| 2015 |
Adam Mickiewicz Junior High School
Biała Rawska is located on the river Białka, the right tributary of Rawka. The river is surrounded mostly by meadows and thick undergrowth. In the town itself stands an old church, still surrounded by pre-war, often even 19th-century buildings and tenement houses. There is also a palace built in Roman style, now slowly being eaten away by time. The town park is filled with oak trees, the oldest of which is 500 years old, considered one of the largest in Poland and known as the Oak of Napoleon. Allegedly the famous Frenchman himself on his return from Russia had rested under its boughs.
The history of Jews in Biała Rawska goes back to the end of the 18th century. Soon afterwards Biała Rawska became an important center of local Jewish life. In 1820, the town had an independent Kahal with its own wooden synagogue, mikveh, cheder and Jewish cemetery with a funeral home. The synagogue burnt down in 1842, but five years later (in 1847) a new one was ready, this time built in stone.
By 1920s Jews amounted to well over half of the town’s population (60%, to be precise). They were shop owners, butchers and inn keepers. Their numbers fell, but in 1939, right before the outbreak of World War II, Jews comprised 40% of the local population.
Germans entered Biała Rawska already in September 1939 and in the fall of 1941 created a ghetto between Gęsia, Brukowa, Narutowicza, Mickiewicza, Szeroka and Zakątna streets. About 6000 Jews were locked inside, mostly from Żyrardów, Piaseczno and Biała Rawska itself. After the ghetto’s liquidation on October 27, 1942, Jews were deported to Rawa Mazowiecka and then on to Treblinka. No one ever came back to Biała Rawska.
The site of the synagogue is now the building of the fire station. The former mikveh at the corner of Brukowa and Narutowicza streets is now a store. A few fragments of matzevot are all that remains of the cemetery on Polna street, not much else.
This history was more or less familiar to Biała Rawska junior high school students. Some of them were aware what function the fire department building used to have, but only with the help of Forum educators, Marysia Pawlak and Basia Rostek, did they start understanding the whole context. They learned about Jewish culture and traditions, about Judaism and about history. Through discovering their town’s past they explored their own identity.
To prepare a walking tour for the School of Dialogue program, they searched for information in books and on the internet, with the assistance of Mr. Grzegorz Pazura from the town’s historical association. They met with Ms. Zielińska, whose grandparents, Mr and Mrs Chorążkiewicz, received the title of Righteous of Among the Nations for hiding a Jewish girl during World War II. Students also met with Ms. Gofrit, who was born in Biała Rawska, but now lives in Israel. They talked about her childhood, the bygone days and about Ms.Gofrit’s present-day life.
Workshop participants prepared an exhibition with photos of pre-war Biała Rawska in their school and organized a walking tour for other junior high school students. Each of the tour participants received a map; the tour organizers also provided professional audio equipment.
The walking tour began on Wolności Square (Freedom Square), the town’s former market square, where Catholic homes stood right next to Jewish ones, where shops, the town hall and a brick synagogue – that replaced the wooden one that had burnt down earlier – all used to stand.
The next stop was Gęsia Street where students talked about what needs to be known: about the ghetto and deportations, about Treblinka, about non-returns.
On Brukowa, where kosher butchers used to run their shops, students explained what kosher means; what are the rules, what is not allowed, what kind of food is forbidden. They read Hannah Gofrit’s memoirs, recalled the stories of Maria Koper hidden by Mr. and Mrs. Chorążkiewicz and told tour participants about Mel Goldberg, who was taken out of the ghetto in an ordinary shopping basket. In every site that became a stop on the tour, students affixed plaques that explained what the location is. On the site of the mikveh, students explained what purpose a mikveh serves and how and when bathing in a mikveh is important to observant Jews.
Tour participants walked and observed, while the rain fell harder and harder. Hence the history of the Jewish cemetery was rendered not at the cemetery itself, but already inside the school. Students explained the cemetery, how it looks now and why that is. They then asked others questions; each correct answer was rewarded with a cookie containing a piece of text from the Torah. They also treated everyone to yeast cake and received a big round of applause.
Thanks to these workshops I can finally say that I am important in this community, that I can finally contribute to what Biała Rawska will be, that I’ll have my part in it. Because if it wasn’t for me, none of the BIała Rawska residents might know that the location of the fire station used to be home to an old synagogue.
Emilia, workshops participant
Who would have thought that the current fire station used to be the synagogue! Thanks to these workshops I got to see the remains of matzevot, I talked to senior citizens that remember prewar times, I also met Ms. Zielińska, who received the order of Righteous Among Nation. I got involved! These stories were fascinating and the workshops were best ever!
Kasia, workshops participant
For me the best part is that it’s thanks to these workshops that we carried out our project. And it’s not just us who learn through this project, but also other people with whom we share our findings. Maybe thanks to this, residents of BIała Rawska will become interested in the history of Jews that used to live here? I hope so.
Sandra, workshops participant
We are here to make town residents realize that Brukowa street that everyone now walks on used to be the ghetto, and the public out-patient clinic is where the cheder used to be. Our task is also to overcome stereotypes that Jews are somehow worse or not worth our time, while Jews are people and in some cases they are also Poles. We are here to make others realize this.
Emilia, workshops participant
Adam Mickiewicz Junior High School
1st and 3rd year volunteers
Maria Pawlak, Barbara Rostek
In appreciation to the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (Claims Conference) for supporting this educational program. Through recovering the assets of the victims of the Holocaust, the Claims Conference enables organizations around the world to provide education about the Shoah and to preserve the memory of those who perished.
Program was co-financed from the funds granted by Citizens for Democracy program, financed through the EEA grants.
In appreciation to Friends of the Forum for supporting the School of Dialogue educational program.