| 2015 |
Jan Liszewski Vocational School Complex
A handful of Jewish settlers arrived in Braniewo sometime in the first half of the 18th century. In the 19th century, the town could be said to have a Jewish community, which still amounted to just a few families. By the end of the 19th century the community amounted to 170 people, or 1,5% of the town’s population. Most of the Jewish shops and stores, as well as the beit midrash on Lipowa Street, the synagogue at the corner of Rzeźnicka and Teatralna Streets and the Jewish cemetery at Dworcowa Street were located in the New Town, on the opposite bank of the river flowing though Braniewo.
The town, located in East Prussia, belonged to Germany. Most of Braniewo’s Jews spoke Yiddish and German. Some received orders, like Jacob Jacobson, others fought and died in World War I, like Wilhelm Eisenberg. Most of them were assimilated, yet they were not spared during Kristallnacht. The synagogue was burnt down and the Jewish cemetery desecrated. Kristallnacht happened in 1938 and one year later there were just 10 Jewish residents left in Braniewo. Those who were left were deported to extermination camps, including Treblinka and Auschwitz-Birkenau. No one came back after the war.
It is strange to read about a town that no longer exists. At the end of the Second World War the front line went through the town and not much of its buildings remained. The site of the synagogue is now the location of a residential area and a parking lot. The Jewish cemetery is built over with industrial and residential buildings and garages.
People say one single matzevah is left somewhere behind a garage building, but it’s been a while since anyone has seen it. No trace of the riverfront beit midrash remains, no one knows anything about it. The same goes for the Association of Jewish Women of Braniewo. No building, no information. The town also had a factory and a pharmacy that belonged to the Wolf family who left Braniewo for USA already after Kristallnacht. Remains of the buildings exist, but no one remembers the Wolfs, there is no use asking about them at the Tourist Information Center. But amateur collectors found a coat hanger. Allegedly it came from one of the Jewish stores. It isn’t easy to get anyone in Braniewo to talk. No one remembers, no one is originally from here. One woman, born in 1927 in a nearby village, had seen a Jew once. Once. It is not easy to do anything constructive in such a town. How to unravel a story of something that is such a big absence?
Girls from the hotel administration major of Braniewo Vocational School Complex in some miraculous way managed to come up with something in this void. Students were successful in obtaining honorary patronage of the town’s mayor Ms. Monika Trzcińska and county mayor Mr. Leszek Dziąg for their project. They managed to attract the attention of Mr. Tomasz Sitarz from Braniewo 24 TV and Ms. Aleksandra Jakimczuk from the local newspaper Ikat. And then they embarked on their project work.
During Jewish Culture Day the girls organized on October 17, 2015, they presented some traditional Jewish dances and told others about what they had learned about Jewish culture and religion. Guests were invited to taste Jewish dishes and cookies the students had prepared. The event was attended by town mayor, two deputy county mayors, as well as head of the local municipality, one of the members of the county board, head of Board of Education, Culture and Promotion and representatives of the local media. All the participants were moved by what they heard, signed the memorial book and wrote laudations of the project. A few days later, on October 27th, 2015, the students headed into the town along with Mr. Sitarz from the TV station and asked passersby about what they know and what they do not know about the local Jewish history. Students also hanged posters inviting town residents to participate in the walking tour on December 3rd entitled “Discovering an Invisible City”. Posters were hanged on walls of stores and offices, in culture and tourist information centers. The walking tour attracted not only local residents and county authorities, but also tourist information center employees, readers of the Senior Citizens’ University and members of the Braniewo Appreciation Society. Everyone received brochures with subsequent stops of the tour marked out and described in detail.
The group was guided around the Jewish non-sites: through the Jewish cemetery, the sites of former beit midrash and the synagogue, the location of Jewish Women’s Association, Jewish hospital, former area of Jewish stores and the cigar factory.
Students also organized Braniewo Jewish Memorial Run with the assistance of the head of the City Sports Center. There was a start and a finish, side tapes and a number for each runner. The event will be held annually. On December 7th, students gave a performance in Braniewo Culture Hall, presenting Jewish dances and appealing to authorities to commemorate Jewish Braniewo. December 7th was the second day of Chanukah, so students organized also an open lecture delivered by Rev. Szczepan Szpyr about Christianity and Judaism.
But the girls did not stop here – they went on to organize workshops for second year students of Braniewo Forestry Vocational School to impart the knowledge they have gained in the course of School of Dialogue workshops.
The mayor herself promised to place plaques commemorating Jewish Braniewo on the sites of the former synagogue, beit midrash and cemetery. Students are also scheduled to perform in February, during the meeting of Braniewo Appreciation Society and in March they will organize workshops for Senior University attendees. The press and TV coverage their project received was impressive.
These workshop sessions taught me what once people went through, how much pain they endured and how much time it took to find even a small trace of their ancestors. It made me realize how important family is.
Jan Liszewski Vocational School Complex
3rd Award at 2015 School of Dialogue Gala
2nd year students
Szymon Gotowski, Maria Pawlak
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 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.