Jewish Museum, Jewish Historical Institute, or the The Markowa Ulma-Family Museum of Poles Who Saved Jews in World War II.

Passing the Knowledge On

Students involved in the continuation of the School of Dialogue program undertake  many initiatives to ensure that the knowledge gained in the process can be shared with others, most importantly the  local community. Students in Dąbrowa Białostocka, organized a walking tour of the town’s Jewish past  for teenagers from Belarus. In Legionowo, the local residents and students were invited to participate in an educational walk around Ludwisin, the wartime ghetto area. In Bydgoszcz, Szamotuły and Wieluń, the students also invited their peers to join a walking tour of their towns’ Jewish sites.

In many places, for example in Pniewy, Bygdoszcz and Włocławek, lessons on Jewish culture and traditions were organized for the youngest students. In Trzebinia, a meeting with a school alumnus who took part in the School of Dialogue in 2018 was organized. Students shared their knowledge also by preparing commemorative publications, such as the one in Jędrzejów, or by setting up and running websites and Facebook fanpages, such as the one put up by the students of the Żeromski Bilingual High School no. 40 in Warsaw, as well as those in Brzesko, Włocławek, Wieluń, Dąbrowa Białostocka, or the Queen Jadwiga High School no. 10 in Warsaw. Thanks to the newly gained knowledge and their own talents, students also took part in numerous competitions. Representatives from schools in Wieluń and Kikoły participated in the Annual Holocaust Art & Writing Contest organized by the Chapman University. A student from Bielsko-Biała was qualified to the final stage of the National Student Literary Contest about the Holocaust titled “Whoever saves one life…” and won a trip to Bulgaria for the contest finale in June 2021. Queen Jadwiga High School no. 10 in Warsaw received a distinction from the committee of the Marek Edelman Warsaw Educational Prize “for discovering the personalized – collective history and heritage thanks to getting to know the stories of alumni of Jewish and Polish descent.”

Guardians of Memory

In many towns where students and teachers involved in the School of Dialogue program are active, the Jewish material heritage is in a poor condition. Sometimes, only  small signs of Jewish presence can be found.. That is why it is their  mission to make sure that these remaining pieces of memory, buildings, or matzevot, do not disappear completely. In Bielsko-Biała, Warsaw, Jędrzejów, Brzesko, Przemyśl, Wieluń and Szydłowiec, the students are regularly taking care of the Jewish cemeteries – they tidy up, and sometimes, like in Dąbrowa Białostocka, they also do an inventory of matzevot. In Szamotuły, students took part in celebrations commemorating the  Jewish cemetery, during which a Memorial Stone was placed. It marks the Jewish cemetery  destroyed by the Nazis in the beginning of the Second World War. In Krzepice, while tidying the cemetery grounds, the teenagers decided to focus on cooperation and invited members of local associations, including the “Bieszcza” Club of Krzepice Sympathizers and the Collectors’ Club of Krzepice, as well as the represetatives of the local Cultural Center. In Bydgoszcz, senior students were helping out in efforts related to the promotion and renovation of a sukkah in Stary Fordon (one of the town districts).

In each continuing school, both teachers and students engage in remembering and reminding the local community of important anniversaries. On January 27, on the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, in Wieluń, students and their teacher encouraged the school community to participate in the international #Weremember campaign. In Przemyśl, there was a common prayer and a flower-laying ceremony by the plaque commemorating victims of the ghetto, as well as commemoration at the site of execution of a Przemyśl resident, Michał Kruk, whose public execution was meant as a deterrent to others. On April 19, on the anniversary of the outbreak of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and the Day of Holocaust Remembrance and Prevention of Crimes Against Humanity, all involved schools participated in the POLIN Museum’s “Daffodils” social-education campaign.

In the context of local actions and the sense of belonging to a certain place, the anniversaries that concern the Jews who once were a part of the communities in which the students live now are particularly meaningful.

In Legionowo, the teenagers, together with the representatives of the Historical Museum in Legionowo and the Town Hall, organized celebrations commemorating 79th Anniversary of the Annihilation of the Legionowo Ghetto. Nearby the now non-existing entry to the ghetto, they have planted a Remembrance Oak Tree and embedded a special information plaque in the ground. In Częstochowa, where the local authorities established 2021 the  Year of Remembrance of the Częstochowa Ghetto Victims , there was a number of remembrance events, among others, a contest for a graphic project commemorating the existence of the ghetto in Częstochowa, a recital competition devoted to the poetry and prose of Irit Amiel, an online meeting with the Polish Ambassador in Israel and the Head of the Association of Częstochowa Jews in Israel. In Szydłowiec, the 78th anniversary of deportation of Jews was commemorated. As a part of the celebration, students placed a banner on the cemetery gate which read: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” In Wieluń, together with the local authorities, the 79th anniversary of the liquidation of the ghetto was commemorated, and in Brzesko, the students got involved in organizing the March of Remembrance.

Creating Relations

Students interest in commemorative activities is often motivated by the possibility of is contacting Survivors, descendants of Jews from a given town, groups of teenagers from Israel or experts, both from Poland and around the world. In Dąbrowa Białostocka, local teachers and students have been keeping in touch with Marek Podwal, a descendant of Jews fromthe town, as were the students and teachers from Dobra. Students from Brzesko have contacted and interviewed the great-granddaughter of Henoch Klapholz – the co-founder of the Brzesko high school, and in Bielsko-Biała, a teacher has started corresponding with descendants of Biała’s Jews residing in the USA. In Włocławek and Częstochowa, the teenagers keep in touch with landsmanshafts in Israel, moreover, students from Włocławek have started a cooperation with the Alabama University, while students from Częstochowa cooperate with schools in Modi’in and Petach Tikwa.